44 Scotland Street reads like a Scottish Tales of the City, which makes sense since McCall Smith got the idea directly from Armistead Maupin’s serialized stories. Unfortunately, 44 is not nearly as entertaining nor as much fun. The problem lies in characters who are far less likable than Maupin’s Tales of the City gang.
44 Scotland Street is set in an Edinburgh neighborhood where characters’ lives intertwine over the course of 110 installments that initially appeared in The Scotsman. What begins promisingly as quirky, light-hearted fun turns predictable and dull after the first hundred pages or so.
Pat, a young woman on her second “gap year”, takes a job at a gallery run by a wealthy slacker and moves into an apartment with Bruce, whose favorite past-time is admiring himself in the mirror. Her love-hate relationship with Bruce comes off as trite and predictable. Neighbors in the building include a gregarious older woman who dispenses wisdom to Pat, and Irene, the obnoxious mother of Bertie, a child prodigy who acts out against his mother’s self-inflated theories of parenting.
McCall Smith does a fine job of juggling characters and wrapping up each chapter with a nice little cliffhanger but I wasn’t entertained enough by the writing, the personalities or their antics to find it a compelling book. Perhaps I’m too far removed from Edinburgh to get the humor or find it all very charming, which surprised me since I feel the exact opposite about McCall Smith’s other series, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Alas, when the next book in the 44 series is released, I’ll pass in favor of reading more tales from Botswana.