The Hamish MacBeth Mysteries, by M.C. Beaton

“I was at a fishing school in Sutherland in the very north of Scotland, and I thought, what a wonderful setting for a classical detective story, 11 people isolated in this Highland wilderness. So Hamish Macbeth was born.” – M.C. Beaton

M.C Beaton is the pen name that Marion Chesney, a prolific Scottish author, uses for her mysteries, which include 28 titles featuring Highland constable, Hamish MacBeth, and 22 staring Agatha Raisin, a retired, middle-aged public relations agent who solves murders in the Cotswolds.

Beaton at her 75th birthday party this year

The first MacBeth mystery appeared in 1985.  Agatha made her debut in 1992.  Beaton, 75, has not slackened her pace; she released new titles in both series this year.

Hamish MacBeth is likable constable in the village of Lochdubh (which means, “black lake,” in Gaelic and is pronounced Lokh-DOO).  Hamish loves the town, raises sheep and chickens, and occasionally poaches salmon.  He has a well earned reputation for laziness, and several times works to avoid promotion which would force him to move to the dreary industrial town of Strathbane.  For this and other reasons, his superior, Chief Inspector Blair, despises him and threatens to close the Lochdubh station.  MacBeth must often work around “proper” channels.  Sometimes he plies Blair’s subordinate, Jimmy Anderson, with whiskey to gain information and help.

In the early books, MacBeth had an on-off relationship with Priscilla Halburton-Smyth, but their engagement ended, and Priscilla, who is more ambitious than Hamish, moved away to become a newscaster.  MacBeth’s love life foundered, and now his closest companions are Lugs the dog (the word means, “ears” in Gaelic), and Sonsie, a “domesticated” wildcat whose name means, “cheeky.”

Robert Carlyle played MacBeth in a BBC Scotland adaptation that ran from 1995-1997

MacBeth solves crimes through intuition, curiosity, and an ability to charm various locals.  There is Angus MacDonald, and old man with a reputation as a seer.  Hamish thinks he’s a fraud, but a useful source of gossip.  Nessie and Jessie Currie, twin sisters and village spinsters are also a sources of gossip, though MacBeth must sit through their strange habit of repeating each other’s phrases – repeating each other’s phrases.

The MacBeth novels are proverbial beach reads, engaging escapism, starring a likable rascal who may poach salmon now and again, but restores the balance of justice to his little world of wild beauty and engaging eccentrics.  These books are perfect for rainy weekends, or any other time when you want to leave the modern world behind and root for a man who knows how to game the system, or at least the pointy-haired bosses within it.

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