It is summer in Scotland Street (as it always is) and for the habitués of Edinburgh's favourite street some extraordinary adventures lie in waiting.
For the impossibly vain Bruce Anderson - he of the clove-scented hair gel - it may finally be time to settle down, and surely it can only be a question of picking the lucky winner from the hordes of his admirers. The Duke of Johannesburg is keen to take his flight of fancy, a microlite seaplane, from the drawing board to the skies. Big Lou is delighted to discover that her young foster son has a surprising gift for dance but she is faced with big decisions to make on his and her futures. And with Irene now away to pursue her research in Aberdeen, her husband, Stuart, and infinitely long-suffering son, Bertie, are free to play. Stuart rekindles an old friendship over peppermint tea whilst Bertie and his friend Ranald Braveheart Macpherson get more they bargained for from their trip to the circus. And that's just the beginning . . .
In Smith's meandering 13th 44 Scotland Street novel (after 2017's A Time of Love and Tartan), the latest personal developments among the residents of the Edinburgh street will strike many as ho-hum: a child's acquisition of a pet dog, a battle with a bureaucracy over disposing of a dead animal, and a coffee shop owner's fears for her business's future. Cat lovers will be taken aback by an anthropomorphized projection of the life of a dead feline, which, in order to make a pseudo-profound point about its finder's worldview, suggests that the cat couldn't have had an attachment to anything or anyone beyond its own life. Others may find odd one character's attitude that only men can have a sentimental attachment to old clothing. Readers will struggle to care about the child and the coffee shop owner and how their personal stories play out. The author's usual charm and humor aren't enough to redeem a tale without a dominant or memorable story line. Fans of Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective series will be disappointed.