by Edith Cody-Rice
The third in the Corduroy Mansions series by Alexander McCall Smith has finally been distributed in Canada by Random House. A Knopf Canada publication, A Conspiracy of Friends, like the other adventures of the Corduroy Mansions inhabitants was first published serially in the London Telegraph, then compiled into a book.
McCall Smith continues his tongue-in-cheek exploration of the lives of the tenants, each with an episode, important to them, which lands them back where they began, in the bosom of the genteelly shabby flats. Barbara Ragg finds her true love not so fascinating after all; Rupert, Barbara's business partner who covets "La Ragg's" flat vows revenge when she renegs on her promise to sell it to him; Caroline loses a friend through silly behaviour and Freddy de la Hay, Pimilico Terrier and boon companion to William French, wine merchant (MW failed), gets lost again. The story even briefly veers into the life of Eddie, William's feckless son, who has landed in a tub of butter in his affair with an older woman of means.
All the characters are there, with their very human and very English adventures and the stories demand a healthy dollop of suspension of disbelief, particularly in the amusing comeuppance for Oedipus Snark, the only thoroughly nasty Liberal Democrat in power — but that would be telling.
McCall Smith inserts into the narrative his own humorous commentary on understated British customs as when he mulls over the sending of thank you notes for a thoroughly disagreeable weekend. William is spending just such a weekend with his oldest friend. McCall opines,
Things could have been worse, of course: there must be weekends during which the hosts' house burns to the ground, one of the guests murders another, the hostess is arrested in extradition proceedings or the guests are all poisoned by the inclusion of death's cap mushrooms in the stew. Such weekends must be very difficult indeed, not least because of the wording of the thank-you letters that one would have to write. The disaster, whatever it was, could hardly be ignored, but must be referred to tactfully in the letter, and always set in proper perspective. Thus, in the case of the mushroom poisoning, one would comment on how the other courses of the meal were delicious; in the case of the hostess's arrest, one would say something comforting about the ability of defence lawyers in the jurisdiction to which she was being extradited – and so on, mutatis mutandis, trying at all times to be as positive as possible
A Conspiracy of Friends is a light read, as are all of McColl Smith books, but it is a delightful break from all those mysteries we devour while lounging about in the summertime.