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Sunday 8 April 2018

‘Death of an Honest Man’ by M.C. Beaton

Published by Constable,
22 February 2018.
ISBN: 978-1-47211-725-0(HB)

Death of an Honest Man is the 34th title in this author’s immensely popular series featuring the likeable Sergeant Hamish MacBeth and set in the far north-west of the Scottish Highlands in the county of Sutherland. Some of the earlier title were serialised on TV with the actor Robert Carlyle as Hamish. Hamish is based in the village of Lochdubh but his beat takes him all over Sutherland, and he likes to get to know as many of the county’s inhabitants as he can, including incomers. The latest of these is the retired bank manager Paul English (actually, despite his name, from the Scottish Lowlands) in the village of Cnothan. So, Hamish, with the amiable but clumsy Constable Charlie Carter, sets off for Cnothan, but with reluctance for the village has a reputation for sourness. And when Hamish and Charlie get to the village they find that English is sourer than the rest of the inhabitants put together. He never misses an opportunity to denigrate all and sundry to their faces and behind their backs and cares little how much anger and resentment he is stirring up against him. Eventually his vituperative nature proves his undoing; he first disappears and then is found dead in a bog.

In this lively and endearing tale there are plenty of suspects from within Cnothan itself and further afield to keep the plot going at a rollicking pace. A complicating factor is that Charlie, feeling that his lot as a policeman is not a happy one, finds true love and a fulfilling lifestyle as a crofter on the Hebridean island of Barra. Another complication is the continuing persecution of Hamish by his superior Inspector Blair, always obsessive but now edging into derangement.

 Meanwhile Hamish is missing his beloved wildcat Sonsie, his dogs Lugs and Sally being no substitute. And above all he is saddened by his lack of love life, all his previous attachments having come to nothing or being unsatisfactory.

All this adds up to a highly entertaining brew of gentle mystery leavened with wry comedy. A look through the on-line reviews of her previous novels will establish just how popular this author is with readers of ‘cosy crime’, a genre which may not attract the media coverage that the harder-edged variety does, but is in practice at least as popular with readers.
Recommended especially for fans of cosy crime.
Reviewer: Radmila May

M.C. Beaton was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1936 and started her first job as a bookseller in charge of the fiction department in John Smith & Sons Ltd. While bookselling, by chance, she got an offer from the Scottish Daily Mail to review variety shows and quickly rose to be their theatre critic. She left Smith’s to join Scottish Field magazine as a secretary in the advertising department, without any shorthand or typing, but quickly got the job of fashion editor instead.  She then moved to the Scottish Daily Express where she reported mostly on crime. This was followed by a move to Fleet Street to the Daily Express where she became chief woman reporter. After marrying Harry Scott Gibbons and having a son, Charles, Marion went to the United States where Harry had been offered the job of editor of the Oyster Bay Guardian. When that didn’t work out, they went to Virginia and Marion worked as a waitress in a greasy spoon on the Jefferson Davies in Alexandria while Harry washed the dishes. Both then got jobs on Rupert Murdoch’s new tabloid, The Star, and moved to New York. Anxious to spend more time at home with her small son, Marion, urged by her husband, started to write Regency romances. After she had written over 100 of them under her maiden name of Marion Chesney and getting fed up with 1811 to 1820, she began to write detectives stories. On a trip from the States to Sutherland on holiday, a course at a fishing school inspired the first Hamish Macbeth story. They returned to Britain and bought a croft house and croft in Sutherland where Harry reared a flock of black sheep. But Charles was at school, in London so when he finished and both tired of the long commute to the north of Scotland, they moved to the Cotswolds where Agatha Raisin was created.
Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.

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