book: The Department of Sensitive Crimes (2019) by Alexander McCall Smith

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I’ve enjoyed watching the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series on TV but so far as I can recall I’ve never actually read anything by Alexander McCall Smith before. I may have to change my ways because, while I was far from blown away by The Department of Sensitive Crimes, I found the book very easy to read — very amiable.

The Department of Sensitive Crimes, based in Malmo, is that division of the police to which are sent the cases that are in one way or another too odd or knotty for the other divisions to deal with. There are three such cases recounted here: someone’s stabbed in the back of the knee, of all places; a young woman invents an imaginary boyfriend and then finds herself in hot water when people think she may have murdered him (this case develops much further, and forms the main strand of the book); and a case of seeming lycanthropy. Although the cases themselves don’t overlap, we see them effectively through the eyes of the Department’s head, Ulf Varg, and the chronological account knits the three together.

That name, Ulf Varg, apparently means “Wolf Wolf” in Swedish. They call him “Detective Varg” on the book’s cover, but I’d suggest “The Other Detective Varg” might be a desirable piece of humility; after all, Gunnar Staalesen’s Varg Veum has a somewhat more impressive pedigree. That aside, The Department of Sensitive Crimes has little in common with Scandinoir beyond the geographical setting. Alan Bradley in his cover quote calls it “Scandi Blanc,” which is an appealing term but I don’t think a very good description of the book. Really what it seems more like is The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency transferred to Malmo, with the same mixture of homespun morality and Don Camillo-style heartwarming humor.

Gently amusing, unchallenging, easy to read, never uninteresting although sometimes a little verbose. There are times when a recipe like that is just what I want in a novel.

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2 thoughts on “book: The Department of Sensitive Crimes (2019) by Alexander McCall Smith

  1. “I’ve enjoyed watching the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series on TV but so far as I can recall I’ve never actually read anything by Alexander McCall Smith before.”

    Same here John, though I’ve come close a few times. But I get your post in this splendidly-penned assessment, they are “amiable.”

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