From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
The latest from McCall Smith, Scotland's contemporary answer to Anthony Trollope, is a stand-alone novel, set on the train from Edinburgh to London. Unfortunately, the novel is a rare misfire for McCall Smith, the architect of the everyone brings problems to one place frame used to such wonderful effect in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series and in the elegantly interlocking stories in the 44 Scotland Street and Corduroy Mansions series. The frame here has four people in one train compartment: three men (from Scotland, the U.S., and England) and one woman (from Western Australia) settle in to tell each other tales of their past loves. It would take a derrick to suspend this I beam of disbelief, beginning with the startling fact that these twenty-first-century travelers occupy the entire journey by taking turns talking there's not an iPad in sight. Those who expect the sort of assignations promised by the cover art will be disappointed; there's not even any flirting. Still, if readers can ignore the screeching narrative wheels, there are the usual rewards to reading McCall Smith, including his deft descriptions of landscape and the physical characteristics of his characters and, of course, his wise and witty reflections on love and luck.--Fletcher, Connie Copyright 2010 Booklist
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The human yearning for love-"to give it and to receive it in that familiar battle that all of us fight with loneliness"-is at the heart of McCall Smith's wistful stand-alone novel, as four strangers on an Edinburgh-to-London rail journey share stories of romance both thwarted and fulfilled. Art history student Andrew tells how he fell for the daughter of a disapproving business magnate. Hugh thinks his schoolteacher girlfriend might have an assumed identity. David recalls his unrequited affection for another man during summers spent in rural Maine. And in the book's most affecting tale, Kay recounts her Scottish father's emigration to the desolate Australian outback and pen pal courtship of her mother. VERDICT Subtle wit, leisurely pacing, copious references to W.H. Auden-the hallmarks of McCall Smith's storytelling are in full force here, as is his penchant for quiet vignettes. That's too bad, because the other story lines are less compelling than the evocative Australian scenes, which merit a full book of their own. Nonetheless, these interludes will provide the author's fans with another soothing literary sojourn. [See Prepub Alert, 11/30/12.]-Annabel Mortensen, Skokie P.L., IL (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.