The Talented Mr. Varg by Alexander McCall Smith

September 20, 2020 at 9:10 pm (Book review, books, Mystery fiction)

  I have just finished The Talented Mr. Varg, sequel to The Department of Sensitive Crimes. I thoroughly enjoyed it, just as I did its predecessor.

In this, the second entry in a new series, Ulf Varg pursues several  cases of possible faithlessness. These cases may also involve legal infractions; in one instance, even blackmail. While all this is going on, Ulf and his neighbor, Mrs. Högfors, are taking solicitous care of Martin, Ulf’s dog. Martin is prone to fits of depression, but has been steadily improving while in the care of a kindly veterinarian.

While all this is transpiring, Ulf must constantly attend to his  feelings for his partner Anna. She’s married, and has two daughters who are champion swimmers. He refuses to be party to the disruption of this comfortable domesticity. Nevertheless…

He rose from his desk glancing at Anna as ho did so. She looked up and caught his glance, and smiled. It was a moment of pure  bliss. Anna was everything. She was decency, courtesy, reliability, motherhood, Sweden, and love. All of that; and all of that. And she was somebody else’s. She was that too, perhaps above all those other things.

There is a sweet sadness – a sad sweetness? – in this novel, as in the numerous others by Alexander McCall Smith. It keeps them from being saccharine or sentimental. I was searching for a term to describe this quality, and I think I’ve found it: poignancy. The Oxford English dictionary defines this word as “The quality of evoking a keen sense of sadness or regret.

I recently led a discussion of The Department of Sensitive Crimes with my fellow crime fiction lovers in the Usual Suspects group. We mulled over the question of whether to classify it as a cozy mystery.    We decided that although some of the characteristics of that subgenre were present in the novel, it nevertheless featured other aspects that led to deeper waters. To wit: This is a thought that Ulf ponders as a session with his psychotherapist draws to a close:

Freud, he remembered, died of a disease that affected his jaw. Alone in London, with enemies circling, that illuminating intelligence, liberating in its perspicacity, flickered and died, leaving us to face the darkness and the creature that inhabited it.

For the record, Sigmund Freud died in September of 1939, of cancer of the jaw. He was 83 years old. My researches into the life and interests of Alexander McCall Smith revealed that he is an avid reader of philosophy.


1 Comment

  1. alison41 said,

    McCall Smith must be one of the most prolific writers on the planet – his output is staggering!

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