This is an excellent story about Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld of the institute of Romance Philology whose quest to gain respect for his intellectual interests goes awry in a hilarious number of ways.
The professor has written a book on Portuguese Irregular Verbs, but somehow ends up lecturing to a number of fellow intellectuals on Sausage Dogs. This isn’t too bad, but then the pretence means he has to operate on a sausage dog involved in a car accident and the poor canine ends up with only one leg. Poor sausage dog, who is owned by his underling Unterholzer.
Many years previously, von Igelfeld lost out to Unterholzer for the love of a woman and so it’s the last straw when Unterholzer writes a critical appraisal of Portuguese Irregular Verbs in a learned journal. Von Igelfeld tries to obtain revenge by turning Unterholzer’s psychologist against him, but then feels guilty about doing so and confesses with surprising results.
You can imagine that things will not go smoothly when a Coptic Patriarch in Italy asks von Igelfeld to look after the bones of St Nicholas of Myra. Von Igelfeld manages to insult The Pope to his face in the Vatican Library before the bones disappear in a most unusual way.
Finally, Von Igelfeld goes on a cruise to give lectures on philology and attracts the attention of many widows on his way to Naples where he jumps ship without telling anyone except a Neapolitan taxi driver and is presumed ‘lost at sea’ as a result.
This book is funny with at least half-a-dozen hilarious situations written in a wonderfully understated way. Unlike Updike and Rushdie, and in a similar way to Pratchett, McCall Smith tells his story with humour, subtlety, and without trying to appear clever about it.
Recommended and on to the next one for me.