Death of a Policeman: A Hamish Macbeth Mystery
M. C. Beaton has entertained readers for decades with her legendary sleuths. Agatha Raisin, the acerbic English amateur detective who does not suffer fools gladly, is perhaps her more well-known protagonist. However, my favorite is Highlander Police Constable Hamish Macbeth, whose flaming red hair and temperament to match once again has him short-listed for dismissal by his nemesis, Detective Inspector Blair. Especially now when budget cuts call for closing several outpost police stations.
Hamish leads an enviable lifestyle. He lives in a croft house (a Scottish sheepherder’s cabin) in Lochdubh on the shores of the lake the town is named after, only a brisk walk from the sea. He would prefer to spend his days fishing and strolling through the heather with his dog Lugs and cat Sonsie (a wild cat he rescued as a kitten) rather than performing his law enforcement duties, but when called upon, he inevitably shows up his superiors. This has not pleased his corruptible higher-ups, a fact that puts him and his district at the top of the list for closure.
"The joy of reading Beaton’s detective novels is that she cuts right to the chase. She doesn’t dawdle over long descriptive narratives to set the mood or overly describe the characters and their wardrobes. She has honed her descriptive skills to a brisk, fine point every bit as pithy as her characters."
Inspector Blair has sent an undercover officer to Lochdubh to spy on Hamish and his assistant, the dutiful but lazy Dick, to gather evidence of dereliction of duty. The undercover cop starts poking around and interviewing locals for a couple of days. When Hamish hears of it, he spouts off in characteristic hyperbole in a local pub that he’d like to shoot the snoop’s head off with a shotgun. You guessed it; the next day the informant meets that fate, and Hamish is a prime suspect.
The joy of reading Beaton’s detective novels is that she cuts right to the chase. She doesn’t dawdle over long descriptive narratives to set the mood or overly describe the characters and their wardrobes. She has honed her descriptive skills to a brisk, fine point every bit as pithy as her characters. You get the picture with no frills attached and chuckle happily through the pages.
Hamish’s success, or lack thereof, with the ladies is an underlying storyline as he consistently misconstrues the signals most men would immediately recognize. He unfailingly turns down opportunities for promotion even when he singlehandedly solves another murder (there are perhaps more than your average number of dead bodies found in and around Lochdubh), which leads his superiors and some of the villagers to surmise that he is lazy. Not so. Hamish is his own man, likes things just the way they are, and isn’t prone to cashing in on his success. He’s a hero through and through, and entertaining in the bargain.
DEATH OF A POLICEMAN is #30 in this long and successful series dating back to 1985, while the Agatha Raisin novels total 24 thus far. Both series are cozies at their armchair best. A snowbound weekend can recede into the chilly shadows with a stack of M. C. Beaton books and a comfy afghan by the fireplace.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on February 28, 2014