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Book review: 'Unusual Uses For Olive Oil' engaging, smart

Published: Saturday, April 13 2013 3:00 p.m. MDT

"UNUSUAL USES FOR OLIVE OIL: A Professor Dr. von Ingelfeld Entertainment Novel, No. 4," by Alexander McCall Smith, Anchor Books, $13.95, 203 pages (f)

Alexander McCall Smith has a talent for gentle storytelling. His tales of Precious Ramotswe and her No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency combine the sweetness of African life with the unraveling of simple mysteries that require some self-acknowledgement and change among the principal characters.

Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld and the book series about him is cut from that same cloth.

He's a man who thinks too much of himself and yet, too little. He's brilliant in his field, but clueless when it comes to fostering a relationship or figuring out where all the students on his field trip are going and what they're doing.

He's quite proud that he's written a book, titled "Portuguese Irregular Verbs," and carries it about in his mind and mentions it in nearly every conversation. For those who've read the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency stories, it's a similar device to Mma Makutsi's 97 percent on her secretary final tests.

Much of recently published "The Unusual Uses of Olive Oil," the fourth in the Professor Dr. von Ingelfeld Entertainment Novel series, is going on in the professor's head and in the hands of a lesser author, might become a rambling mishmash.

But Smith makes it funny, clever and self-deprecating without being stupid or annoying.

Von Igelfeld really can't see the problem with coming to dinner precisely on time or in telling his potential girlfriend "Frau Benz" that he doesn't care for the Mercedes-Benz line of cars.

He solves problems like needing short sleeves or short pants with scissors and ragged cuts. He oils the one-legged dog when the wheels on his cart get stuck.

He's truly offended when he's told to cut his two-hour speech about successfully falling down a mountain to 15 minutes and is amazed when his mean-spirited effort to be way too brief is accepted with much applause.

Smith somehow makes his cast of characters come truly alive seemingly without effort.

The dialogue flows along and before you know it, the story is told and it's with regret that the book is put aside. They are also free of any vulgar language and violence.

Thankfully, there are many Alexander McCall Smith books written with more to come.

If you go ...

What: Alexander McCall Smith book signing

When: Monday, April 15, 7 p.m.

Where: Salt Lake City Public Library, main branch, 210 E. 400 South, Salt Lake City

Web: kingsenglish.com, www.randomhouse.com/features/mccallsmith/main.php

Note: This event is free and open to the public. He will sign all books purchased from The King's English. Additionally, attendees may bring two books from home for signing.

Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with 35 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.

Email: haddoc@desnews.com

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