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The Lost Art of Gratitude    by Alexander McCall Smith order for
Lost Art of Gratitude
by Alexander McCall Smith
Order:  USA  Can
Anchor, 2010 (2009)
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* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

The Isabel Dalhousie series of novels by this prolific Scotsman who has over 25 titles to his credit is so understated that at times the reader has to wonder where is this tale going and, more to the point, why am I still reading it?

Unlike his No.1 Ladies Detective Agency mysteries, there's little suspense here and certainly there's no frenetic turning of pages to see what is going to happen next. Smith and his likeable creation, Isabel Dalhousie, meander from one chapter to another and if you wish to join them in this literary stroll fine; if not, no problem!

The editor of a philosophy journal and the mother of a young son, whom she is raising with the child's father in Edinburgh, Isabel is an inquisitive woman who often gets herself into situations which involve helping others.

As Isabel's significant other and the father of her son, explains it, Isabel has a tendency to interfere in matters that do not concern her. 'She did it all the time, as a moth will approach the flame, unable to stop herself,' he says. 'She had to help; it was just the way she was.'

In this instance, the flame that draws Isabel is an old acquaintance named Minty Auchterlonie, who insists that Isabel handle some personal unpleasantness that is the result of the woman having a child by a man not her husband. Although she never cared for Minty and Jamie warns her to not get involved, Isabel agrees to help. Of course her decision turns out to be a total mistake as Minty's unethical behavior makes Isabel rue the day she said she would help the shrew.

On a second front, Isabel must weather an attack by two disgruntled philosophers who wish to oust her from the editorship of the Review of Applied Ethics. With the aplomb and wit that she has manifested time and time again in this series, Isabel deals with this unpleasant situation in a manner that will have the reader silently applauding.

Those who have read the previous adventures of Ms. Dalhousie know how she has arrived at this point in her life where she is raising an eighteen month old child. Privy to Isabel's relationship with Jamie, a young man a few years her junior, you'll know how infatuated the two are with one another and you'll be delighted by how Smith moves this relationship forward.

If you are wondering about the novel's title, the key to understanding its significance lies in how some characters do or do not show an appreciation for what has been done for them.

Late in the book Isabel muses, 'Gratitude was a lost art ... People accepted things, took them as their right, and had forgotten how to give proper thanks.' Obviously, she's not far off the mark. In fact, in today's society I'd say she has hit the bullseye!

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