As a philosopher, mother, employer and editor of the Review of Applied Ethics – not to mention resident of Edinburgh, the birthplace of moral philosophy – Isabel Dalhousie is all too aware that to be human is to be responsible. So when a neighbour brings her a new and potentially dangerous puzzle to solve, once again Isabel feels she has no option but to shoulder the burden of other people’s difficulties.
A masterpiece painting has been stolen from the collection of Duncan Munrowe, an old-fashioned philanthropist and a very wealthy man. As Isabel enters into ransom negotiations, a case where heroes and villains should be clearly defined turns murky: the list of those who desire the painting – or the money – lengthens, and hasty judgement must be avoided. Morals, it turns out, are like Scottish clouds: complex, changeable and tricky to get a grip on; they require a sharp observational eye, a philosophical mindset and the habit of kindness, and fortunately Isabel Dalhousie is in possession of all three.