Patricia Cleveland-Peck reviews the latest book from one of her favourite authors
Alexander McCall Smith is my go-to author for comfort reading –something we all need in these troubling times. I always approach the end of one his books with increasing regret; fortunately he is an extremely prolific writer and does his best to keep his many addicted readers satisfied.
A Promise of Ankles is the fourteenth volume of what is effectively the world’s longest serial novel, as earlier books actually appeared as weekly instalments in The Scotsman newspaper before being published as books.
The spell this volume casts is as strong as ever, I am already longing for volume 15. It is quite difficult to pin point what is so wonderful about these stories. They simply tell of the lives, loves and problems of a group of Edinburgh residents to whom nothing very dramatic happens – although surprising incidents do intervene, as when the Duke of Johannesburg (who isn’t a real Duke) is kept hostage by his driver in an effort to make him learn Gaelic, or when the dog Cyril unearths what could be a Neanderthal skull near the Waters of Leith. There is a ribbon of hour running throughout and the characters are varied, memorable and very well drawn but I think it is Alexander McCall Smith’s voice, so full of warmth and kindness and love of Edinburgh and its people which gives these stories their unique flavour.
Several of the characters live in Scotland Street (a street which exists, although number 44 does not) and include seven year old Bertie, whose pushy mother Irene has moved to Aberdeen leaving his father Stuart to embark on a new relationship which threatens to be wrecked by the narcissistic glamour-boy Bruce. Big Lou now has Mathew as a partner at the coffee bar with suggestions of upgrading the menu with the help of young James. We also have a new character to get to know, Torquil, who with three other students moves into 44 Scotland Street. We again meet Domenica, the anthropologist and Angus Lordie, her painter husband whose dog Cyril is tempted to give a little nip to those eponymous ankles. As well as fictional characters who reside elsewhere in the city, Alexander McCall Smith has interspersed a handful of real people but undoubtedly Edinburgh itself is one of the main players in this series.
A Promise of Ankles, or indeed any of the other Scotland Street books, would make an ideal Christmas present, offering as it does a look into another, kinder more sociable world than the one we have been experiencing lately.
A Promise of Ankles is published in hardback by Polygon @£17.99
It is also available as an eBook