Death of a Ghost
M.C. Beaton
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Buy *Death of a Ghost: A Hamish Macbeth Mystery* by M.C. Beatononline

Death of a Ghost: A Hamish Macbeth Mystery
M.C. Beaton
Grand Central Publishing
256 pages
February 2017
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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“I think I’ll never see Sonsie again and I think a damn murderer is still around, running free, and I am not going to get any help.”
This is classic Hamish Macbeth, policeman and chronic bachelor in Lochdubh, Sutherland, Scotland, adept at shirking accolades for his successful investigations to avoid assignment to Police Scotland in Strathbane. While most rural stations have been combined into a central location, Macbeth cleaves to his small, low-tech station, surrounded by idiosyncratic villagers and the occasional criminal--even murderer. Somewhere during the last case, Sonsie, a wild pet cat he took everywhere, escaped into the wilderness. His dog, Lugs, has adapted to the new addition: a poodle named Sally. Fearing the cat may have gone feral, Hamish tries to adjust to a different animal, but it just isn’t the same. In the midst of a new investigation that will have accrued three dead bodies by the time it is solved, the tall, red-haired policeman is on the trail of a killer and haunted by the loss of Sonsie.

The eccentric but effective policeman is the very heart of Beaton’s Scottish mystery series, with his changing cast of assistants and a string of broken romances, from the recent fiasco with a female officer, who turns vindictive when rejected, to his former fiancé, the titled Priscilla Halburton-Smyth--not to mention local journalist-turned-television-newscaster Elspeth Grant. The local ladies, elderly widows, and spinsters are always on the lookout for a suitable match, certain all Hamish needs is a wife to inspire and nurture his ambition. They cannot abide a man who lacks ambition, assuming it a serious flaw in Macbeth’s character.

The current mystery begins innocuously, with a request to investigate the sounds of ghosts emanating from Castle Drim on the most remote part of the island. With sufficient supplies for an overnight stay (the better to hear the ghosts), Hamish and his clumsy but good-natured constable, Charlie Carson, find no sign of ghosts. By happenstance, though, Charlie comes face to face with a dead body. When that yet-to-be-identified body goes missing, Hamish and Charlie begin to suspect that the “ghosts” are a cover for some possibly nefarious activity. Local smugglers do a brisk business this far from the city, ferrying cigarettes and drugs (the most popular and lucrative), supplying villages tucked away in the dense mountainous landscape.

The characters consist of the familiar and the new. Hamish’s nemesis, Detective Chief Inspector Blair, always does his best to sabotage Macbeth’s cases. The local ladies know everybody’s business. Macbeth also meets an unfamiliar batch of folk when he goes to Castle Drim to solve the murder--and adds a couple more while he’s there. There are any number of suspects: a seductive troublemaking wife, Olivia Sinclair, who loves to complicate her neighbors’ marriages; the retired Police Inspector, who has purchased Castle Drim with plans to remodel and sell the property; and local minister Peter Haggis, who resides with his sarcastic sister, Sheila. By the time the second murder occurs, that of Olivia Sinclair, Macbeth is determined to get to the bottom of this bizarre case.

Filled with Highland humor and colorful inhabitants, the Hamish Macbeth mysteries are uniquely satisfying, bristling with culture, satire and the complicated motives of savvy miscreants. Beaton portrays time and place with exquisite detail, her protagonist a man resisting the pressure of technology and the modernization of police work, following his instincts in case after case, nestled happily in a place he loves. I savor these small but delightful mysteries, a welcome break from the cacophony of reality, a short respite in the company of the irresistible Hamish Macbeth.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2017

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