By Alexander McCall Smith.
I feel increasingly sorry for Bertie and his suffering. He has no reliable friends at school and his mother makes him play with the odious Olive who uses a real syringe to extract a blood sample from Bertie and later telling him he has leprosy. On a family outing to Valvona and Crolla, Ulysses gets left behind. Irene instantly blames Stuart and when they recover the baby, Bertie finds that the child isn’t Ulysses – in fact, not a boy at all. But there needs to be some relief for Bertie from his dreadful mother or the picture of his life is too unremittingly bleak to be tolerable.
Matthew and Pat finally become an item, but Matthew has second thoughts and Pat has second thoughts after she believes she sees Bruce. Matthew even goes so far as to propose to Pat, but she merely says she’ll think about it, and when they break up, both parties are relieved. I’m not sure what to make of Matthew. If I was meant to feel sorry for him earlier in the series, I don’t have much sympathy for him now because he’s become irritating.
However, Matthew’s wish does come true in the end. Bertie’s teacher, Elspeth Harmony, pinches Olive’s ear after she hears about the incident with the syringe, and is suspended from her job (cherchez the dead hand of Irene) from which she then resigns. She meets Matthew by chance, hit it off, and he proposes
Angus Lordie fears that Cyril is for the chop after being detained for biting people. Thanks to Bertie, the police track down the real culprit. Unfortunately, Cyril blots his copybook by shagging a neighbour’s dog and getting it pregnant, much to the chagrin of Angus’s intemperate neighbour who threatens to make the resulting puppies his responsibility.
Domenica is unhappy about Antonia’s decision to move into Bruce’s old flat, and even more annoyed when she finds that Antonia has wandered off with various possessions of hers. She also realises that Antonia is having an affair with the Polish builder, Markus, whose English doesn’t extend beyond the word “brick”. However, that’s a short-lived liaison in the end.
Big Lou has a new boyfriend, Robbie, who’s an ardent Jacobite, even although Lou thinks that it’s all a bit of a waste of time as he and his fellow Jacobites await the arrival of some representative of King Francis, who lives in Austria and has no pretensions to reclaim the Scottish throne for the House of Stuart.
And yes, Bruce is back, and falls straight into the clutches of Julia Donald, who allows herself to get pregnant and uses her father’s financial muscle to make Bruce propose to her. How that’s going to last, I don’t know, but he does get a Porsche 911 GT3 as part of the bride’s dowry, which he sniffs at (idiot) before accepting.
Because I’ve been reading the books in the series one after the other, the characters haven’t had the chance to hide behind a respite between series of 44 Scotland Street during which time readers forget what they were like. But because I’ve read the books in succession, I’ve found certain patterns emerging which make me wonder about the Scots, or at least the people of Edinburgh. I think Angus’s realisation that Domenica is a substitute mother says a lot about the female characters. Overall, I note that the male characters, excluding Bruce, are generally likeable, but often a little aimless (e.g. Matthew and Stuart). The female characters are generally maternal or aunt-like, ranging from the purely evil (Irene and Olive) to the more likeable (e.g. Big Lou and Domenica). Ultimately, characterisation seems to lack variety.
I also note that all the younger characters seem to have wealthy parents (thus, Matthew, Pat, and Julia). I also note that none of the older characters appear to have children apart from Irene and Stuart.