I’ve avoided Alexander McCall Smith for a long time.

The company I work for had an IT technician called Mike, and he used to come and fix IT issues every couple of months. He was a wonderful guy- caring, and always full of jokes – he used to be about 25 maybe 30 stone? – a big lad. Anyway, I hadn’t seen him for a few months and when he came back I didn’t recognise him. He’d dyed his hair red (for a laugh), and he’d dropped a huge amount of weight. He’d taken up running, and he’d started entering to be a contestant on TV quiz shows. He’d tell me when his next appearance was and what channel, and i’d get home, switch on, and there he would be! Apparently people do circuits on them and the TV companies ring up regulars and ask them to be on an upcoming quiz. He’d see people over and over again. I guess you’d have to watch a lot of them to ever notice….Anyway, one day I had an email from the IT boss saying Mike was leaving (I think it was voluntary redundancy), we then found out he had pancreatic cancer, but he’d passed out his linked-in account for people to contact him. I sent him a message telling him to be strong, and he could fight it – he replied a few days later saying he was trying but it was hard. He died not long after.

The whole point of this story was that Mike and I often didn’t get along book-wise. We both absolutely adored Terry Pratchett, but he loved Kate Mosse (I hated Labyrinth), and I hated Wicked (he loved it!). He went on and on at me about Alexender McCall Smith and how I MUST read his books, and I never did. I’ve been putting them off ever since Mike died as it was such a strong memory of him, and I didn’t want to hate the books he loved so much.

However, it popped up on Netgalley and decided it was time to read. I have to say Mike – you were right. What have I been missing….

44 Scotland Street is a big hug of a book accompanied by a hot mug of chocolate – the author takes you straight into Scotland, and straight into that house – the wonderful house of larger than life characters – all different, but all bound by the same walls, sharing noises and accidental encounters on the stairs. Of gossip, and nosing, of love and friendship, and warmth, and humour.

Pat is our main character, in her second gap year of university, who turns up for an interview with Bruce to see if she is suitable for a room he has to rent. She is (as you can probably guess), successful. With this as our setting, we find out about the other occupants of 44 Scotland Street – the hilarious (but frighteningly realistic) Irene and Bernie Pollock, the wonderful, kind Domenica MacDonald, and the intriguing Angus Lordie – not forgetting the housemate Bruce of course.

I loved this book so much – the author instantly transports you into the story, and you feel so much compassion and warmth for the characters – it feels like you know them almost instantly. In all honestly, I want to live in 44 Scotland Street – I’ve actually driven along the street before – but I really can’t afford to live there…..I mean, wow, they’re expensive! Beautiful street mind. I think I’ll let Mr McCall Smith let me live there via his books instead….

PS I can spy another book of his in the bookshelf which was given to my other half as a xmas present last year. I’m grabbing it next time we take a short break away!

My thanks to Netgalley and Abacus (and to of course, Mike)