Beaton, M. C. Death of a Gossip.

NY: St. Martin, 1985.

Beaton didn’t begin writing (or at least publishing) until she was into her forties, but in the thirty-five years since then she has produced almost forty novels in numerous series and under several pseudonyms. (When does she sleep?)

They’re mostly mystery novels of the “cozy” variety, and romances, and light historical fiction. Granted, this isn’t high literature, but she’s a well-regarded craftsman with a large following. While I was well aware of her existence, I hadn’t actually read any of her work, so I took my wife’s advice (she’s a fan) and picked up the first in her long-running “Constable Hamish Macbeth” series. And it’s not bad.

Hamish is a native Highlander in the northwest corner of Scotland, managing a living as a village constable (dealing with drunks, fist-fights, and poaching is his principal job), and making ends meet by keeping chickens behind the police station and by doing a little poaching himself. He’s a talented scrounger, always showing up when the coffee is being poured and there are sandwiches on offer, but he’s generally well enough liked. He tries to keep the place on an even keel without having to arrest people, usually, and (like most Highland Scots) he has relatives all over the world, which provides a useful information network. And, since he likes life where he is, he’s not really interested in promotion.

The story in this first outing involves an English couple, both avid anglers, who run a trout and salmon fishing school in the village, catering to moneyed fishing-tourists from all over the country. The current newly arrived class includes an assortment of types: The retired army major, the American couple, the young London solicitor with a sense of entitlement, the Oxford debutante on the make, and an eleven-year-old boy. And one other — a loud, abrasive society widow who insults everyone and who, we will discover, has her own secret. But that’s after she’s been found, drowned in a trout stream. And since everyone in the class has quickly come to loathe her, there’s no shortage of suspects.

The case is taken over by DCI Blair, head of the local CID, since Macbeth is hardly qualified to head up a murder investigation, but he takes pleasure in putting the constable down, threatening to make his life hell (just because he can), and jumping to all the wrong conclusions in the investigation besides. Good thing Hamish is so publically even-tempered as he decides to solve the case on his own, just to get back at Blair. The story’s not bad and the plot is believable, but I have one complaint: It all ends too abruptly. Suddenly, Hamish is revealing whodunit, when I had expected at least another few chapters of his own investigations behind Blair’s back. I suspect the author reached her scheduled maximum length and had to wrap things up in a hurry.


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