Skating to the edge of whimsy, this latest book in Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street Series dances at times into territory that can only be called ludicrous.
Bertie's seventh birthday is coming up, and the redoubtable Irene tells her son to invite Tofu's ruffian friends and Olive's bossy gaggle of girls to attend his party. Not only does his mother hijack the guest list, she vetoes her husband's plan to get their son the Swiss Army knife he has long hoped for.
But this time, fate intervenes in Irene's plans. When he learns his Dad will host his party, Bertie is delighted. He and his friends will be allowed to partake of sausages (shunned by Irene) and play rough games like "Chase the Dentist."
How he longs to be eighteen, so he can get out from beneath his mother's iron thumb. However, as he turns seven, he manages to get to Scout Camp, where he finds he can be of use to his friend Ranald. Then the bully Tofu manipulates Bertie and Ranald into a rash and dangerous adventure. Fortunately, the children are rescued by kind strangers and return to camp before the adults notice their absence.
Chez Domenica and Angus, Antonia returns as their guest to visit her former flat. Tactlessly, she raises the mortifying memory of the blue Spode cup caper. However, the newlyweds focus on their better selves and behave with aplomb toward Antonia and the Italian nun she has brought along.
Pat may be experiencing love at first sight for Michael, a young man who makes inlaid wooden tables, cooks scallops and plays her a song called "Pythagoras's Trousers." But she is mortified when on their very first date, they run into her divorced psychiatrist father with an unappealing woman.
Faithful fans are delighted when Irene gets her comeuppance for her overbearing treatment of Bertie. Her trip to the Literary Festival in Dubai, far from providing another soapbox
from which she can expound,
goes badly awry. On the plane, Irene's clothing is accidentally soiled, and she arrives at the Grand International Hotel in a borrowed Air Emirates uniform. When her luggage is lost, she must manage to eat a hearty hotel breakfast while wearing a burqua.
Meanwhile, Big Lou decides to become a foster parent and is deceived by the social worker. Stewart and his boss Andrew engage in a ludicrous conversation about relative air allocations for English and Scottish lungs. And Bruce is the victim of a cosmetic accident, then falls for a Danish au pair as narcissistic as he is.
It's all a ton of fun, and heartwarming too, a delightful hallmark of this author's fiction.