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Cannonball Read #12: La’s Orchestra Saves the World

12/20/2009

This time of year is so hard to fit reading in. Usually I sneak time during breakfast or lunch, but lunch hours are now taken up with mad dashes to the post office or Target. Or maybe a quick nap!

I did manage to get in La’s Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith. I’m a big fan of his other series, the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, but this one is unrelated to that or any of his other series. It takes place in the British countryside during World War II and focuses on a woman, La, who moves to the countryside after husband has left her for another woman. Yes, her name is “La” – short for “Lavender”.

Smith’s subtle writing works well in his No. 1 series, but the setting in those novels really fleshes out the atmosphere.  La’s was blah. And it’s a shame, because government suspicion could make for a great storyline.  La overhears a Polish man who she’d fallen in love with named Felix speaking German. During WWII, being something other than what you seem can be dangerous, even in the English countryside.

I must admit I have been putting off finishing this review. I can’t quite put my finger on what was wrong with this story, or maybe I just don’t care to — and that is the problem. Smith’s style works well with Precious Ramotswe in the No. 1 series, because she has strong opinions and beliefs. La has retreated into herself after her husband’s affair, and even the reunion scene at the end is subdued.

The other difference is the lack of a strong mystery in La’s story. Yes we do not know what Felix’s real story is, but that in and of itself is not very compelling.  Smith’s other protagonist, Precious, always has a problem to solve, or several! I know he has another mystery series starring a character named Isabel Dalhousie, though I never really got into it.

I did read the serial story 44 Scotland Street and enjoyed it a lot. That was not a mystery per se, so it’s not that Smith must have a mystery in his storyline, it’s just that the one he used in La’s wasn’t interesting enough.

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