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M C Beaton, the pen-name of Marion Chesney, is a prolific author of cosy mysteries with two hit series to her name…

You may be familiar with Agatha Raisin – a bossy urban sleuth who now lives in the Cotswolds and is delighted to stick her nose into things to keep busy. While I’ve read the first few ARs and enjoyed them in a throwaway kind of way, I find the character too ‘Margot-ish’ (A bossy housewife in the BBC comedy ‘The Good Life’ back in the mid 1970s). I refer you to my pal Simon at Savidge Reads for a better appreciation of Agatha. Incidentally, there are now 21 titles in this series which Beaton started in 1992.

MC’s other series which she started earlier in 1985 and has a 27th book due out next year features Hamish Macbeth

The BBC made a TV series in the late 1990s which starred Robert Carlyle as the canny young Scottish policeman – I loved it.  It fitted the Sunday night drama slot perfectly with the lovely Scottish locations and gentle humour with a slightly surreal edge to it.  There were some great characters, especially TV John – an old clairvoyant who helps Hamish, and Hamish’s on/off relationships with the two female co-stars.  There was also Wee Jock – the policeman’s West Highland Terrier.  Undemanding and always entertaining.  Will the books live up to that …

I’ve only read the first so far – Death of a Gossip, but personally I much preferred Hamish to Agatha.  The Hamish of the books is different in physical appearance to Carlyle, being tall and lanky with fiery red hair, but the approach to the policework was very similar.  It’s not that Hamish is terribly lazy, but he’s so laid back he’s almost horizontal!  He has a very laissez faire approach to his work – rather than actually arrest anyone for poaching, he’ll let them know that he knows and the poacher will lie low for a bit so the problem goes away – until the next time.  His investigative approach is similarly low-key.  The fictional Lochdubh is a picture postcard location, nestled on the lochside with a backdrop of rolling hills and moorland.

So to the murder … The Cartwrights running a fishing school, teaching small groups the art of fly fishing with access to normally out of bounds trout and salmon pools and rivers.  The latest group of eight very different students have arrived.  Within hours of starting it becomes obvious that one of the group, Lady Jane Winders is getting on everyone’s nerves.  She continues to wind everyone up, so it’s not a surprise when she ends up dead in a salmon pool!  It had to be one of the other seven students or the Cartwrights whodunnit.  Hamish was going to investigate in his own quiet way, but then DCI Blair and his team from Inverness arrive and shove him out of the way, treating him like the yokel plod he clearly isn’t.  Uncharacteristically, this winds up the normally placid PC …

Hamish changed into his uniform, admitting to his reflection in the glass that he, Hamish Macbeth, was a very angry man. In fact, he could not quite remember being so angry in all his easygoing life. He was determined to go on talking to the members of the fishing school until someone said something that gave himself away. He was not going to be frightened because it was a murder investigation. All criminals were the same whether it was a theft in the school or poaching deer in the hills. You talked, asked questions, and listened and watched and waited. The hell with Blair.

The penultimate sentence from the quote above sums up Hamish perfectly.  He does just that, and is rewarded with doing a ‘Poirot’, getting all the suspects together to reveal the murderer.   Obviously, most of the suspects, who were not locals, came out as thinly described stereotypical characters, but those who will crop up again in future books are more strongly drawn.  Although angling is of no interest to me, it didn’t dominate proceedings too much, and the necessary explanations were woven into the lecture sessions that were part of the course. 

I liked Hamish very much, and I will definitely be carrying on reading this series when the need for a cosy mystery appeals again.  (7.5/10) I bought this book.


To buy from Amazon.co.uk click below …
Death of a Gossip (Hamish Macbeth) by M C Beaton
Hamish MacBeth : Series 1-3 (6 Disc Box Set) [DVD]

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