I discovered the 44 Scotland Street series while listening to Confessions of A Serial Novelist by Alexander McCall Smith, an obscure audio offering in the OneClickdigital App. I downloaded it because I had read The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency some years earlier and was curious to hear what nuggets of wisdom such a successful author as McCall Smith might have to share.
The recording turned out to be a one hour lecture given in New York City in 2006 and featured more humor than substantive advice on how to succeed as a novelist. (Although, perhaps that is a good lesson in itself. Perhaps humor is the secret to success as a novelist?) The highlight of the lecture came at the end: an excerpt from the second 44 Scotland Street novel: Espresso Tales.
The passage was about a six-year-old boy named Bertie whose mother forces him to learn Italian and play tenor saxophone. This was interesting. I immediately checked the app for the 44 Scotland Street audiobook and downloaded it. While the passage McCall Smith read focused on Bertie, the series features a much larger cast of characters, some of whom are listed here on his website.
The first book of the series focuses primarily on the residents of the building the book is named after. (While Scotland Street is a real street in Edinburgh, there is no number 44.) There is Pat, a young girl of 20 on her 2nd gap year, working as a receptionist at an art gallery. Pat’s flatmate is Bruce, a rugby shirt-wearing narcissist with a passion for hair gel who works as a surveyor (real estate appraiser in the US). Across the hall is Domenica: world-wise anthropologist, widow, advisor to Pat, and friend to Angus. Angus lives on a neighboring street: a 50-something portrait painter and companion to Cyril, a beer and coffee-drinking dog with a gold tooth.
There’s also Matthew, the somewhat dejected owner of the art gallery Pat works at, who often enjoys long coffee breaks at Big Lou’s. Before Big Lou purchased Big Lou’s, it had been a bookshop. After the purchase, Lou moved all the remaining book inventory to her residence. She reads them whenever she is not running her coffee bar, giving rise to thoughtful and occasionally spirited philosophical discussions over coffee with customers.
With all the characters and funny storylines, I am reminded of Julian Fellowes and Downton Abbey. The books are fun to binge on, another thing in common with Downton Abbey! I discovered the series in August, four months ago, and I am already on the fourth book of the series: The World According to Bertie.
I have plenty more to say about the books, their author, and the narrator of the audiobooks, Robert Ian Mackenzie, but I will save it for a later post. For now, I will leave you with this interview with Alexander McCall Smith that I discovered from The Guardian. In it, he discusses the 44 Scotland Street series in his usual light-hearted and modest style. Happy Friday!