As a mother, wife, employer and editor of the Review of Applied Ethics, Isabel Dalhousie is aware that to be human is to be responsible. So when a neighbour brings her a new and potentially dangerous puzzle to solve, once again Isabel feels she has no option but to shoulder the burden.
A masterpiece painting has been stolen from Duncan Munrowe, old-fashioned philanthropist, father to two discontented children, and a very wealthy man. As Isabel enters into negotiations with the shadowy figures who are in search of a ransom, a case where heroes and villains should be clearly defined turns murky: the list of those who desire the painting - or the money - lengthens, and hasty judgement must be avoided at all cost. Morals, it turns out, are like Scottish clouds: complex, changeable and tricky to get a firm grip on; they require a sharp observational eye, a philosophical mindset, and the habit of kindness. Fortunately for those around her, Isabel Dalhousie is in possession of all three.
In Smith's delightful ninth novel featuring Isabel Dalhousie (after 2011's The Forgotten Affairs of Youth), Isabel, "somebody who sorts out people's difficulties" when she's not editing the Review of Applied Ethics, assists a wealthy Scottish gentleman, Duncan Munrowe, with a tricky situation. One of Munrowe's favorite paintings, a Poussin, has been stolen, and he wants her help in dealing with the thieves (there's talk of a ransom). A minor subplot involves the endearing Eddie, who works in her niece Cat's deli, and his romantic woes. The almost too-good-to-be-true Isabel does her usual thing talking, listening, and puzzling through the ethical implications of things to bring about a fitting, and just, resolution. With his usual deft hand, Smith conjures characters with a few lines housekeeper Grace with her short fuse is particularly alive and he has a knack for combining light comedy and serious thought. The plot (not untypically for the series or the author) is as gossamer thin as even the thinnest clouds, though it's a pleasure to watch it scudding past.