In an Alexander McCall Smith book, main characters are so careful of the feelings of others that they can spend hours parsing an interaction with a grocery store clerk and use marmalade to unlock the mysteries of humanity.
Then there’s Professor Dr. Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld of “Unusual Uses for Olive Oil.” The scholar at Regensburg’s Institute of Romance Philology combines the demeanor of an absent-minded professor with the vanity of a Real Housewife. (Also, it’s best to keep him away from your dog, but more on that later.)
Unlike Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s No. 1 lady detective, or Isabel Dalhousie of the Sunday Philosophy Club, Professor von Igelfeld is impressively obtuse. This allows him to suffer humiliations galore without a dent on the old ego. The von Igelfeld stories don’t so much delve into philosophy as fling their main character into mayhem. He’s a literary Mr. Magoo, emerging unscathed from Colombian coups, insulting pontiffs and tennis duels. His magnum opus is a 1,200-page scholarly treatise, “Portuguese Irregular Verbs,” which, for some reason, never found a wide audience.