In some sense the various plot lines, where very little of momentous import occurs, are less significant than what amounts to a gentle satiric portrayal of life among the denizens of Corduroy Mansions and their cohorts. Smith, like the naturalists of a previous century, takes the reader on a tour of a slice of the life of a group, but unlike them he doesn't attack, he pokes and prods at their follies and foibles. These are not evil people. At worst they are selfish and uncaring; at best they are simply figures of modern self absorption. More often than not they are simply inept and unable to confront either their problems or one another until things get so overly complicated they have no other choice. Some seem more quirky and inept than others, but all of them are inadequate in one way or another.
As he does in his other novels, along the way Smith provides the reader with some interesting intellectual nuggets of speculation on a variety of subjects. Isabel Dalhousie, for example, likes to ponder over problems of practical ethics. In Corduroy Mansions similar questions arise about things like the treatment of animals and importing food. Characters discuss everything from the nature of beauty to the biology of scallops, from humane architecture to the psychology of dogs. While these discussions reflect the breadth of Smith's interests, they are always bound to character and never become distractions.
Readers willing to put up with the many unresolved plot points will find a lot to like in this first of his new series. They will be happy to know that the second in the series, The Dog Who Came in From the Cold, is already available in hardcover. Who knows, the answers to some of the questions left from Corduroy Mansions may be sitting there awaiting the determined reader.