July 17, 2019 Galit Gottlieb

Hamish Macbeth Mysteries, M.C. Beaton

M.C. Beaton got the idea for Hamish Macbeth while on a fishing holiday in Scotland. This charming series is set in two fictional villages in the Scottish Highlands, an area known for astounding landscapes, extreme weather, and honorable people. Except for the ones who are busily committing crimes. But in his lackadaisical way, clear-headed Hamish Macbeth always finds them.

Sergeant Macbeth prefers to avoid any signs of recognition, including promotion. His only ambition, aside from walking his two dogs (and later a sort of domesticated wildcat that shocks everyone who sees it), seems to be to prevent Chief Inspector Blair from closing the Lochdubh police station. There’s a little bit of romance, nothing long term, although M.C. Beaton started the series in 1985 and has published (so far, I think) 28 Hamish Macbeth mysteries.

It’s worthwhile to start with the first in the series: Death of a Gossip (most of the titles start with ‘Death of’), which is set up like a classical mystery, but jump in anywhere to read about how Officer Macbeth solves murders while dealing with silly superiors, muddled/lying/confused villagers or visitors, and quick-changing, unforgiving weather. The weather is like an ongoing character in the series, sometimes mild and sunny, other times scary and violent. There are always plenty of possible suspects, and sometimes bad guys try to take out poor Hamish, but he always figures out that the beautiful dame is trying to slip him a mickey, or he manages to sift through the lies to find a kernel of truth.

There are an awful lot of gorgeous young women, as is to be expected in a mystery, but M.C. Beaton seems more willing than most writers to let even the most adorable of them get whacked. The author is also willing to show Hamish’s flaws; his laziness, his disregard for higher-ups, and his conviction that he always knows better than everyone around him. His thoughts are sometimes about who is aggravating him or what he’s going to have for dinner, and he’s occasionally guilty of missing signals. Sometimes his missed signals lead to more murder. I love reading a Hamish Macbeth story during the summer, when violent snowstorms and blizzards seem mythical and distant.