For some time I’ve been tempted by The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith, so I was interested to read Sarah Lyall’s article about him in today’s NY Times. My interest cranked up several notches when I read this description of one of the two new books he’s working on:

The first, to be published in December by Anchor, features the pompous Prof. Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld of the Institute of Romance Philology in Regensburg, Germany, the author of “Portuguese Irregular Verbs” and a man consumed by jealousy and suspicion.

Now, that’s my kind of protagonist!


  1. More:

    He wrote the first of these jeux d’esprit books, Portuguese Irregular Verbs, in 1996, published 500 copies privately and gave them to his friends. Von Ingelfeld, a mixture of intense pomposity and sublime naivety, is modelled loosely and affectionately on Reinhard Zimmerman, a German law professor he met at a conference in Lesotho in 1984. Along with his two colleagues, professors Prinzel and Unterholzer, von Igelfeld is a model of high-minded, almost otherworldly, seriousness, and McCall Smith has huge fun placing him, thanks to bureaucratic mix-ups, in the oddest of surroundings (the American lecture circuit, a South American revolution, etc).

    Zimmerman shipped 250 copies of Portuguese Irregular Verbs to Germany, where he distributed them among his professorial friends, and the books soon had a healthy samizdat circulation among Mitteleuropa’s high tables, with e-mail requests for more coming to McCall Smith’s Merchiston home from all over the world. “They’re really quirky, outrageous things,” he says with an infectious giggle. “Not exaggerations at all. These German professors really are a very special group of people. When Zimmerman showed them to his friends, they all thought the books were extraordinarily true, that they all knew people just like von Igelfeld – but nobody saw themselves in them at all.”

  2. Those Romance philologists, I tell you. You just can’t trust ’em.

  3. That’s hedgehog-field, ja?

  4. They’ve been in mass-market release elsewhere since August 2003; you can order them from Amazon UK if you don’t want to wait until December.

  5. Oh, I’ve got plenty to read until then!
    stephen: Jawohl.

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