The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith (Fiction / Mystery)

I’m a big McCall Smith fan — I like the ethical foundations of and philosophical ruminations in all of his books. This book marks the beginning of a new series which differs from his other three in two primary ways: the action takes place in Sweden (as opposed to Botswana and Scotland) and features a male protagonist.

In general, I don’t like the result when a writer chooses to write a main character of a gender opposite the writer’s own — it’s a personal thing — but for some reason I love McCall Smith’s female leads. Isabelle Dalhousie and Mma Ramotswe are the kind of women I like — perhaps because they blend an emotional sensitivity with a strong rational thought process that resonates strongly with me. Ulf Varg — the senior policeman of the titular Sensitive Crimes Department of the Malmö Criminal Investigation Authority — has a very similar personality, albeit clothed in a man’s body.

Ostensibly about “sensitive” crimes (a knife attack on the back of a victim’s knee, the disappearance of an imaginary boyfriend, a spa owner subject to apparent werewolf fits…) the stories primarily revolve around the ethical dilemmas we all face in everyday life. The characters have arcane interests (such as Nordic Art) which in typical McCall Smith style are presented in ways that spark an interest where none was present before, and the action is propelled forward by the intriguing and detailed flow between their rich interior worlds and the physical world around them.

A good read — I don’t know that the Swedish environment has been presented with the same depth as the Botswana and Scotland environments had previously, but then this is only book one. On the other hand, nice to read a Swedish mystery that isn’t steeped in horrifying scenes (e.g. the Dragon Tattoo books — yuck!)

The Colors of All Cattle by Alexander McCall Smith

Writing: 4.5/5 Plot: 3/5 Characters: 3/5

Another installment (number 19) of the Botswana-based, No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. In this episode, Mma Ramotswe is persuaded to run for a seat on the Gabarone City Council in order to prevent the “Big Fun Hotel” from gaining council approval while simultaneously helping the victim of a hit and run accident— who happens to be an old friend of her father’s.

While this book is as good as all the rest, I admit to experiencing some series fatigue with the Botswana collection. The characters, once lovably simple and straightforward, have begun to feel like stereotypes that do not grow. I am feeling more and more irritated with Mma Makutsi’s rigidity and undeserved arrogance while simultaneously being annoyed with Mma Ramotswe for putting up with it! However, the story is interesting and many of the regular characters are developing — Mma Makutsi and her husband have a rare falling out and the way they come back to a loving center is beautifully done, Charlie manages to fall in love, and the ongoing focus on living an intentionally ethical life is always welcome. As usual, McCall Smith has managed to utilize a new (to me) word in his writing: “persipience: a good understanding of things; perceptiveness.” I consider myself to have a large vocabulary but he puts me to shame every time!