By Alexander McCall Smith
“Our emotions all seem geared towards keeping us in one piece, as animals, so to speak. Fear and flight. Fighting over food. Hatred and envy. All very physical and connected with survival.”
“But might one not equally say that the emotions have a role in developing our higher capacities?” Isabel had countered. “Our emotions allow us to empathise with others. If I love another, then I know what it is to be that other person. If I feel pity – which is an important emotion, isn’t it? – the this helps me to understand the suffering of others. So our emotions make us grow morally. We develop a moral imagination.”
“Perhaps,” Cat had said, but she had been looking away then, at a jar of pickled onions, and her attention had clearly wandered. Pickled onions had nothing to do with moral imagination, but were important in their own, quiet, vinegary way, Isabel supposed.
Isabel Dalhouise is sharp, quick, and curious. She leads a quiet life, filling much of her time editing The Review of Applied Ethics and discussing her philosophical ideas with her friends and family, but after witnessing a young man fall from the balcony at the orchestra, her curiosity and constant pursuit of the truth entangle her in the mystery surrounding his death. The story gently see-saws between high-minded discussions of life, purpose, and truth and an ever-thickening mystery full of twists, turns, and even a few gasps.
While Alexander McCall Smith clearly enjoys a good philosophical debate and the story occasionally felt like it was about to tip into pretentious rhetoric, it managed to stay the course of thrilling mystery with a dash of philosophy mixed in. A good mystery strikes a delicate balance. Give the reader enough clues to make them feel like, perhaps, they can solve it before the protagonist does but not enough to spoil the big reveal. McCall pulls this off without a hitch, deftly dancing around the mystery, collecting the clues, and tying them all together in the last few pages. The Sunday Philosophy Club is a perfect balance: fun, smart, humorous, and most importantly, an excellent whodunit.