MC Beaton’s Sergeant Hamish Macbeth series is consistently and unfailingly charming, albeit often sprinkled with murder and mayhem in a bucolic Scottish countryside of few inhabitants and much history. Although the modern world has begun imposing its constraints on police work--some of which prove invaluable to Macbeth and police assistant, Dick Fraser--Hamish clings to his country ways, policing with an eye to the idiosyncrasies of the local inhabitants reluctant to embrace an encroaching future.
While the presence of Fraser has put a decided damper on the potential marriage availability of his sergeant, the various prizes he has won as a quiz-show junkie have brought some technological advantages to a recalcitrant Lochdubh.
Despite his enjoyment of the large screen TV, computer, kitchen appliances and the elaborate meals prepared by Fraser, Macbeth’s resentment of Dick’s presence in his life stems from a natural affinity for the ladies. His collection of girlfriends includes news reporter Elspeth Grant and the beautiful if emotionally frigid Priscilla Halburton-Smythe, owner of the Tommel Castle Hotel in Lochdubh. When it rains, it pours, and with two new murder cases, two more ladies are currently on Hamish’s radar: forensics investigator Christine Dalray and Anka Bajorak, a Polish baker in Cronish, site of yet another murder. Contemplating an opportunity for a new romantic dalliance, Macbeth would prefer Fraser’s absence, content with the companionship of his pets, wild cat Sonsie and dog Lugs. Alas, things are never that simple.
Though there is a double murder to solve on his patch in Lochdubh, an English couple that has just purchased a cottage in the village, Macbeth is first distracted by the claims of a woman in Cronish in the Scottish Highlands. Liz Bentley’s false claims lead Hamish to ignore her next entreaty for help, a decision he dearly regrets when Liz is discovered murdered in her garden. Eventually, Hamish suspects Bentley’s murder may be connected to the others. Predictably, the investigation grows more complicated, hampered by Macbeth’s nemesis, the ever-interfering Detective Inspector Blair. The murders balloon into larger concerns, suspicions of more widespread activity: a bold robbery, the arrival of a vicious criminal gang, and a case of fraud perpetrated by an end-of-times mountebank who preys on naďve believers.
Though the crimes are indeed heinous, it is the personality of Hamish Macbeth that drives these novels and the assorted characters sprinkled throughout, true iconoclasts and eccentrics. Hamish is a staunch devotee of old-school policing, fighting to keep his small station from being annexed and his way of life intact. Whatever the crime, Hamish feels capable of containing it. Though his superiors relentlessly admonish him to relinquish his station and join the modern force in Strathbane, Macbeth cares deeply for the folks in his purview, many of them elderly, believers in the ways of the fairies,
with no one to watch out for them if the station closes. Hamish refuses to budge: “I consider the quality of life more important than any advancement.” Macbeth intuitively knows that “Highlanders are a different race from the lowlanders” and has no intention of abandoning a place he considers a bit of heaven-- though a lady to keep him warm at night might be welcome. Maybe next time.