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*Starred Review* A painting by Nicolas Poussin, valued at £3million pounds and slated for donation to Scotland's National Gallery, has been stolen from the stately home of a Scottish country gentleman and held for ransom. After contacting his insurance company, the victim takes the unusual step of reaching out to Isabel Dalhousie, a philosopher who specializes in ethics. Isabel has the reputation for being able to sort through thorny situations and murky motives, a quality that has involved her in other people's problems in eight previous novels in this series. At first glance, Isabel doesn't seem nearly as quirky and human as McCall Smith's other woman detective, Precious Ramotswe (of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency), or as the recurring characters in the Scotland Street or Corduroy Mansions series. Isabel seems to have it all, effortlessly: inherited wealth that allows her to publish the Review of Applied Ethics, a dreamboat of a younger husband, and an adorable little boy all this good fortune housed in a well-appointed Edinburgh home. But Isabel's constant awareness of how Nemesis may take notice of her makes her wholly sympathetic. The art theft itself, which expands into a consideration of famous art heists and forgeries, gives readers fascinating glimpses into a mostly hidden crime industry. McCall Smith spikes his heroine's seemingly cloistered world with enough close encounters with tragedy a neighbor stabbed to death by someone he brought home, for example to make both Isabel and the reader aware of the fragility of good fortune. Utterly satisfying for its art-theft puzzle, characterization, and Edinburgh setting. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: The Precious Ramotswe novels continue to be McCall Smith's most popular franchise, but the Isabel Dalhousie series, starring the ethicist and crime solver, is sneaking up on the outside.--Fletcher, Connie Copyright 2010 Booklist