- Bertie and Tofu join the cubs, despite being too young, but bossy Olive who claims to be Bertie's girlfriend joins too.
- Matthew, art gallery owner, and Elspeth who used to be Bertie's teacher get married and go on a honeymoon.
- Lard O'Connell, Glasgow gangster, has a 'Reaburn' portrait of Rabbie Burns
- Narcissistic Bruce splits up from his rich girlfriend and is spotted by a photographer as a potential model
- Big Lou's boyfriend gets involved with a the Jacobite Pretender
- Domenica steals a teacup
- Cyril, dog belonging to portrait painter Angus Lordie, fathers six puppies and desires Matthew's ankles.
All of this allows gentle reflections on life. McCall Smith's Edinburgh is so genteel it makes Jane Austen's world look sinister.
- "While I'm eating lunch, people like me in Shanghai or Bombay are working - such were the implications of globalisation, that paraquat of simple security." (C 6)
- "The moral energy, the disapproval, that had fuelled Scotland's earlier bouts of over-enthusiastic religious intolerance were still with us, as they were with any society. It ... was present now in the desire to prevent people from doing anything risky or thinking unapproved thoughts. ... All that moral outrage, that self-righteousness, that urge to lecture and disapprove - it's all still there." (C 6)
- "The real secret in a still life, he thought, is to give the painting the sense of suppressed energy, if expectation, as if somebody were about to come into the room, to render the still life living" (C 6)
- "He was not sure why his mother had asked him to sit like a good boy; how exactly did a good boy sit, he wondered, and, perhaps more puzzlingly, how did a bad boy sit?"(C 9)
- "And we shouldn't deceive ourselves, Bruce thought; every single one of us makes compromises for money." (C 13)
- "Coffee, in all its forms, looks murky, and gives little comfort to one who seeks to see something in it." (C 15)
- "The barricades in this life ... are often in the wrong place." (C 20)
- "That [the nose] gives life to the face, because the nose has energy and direction. Whatever the subject's eyes may be doing ... the nose has business of its own." (C 30)
- "The architect who had designed these offices was of the school that did not believe in walls, except where utterly necessary to prevent the ceiling from falling down." (C 76)
- "Angus decided not to argue: Domenica had made up her mind, and he would be the loser in any argument. Women always win, he thought. They just always win." (C 77)
January 2019; 328 pages