Love in the Time of Bertie by Alexander McCall Smith, Vantage 2022 –
How does McCall Smith do it? His highly successful career in medical law was long ago eclipsed by his fame as a best-selling author. The sheer volume of books produced by McCall Smith might leave one wondering if he has any time for sleeping and eating. The acclaim started with the ‘Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency’, an offbeat story set in Botswana. The ‘traditionally built’ lady detective now has over twenty books in her series and it doesn’t stop there. Smith has written several other books that have spawned into multi-book series: 44 Scotland Street, The Sunday Philosophy Club (Isabel Dalhousie mysteries) and Professor Dr. von Igelfeld Entertainment Series to name but a few. In total, he’s published over one hundred and twenty-five books and is still going strong.
All the books share common elements – they’re light reading, easily accessible, full of quirky characters dipped in a general vat of bonhomie and laced with folksy charm. The protagonists almost invariably subscribe to that good old trait of looking at the world through a lens of homespun common sense and the books are always good for a laugh or two.
Of the several long running series, ‘44 Scotland Street’ and ‘Professor Dr. von Igelfeld’ are perhaps the most entertaining. ‘Love in the Time of Bertie’ belongs with the fifteen books in the ’44 Scotland Street’ series. This series is especially amusing when eight/ten year old Bertie is contending with his ultra-controlling and wacky mother Irene, his long-suffering and weak-willed father Stuart, and the machinations of Olive, Bertie’s schoolmate who has all but ordered Bertie to marry her when they’re old enough. Added to the mix is Bertie’s good friend Ranald Braveheart, Olive’s sidekick Pansy and Stuart’s mother Irene, a lady with just enough restraint not to murder her obnoxious daughter-in-law.
If Bertie needs a break, Smith has several other relationship threads weaving in and out of each book. There’s Domenica and her artist husband Angus, Sister Maria-Fiori interacting with Antonia, the self-absorbed Bruce crashing off everyone and the ever steady ‘diamond in the rough’ café owner, Big Lou and her beaux Fat Bob.
McCall Smith throws them together and it’s not long before fermentation starts them all bubbling. ‘Love in the Time of Bertie’ is only the latest in this long series featuring the cast and, if you’re new to the series, is likely not the best starter. While there is always some fun to be found in any Smith book, I thought the earlier books in this series more successful than this one. This may have to do with the self-imposed exile of Irene – Bertie’s mother is one of those wonderful creations we all love to hate and her absence just doesn’t lend itself to engendering the same level of outrage as when she’s stirring the pot at home.
TL:DR – a book that will satisfy the devotees of the 44 Scotland Street series.