The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith

2019 Limelight Reviews
Mystery and Crime

Prescription for a soul that feels the world is too hard a place to bear: Make a soothing cup of tea and snuggle up with The Department of Sensitive Crimes.

Reading a novel by Alexander McCall Smith feels as if a soothing balm is being applied to all the hurts and injuries inflicted by the world around us. This may be a new series set in Sweden, but it carries all the hallmarks of a McCall Smith story: plenty of heart and quiet wisdom.

Ulf Varg leads a team of detectives in Malmo’s Department of Sensitive Crimes. Ulf is, as described by his colleague Carl, “the best, kindest, funniest person I know. You are also the most truthful.”

The crimes are really just a device for McCall Smith to ruminate on life, and raise some questions that are worth answering. Here are a few fine examples:


  • Regarding trust: “What has happened to trust? What sort of place have we become? They were painful questions, and for that reason people avoided asking them.”


  • Regarding belief: “And what was wrong in believing in St Francis, who was gentle, and beloved of animals, when there was so much wrong with the world?”


  • Regarding ageing: “When you’re twenty, you can’t imagine your forty-year-old self.”


  • Regarding gentlemanly behaviour: “The things that men were now supposed not to do were precisely the things that gentlemen were not meant to do anyway – so what was the difference? Were we simply becoming old-fashioned again, as societies tended to do when they saw the consequences of tearing up the behavioural rule book?”


The Department of Sensitive Crimes is another delightfully quiet novel from McCall Smith, introducing new characters that I can see will develop over the series to become old friends. There are no nasty surprises, no ghastly murders, nor heartless felons; only gentle wisdom and kindness. Some readers may argue that this is all too twee and unrealistic. I disagree. I feel there is always a place for kindness and a gentle touch.

Find The Department of Sensitive Crimes in the SMSA Library Catalogue

Review by Gaby Meares
Murder on a Monday Reading Group