Hamish Macbeth is a gangly ginger-haired constable in the sleepy, gossipy Scottish village of Lochdubh (pronounced
Lock Doo) who is generally on the outs with the top brass but grudgingly admired for his uncanny ability to sort out murder cases.
When Mrs. Gentle moves to a "castle" – actually a bizarre turreted "folly" hanging perilously on the eroding sea cliffs near Lochdubh – most people like her at first for her "gentle" ways. In British parlance, a "gentle lady" is not merely soft and polite – she is of the gentry, upper-class and deserving of a certain respect. Only Hamish finds her to be less than "gentle" – on his first visit to her fortress, he overhears her arguing shrilly with her daughter, and he questions the tense relationship between her and her servant, a statuesque blonde foreigner named Aisha.
Aisha soon turns to Hamish for help, and thereon hangs a long and murder-filled tale. Before the first third of the book is done, both Aisha and Mrs. Gentle are savagely slain, and one only wonders who killed whom. Hamish is of course embroiled, and not only officially – he and Aisha had agreed to marry, to keep her from being deported. Well, not entirely. Hamish is under constant threat of losing his pleasant constabulary and being sent to work a beat in the city, a scenario which he finds loathsome. He realizes that with a wife, he'll be able to stay in Lochdubh, since there are no married officers' quarters in the city. That would allow him to abide with his sheep and the odd largish dog and feral cat who are his surrogate children.
Untangling the threads of murder most foul, many significant discoveries are made. Mrs. Gentle, as Hamish suspected, is not gentry at all but a hypocritical, domineering fraud. Aisha was not the simple Turkish girl she seemed to be but a Russian hooker. Once this word spreads rapidly through the gossip-ridden village, people are warning Hamish about AIDS (though he never slept with Aisha) and clucking sadly over his foolishness. Mrs. Gentle had some rather surly, uncooperative grown children, and a will, and these elements deepen the mystery of her death further. One brother in particular had a serious motive for wanting her gone – a change in the will would have deprived him of a considerable fortune.
Meanwhile, reporters, including Hamish's former girlfriend Elspeth, flock into Lochdubh, along with a famous writer who claims to be researching local folk customs, and there is the simultaneous reappearance of Hamish's former fiancée, Pamela, whose parents run the local inn. Throw in a steely-minded Russian woman cop with the hots for Hamish and a tall Irish moor-walker with the hots for Pamela, and you have just about all you need for a complex plot that is as amusing as it is action-packed.
I have listened to a few audio books before and enjoyed taking this one on a recent longish car trip. Hamish kept me company in the rain, and the reader, actor Graeme Malcolm, was entertaining with his use of the many accents required for the book, from broad Glaswegian to Russian with a tinge of American.
If you like ends neatly tied at the end of a mystery, this book will satisfy.
If you like your hero to be a bit dreamy, muddled and mischievous in his personal affairs but paradoxically savvy, determined and intuitive when it comes to dealing with serious crime, this series will speak to you. There is an especially gratifying bit of vengeance for the superior officer who dogs Hamish throughout the story, trying to get him to somehow disappear. This serves as a diverting dénouement to the central plot and leaves Hamish just where he likes to be – at home with his pets, secure in his post as constable in idyllic rural Scotland.