Reviewed by Richard Tutin
I am very partial to books written by Älexander McCall Smith. I am also partial to vintage and veteran cars. So when McCall Smith’s latest book features a venerable Saab car then, in the line from a current car TV ad, “I’m In”.
The Man with the Silver Saab is the third novel in Detective Varg series. Ulf Varg, head of Malmo’s Department of Sensitive Cases, is once more at the centre of things, professionally and personally. As he navigates an intriguing case, he also must sort out the hiatus that is his personal life which began with the death of his beloved wife.
As the Department’s name implies, both the investigation and Varg’s relationships with those close to him require a sensitive and thoughtful touch that at times can be frustrating and hilarious. Though there are some tedious moments, the story moves along to its fascinating conclusion that reminds us that life in all its facets can be extremely complicated even though we might like things to be more cut and dried.
The link that carries us through the book is the silver Saab. It is there when Varg has to rush his injured dog to the Vet. It transports him to and from the office as well as conveying him and his colleague, Blomquist, to meet those connected with the case. As the story closes, the Saab is there as Varg’s life takes a new direction. The car though is not an added extra. Comments and thoughts about it and older cars in general are spread throughout the book. It seems to encourage conversation and reflection as Varg navigates the streets of Malmo as things progress.
Along the way there are misunderstandings as well as new insights that help shape and develop the characters. I liked the way in which Varg handles the interview with his stern, and by the book superior, Commissioner Lund about the circumstances that led to his suspension from duty. McCall Smith keeps the reader engaged to the point where we want to see the outcome and how Varg fares given the Commissioner’s reputation as a disciplinarian.
Varg repeatedly has to counter the way in which his office is continually referred to as the Department of Sensational Cases rather than Sensitive Cases. This also adds gentle humour to the mix as things progress to their conclusion.
One thought that came to mind is the question of what McCall Smith is conveying in telling the story. After all, how many police services have a Department of Sensitive Cases? It is worth considering, as one reads the book, if McCall Smith is making comments about how he sees today’s society. If so, is society becoming more sensitive to people’s feelings, ideas and behaviour especially if they regard themselves as being on its margins?
McCall Smith has produced another enjoyable book whose main character is as sensitive to those around him as the name of his department implies. It will be interesting to see how Ulf Varg develops as more offerings in this series emerge.
Älexander McCall Smith is the author of over one hundred books on a wide variety of subjects, including the award winning The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, the Isabel Dalhousie novels and the world’s longest running serial novel 44 Scotland Street.
He is Professor Emeritus of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh.
The Man in the Silver Saab
by Älexander McCall Smith