November 12, 2008 at 05:00 AM EST

The World According To Bertie

Current Status
In Season
Alexander McCall Smith
Anchor Books
We gave it an A-

Alexander McCall Smith writes faster than most people read, which is good news for the legions of fans who rarely have to go more than a few months without a ? new fix of his gentle but powerfully addicting fiction. Though the African-born author ? is best known for his wonderful No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, set in Botswana, the novels in his 44 Scotland Street series are nearly as delightful.

Inspired by Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, the 44 Scotland series revolves around a loosely connected group of men, women, and one woebegone little boy, most of whom live in the same Edinburgh apartment building. You don’t need to have read any of the earlier books to pick up the thread of the various low-key sagas that slowly unfold in The World According to Bertie, the series’ fourth installment.

The eponymous 6-year-old Bertie continues his campaign to defy his mother, Irene, ?who treats him like a social engineering experiment, insisting on painting his room pink and enrolling him in yoga classes. Meanwhile, their upstairs neighbor, Antonia, begins an affair with a Polish construction worker, while her sometime friend, Domenica, suspects her of filching a china teacup. (How exactly do you ask an acquaintance if she’s stolen your teacup?) But the funniest bits involve Bruce, a selfish, gold-digging lothario who is as clueless as he is vain, and who begins a romance with a wealthy woman with an agenda of her own. Doesn’t sound very dramatic? It’s not. But high-octane plot isn’t what McCall Smith is all about. ? You read his sweet, meandering novels for the droll conversations, for the small-scale moral dilemmas, for his graceful and ?always amusing depiction of the pleasures and problems of everyday life. A?

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