The Peppermint Tea Chronicles is the thirteenth book in the popular 44 Scotland Street serial novel by Scottish author, Alexander McCall Smith, and in it, the lives of the residents of 44 Scotland Street and those of their friends are, once again, updated for the continuing enjoyment of series fans.
While Stuart Pollock and his mother, Nicola find it disturbing that Irene can so easily desert her sons to study in Aberdeen, Bertie is hopeful that Thursday’s psychotherapy sessions might now be forgotten. Meanwhile, he and his best friend, Ranald Braveheart Macpherson have started an unusual book club, and make a clandestine (unaccompanied) visit to the circus, returning with an exciting souvenir that is unlikely to garner parental approval. And at school, bossy Olive and her acolytes continue to plague the boys.
Bertie is overjoyed to learn that his grandmother, Nicola owns a pie factory in Glasgow: “He had long wanted to live in Glasgow, where he imagined he would be free. There was no psychotherapy in Glasgow; there was no yoga to speak of; and now there were mutton pies. This promised land, only forty miles away by train, was a world to which Bertie had always felt drawn. Now here he was with a real Glasgow connection - and to a pie factory at that.”
Matthew and Elspeth are grateful to have a very capable nineteen-year-old chap to help with their fast-growing triplets, but Matthew is concerned over the emotional welfare of his assistant, Pat McGregor. While at an art sale, he and Pat come up with a novel way of authenticating Scottish paintings based on facial expression and clothedness.
Domenica devises a way to revitalise Angus Lordie’s wardrobe by stealth, and becomes sufficiently irritated by Antonia Collie’s friend (and aphorist of note), Sister Maria-Fiore dei Fiori di Montagna, to mischievously ask the question “Was St Francis a vegetarian?” Big Lou learns that her foster-son, Finlay has a talent for dancing, the nurturing of which presents her with a dilemma. Her solution will be a shock to her customers. And Angus introduces a weekly 24-hour news fast into his routine.
Stuart decides he deserves to find love, and reflects on what constitutes junk mail. Ranald tries to convince Bertie that lying is OK now because it’s only mis-speaking, which everyone does. Bruce, while preening, considers it may be time to find a mate: his beauty may not last forever. The heiress to a fortune (daddy owns a distillery) looks like a worthy candidate on whom to bestow his wonderful looks and his erudition…
As always, McCall Smith has his characters musing on or discussing a myriad of topics, exposing the reader to small doses of gentle philosophy. Topics often miraculously segue into one another: urban cats in South Australia to sovereignty via narcissism and mission statements, or ice cream to death to heaven to Santa.
Elspeth concludes that masculinity and simpatico are mutually exclusive; Domenica defines shameless shoes; Nicola explains to Stuart the use of constructive mistruth; and Stuart realises that centrist philosophy is simply not sexy. McCall Smith’s work is always a joy to read. This one has a generous helping of laugh-out-loud moments, and fans will hope for many more instalments of this delightful series.