"The Talented Mr. Varg," by Alexander McCall Smith

The latest novel from prolific author Alexander McCall Smith ("The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" series and many others) takes place in modern-day Malmo, Sweden. The main characters work in the Department of Sensitive Crimes, a special police branch for discreet investigations of unusual cases. Quirky characters abound, including a hearing-impaired dog with the ability to lip read, and an overly talkative officer droning about extensively researched solutions for common ailments. Delightful side trips of note involve a Nordic biker gang led by an academic with a Ph.D., a bar featuring garlic-infused beer, and a literary celebrity trying to maintain a "bad-boy" image.

As with most McCall Smith novels, the plot plays to a theme of bittersweet poignancy. The twists are often surprising, and the characters make nuanced, and usually honorable, choices. I was fortunate to hear the author at a Talking Volumes event in 2018. He expounded on writing about kindness as the root of his stories, and this novel continues that theme beautifully.

Cindy Kallstrom, Mahtomedi

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