The Right Attitude to Rain

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 4)

The Right Attitude to Rain is the third book in Alexander McCall Smith’s Isabel Dalhousie novel series, which technically began as a mystery series in The Sunday Philosophy Club (2004), dealing with the suspicious death of a young man. The series focuses more on the uncertain motives of everyday people than on definite and serious crime. Thus this book begins with the appearance in Edinburgh of a puzzling American couple, Tom Bruce and his young fiancé Angie, who are extravagant in their spending and lifestyle. During the course of the novel, it emerges that Tom has dreamed that Angie has tried to kill him. After Tom breaks off the engagement and returns home to Texas, the reader learns that he is almost killed in a suspicious house fire. Was the fire an accident or did Angie set the fire in the hope of benefiting from an insurance policy? Did Tom himself set the fire because he wanted to rebuild the house in a different location? The mysterious motives and actions of Tom and Angie, however, are only a backdrop for examining the world of the protagonist of this series, Isabel Dalhousie, a middle-aged Edinburgh woman of independent means who spends her professional time editing The Review of Applied Ethics. In her spare time she enjoys dabbling in philanthropy, watching people, and examining the ethical implications of their actions.

Isabel observes and analyzes the saga of Tom and Angie while enjoying a rich circle of friends and acquaintances, many of whom have appeared in the two earlier books in the series. These include Grace, Isabel’s outspoken housekeeper, whose fascination with spiritualism was an important focus of Friends, Lovers, Chocolate (2005), book 2 in the series. Isabel shares her thoughts and observations with Grace, whose opinions she values highly. Even though Grace is only a few years older than Isabel, in The Right Attitude to Rain the generous Isabel takes on the responsibility of finding and purchasing a flat for Grace, who had been her late father’s housekeeper and after whom Isabel had promised her father she would look.

Another recurring character is Cat, Isabel’s niece, whose unworthy boyfriends often serve to distract Isabel from her editing duties and to confirm Isabel in the view that none of these men can measure up to Jamie, one of Cat’s rejected beaus. Jamie’s prominence increases in this series as he moves from a young man who seems to have befriended Isabel in order to maintain some ties with Cat, whom he still loves, to one of Isabel’s closest confidants. Indeed, by the end of Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, Isabel realizes that she is dangerously close to falling in love with Jamie, fifteen years her junior.

Behind these characters lies the charm of Auld Reekie, the city of Edinburgh, the beloved home of both Isabel Dalhousie and of her creator, McCall Smith. One of the delights of this novel is the opportunity to travel through the city and to become acquainted with its colorful people and places. The novel portrays this noble city as a vibrant center of the arts, culture, and intellectual life.

While these Scots and their city are the real focus of this series, The Right Attitude to Rain also continues many of the subplots established in the earlier two books in the series. One learns more about Isabel’s family, especially her “sainted” American mother, who died when her daughter was young. The secret Isabel learns about her mother leads her both to question her mother’s saintliness and to wonder whether her own life choices are being determined by genetics rather than free will, a serious concern for a philosopher who values her ability to analyze situations and choose the right ethical path.

Patrick Vaughn, Cat’s newest boyfriend, is no better than her earlier ones and Isabel frets as she realizes that his domineering mother is not about to allow her son...

(The entire section is 1608 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 4)

The Atlantic Monthly 298, no. 4 (November, 2006): 125.

Booklist 103, no. 3 (October 1, 2006): 6.

Entertainment Weekly, no. 898 (September 22, 2006): 97.

Publishers Weekly 253, no. 34 (August 28, 2006): 31.