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Corduroy Mansions: A Novel by Alexander Mccall Smith
Review by Don Metzler
Pantheon Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780307379085
Date: 13 July 2010 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

“Tim,” Caroline said weakly. “It is you, isn't it?”
Tim laughed. “Of course it is. Well, I hope it is. It's me.”
Tim looked at James. “I'm Tim Something,” he said, extending a hand.
“Tim what?” asked James. “I didn't quite get your name.”
“Something,” said Tim.
James glanced at Caroline. “Tim Something,” she muttered.
Corduroy Mansions is the affectionate nickname given to a three story apartment building in the Pimlico neighborhood of London, and this narrative centers around the lives and affairs of the quirky inhabitants of the building. The top floor belongs to one William French, dealer in fine wines, who at fifty-one years of age has decided it is high time that his twenty-four year old son, Eddie, should move out and find his own flat. But the stubborn Eddie will not be so easily displaced, and William is forced to resort to a series of underhanded schemes to try to relieve himself of his son's unwanted presence.

The next apartment below William's is shared by four young single ladies: Dee, a vigorous advocate for vitamin supplements and colonic irrigation; Caroline, an art history student and former debutante who remains in a continual state of perplexity regarding her male acquaintances; Jo, freshly arrived from her native Australia, temporarily making ends meet as a server at a wine bar; and Jenny, personal assistant to Oedipus Snark, MP.

Oedipus Snark... now here is a fascinating, perhaps clinical study in narcissism. His very name seems to provide us with a cogent clue as to what his ethics, morals, and general deportment will be. Snark's political views are consistently self-serving; his mistress has wearied of the callous inattention he affords her; even his personal assistant, Jenny, detests him as being a deplorable specimen of the human race. More telling yet, Snark's own mother, Berthea, is hard at work on an unauthorized biography of Oedipus, in which she hopes to reveal to one and all what a low and vile creature he actually is, a son who she now realizes, given that hindsight is 20-20, probably should have been drowned at birth.

In researching for her book, Berthea enlists the help of her brother, Terence Moongrove, whose greatest passion in life seems to be his sacred Bulgarian dances, performed under the full moon while clothed all in white. The most positive comment that the highly spiritual Terence is willing to make in regards to his nephew is, "It would be such fun to electrocute him."

Into all of this confusion and strife struts one Freddie de le Hay, a vegetarian Pimlico terrier and recently retired drug-sniffing dog for the customs department, whom William has taken into his home on a supposedly part-time basis. If anyone can make heads or tails of this odd assortment of characters who have assembled at Corduroy Mansions, it will be Freddie de le Hay.

Corduroy Mansions is a nicely paced and delightful romp through a three or four week period in the lives of these characters, and a reading experience not to be missed. Readers who have enjoyed any of Smith's previous literary outings will absolutely revel in the gentle ironies and philosophical vagaries of Corduroy Mansions. To be sure, this is not a mystery novel; Smith's books frequently turn up on mystery lists due to the huge success of his No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.

But this is a book that will appeal to anyone who appreciates masterful prose, engaging characters and subtle wit. Not to mention Smith's specialty: a liberal dose of musings on the subject of Applied Ethics.

Highly recommended reading.

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