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Friends, Lovers, Chocolate: The Sunday Philosophy Club    by Alexander McCall Smith order for
Friends, Lovers, Chocolate
by Alexander McCall Smith
Order:  USA  Can
Pantheon, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, Audio, CD
* *   Reviewed by Pat Elliott

Does collective memory reside somewhere in the body besides the brain? Is it possible that heart transplant recipients retain a memory from their donor? This is the question Alexander McCall Smith's philosophy spouting detective confronts in Friends, Lovers, Chocolate. Isabel Dalhousie is privately wealthy and is private about her wealth. To keep herself busy she edits the Review of Applied Ethics. But she doesn't let that get in the way of following her instincts when presented with a problem. Isabel has a reputation for discreetly looking into things. Some would say it's plain nosiness while kinder friends call it indiscreet curiosity.

Isabel agrees to oversee her niece, Cat's, delicatessen while Cat attends a wedding in Italy. She meets a man in the delicatessen with a most interesting problem. After a recent heart transplant, Ian is having a vision of a sinister looking man. The vision makes his uncomfortable and afraid, even though he is sure he has never met the man. Ian, a psychologist, who no longer practices because he has recently received a heart transplant, has researched the subject extensively but cannot help himself. He confides in Isabel, hoping she will look into the possibility that transplant recipients can and do remember things from their donor's life.

Intrigued, Isabel quickly tracks down two heart donors. By chance, they have the same last name but only one of them has a mother who is living with the man Ian sees in his visions. Could this man be the young donor's murderer? Is that why Ian is afraid? All the while Isabel is researching collective memory she is also dealing with Cat's cast off boyfriends. Though one is much younger than she is, Isabel finds herself very attracted to him, but his entire interest is focused on her niece. Another is a handsome Italian who came to Edinburgh with Cat for nefarious reasons, reasons that do not include wooing anyone.

So grab a cup of tea and a couple of scones, and settle down for a good mystery in Edinburgh, Scotland. You will learn a lot from Friends, Lovers, Chocolate - about philosophy, music and affairs of the heart. This is the second in Alexander McCall Smith's series, The Sunday Philosophy Club.

2nd Review by Mary Ann Smyth:

Alexander McCall Smith is well-known for his series about the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, based in Botswana, Africa. Down-to-earth good people struggle with their daily lives; their stories told in simple but well-chosen words. Friends, Lovers, Chocolate takes place in Edinburgh, with highly articulate characters who ruminate about the happenings in their lives. Their stories are just as interesting but on a different plane.

Friends, Lovers, Chocolate is one of the Isabel Dalhousie series. Isabel helps out in her niece's delicatessen and meets a man who has had a heart transplant. He feels the heart is conjuring up the vision of a face from its previous host's life, which leads Isabel to track down the anonymous donor. It's an interesting concept that engenders a bit of suspense. The possibility of a romance for Isabel creates a flutter in the reader's heart.

At the core of this lovely book are the philosophical conversations and ruminations between Isabel and the heart transplant patient and also Isabel's with herself. Isabel is the editor of a philosophical publication and sees life from a philosophic point of view. With finely-drawn characters and a background of Edinburgh and its environs, this luscious rendering of everyday people's lives is hard to put down.

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