Beaton’s delightful Hamish Macbeth has become a favorite character of mine, a vaguely eccentric police sergeant who resides in the Scottish village of Lochdubh and prefers small-town policing to the more sophisticated and demanding station at Strathbane. Hamish has an instinct for solving crimes that is nearly as startling as is his inability to settle down with the woman of his dreams. No stranger to romance, the popular protagonist has successfully concluded many investigations while littering the countryside with broken romances and a few near-misses from ladies more dangerous than lovable.
Such might be said of his most recent romantic encounter, Macbeth visiting Sutherland under the guise of welcoming James Harrison to his restored hunting lodge, the sergeant rudely rebuffed. But before leaving, Hamish meets Harrison’s fetching private nurse, Gloria Dainty, with whom he makes a dinner engagement for the following Sunday. Hamish arrives at the restaurant early, only to wait for a date that never arrives. Four days later, Gloria’s body washes up on a beach near Braikie.
With his former assistant, Dick Fraser, eschewing law enforcement for a bakery, Macbeth has a new sidekick: Charlie Carter, sure to fill up the small station house with his size, not to mention clumsiness.
Macbeth finds a temporary solution to the problem of Charlie’s residing at the station, unfortunately one that creates an unexpected complication for the oversized man, who seems to easily attract all the local available ladies. Hamish is never really alone anyway, with his two pets, dog Lugs and wild cat Sonsie, Lochdubh and beyond replete with busybodies, eccentrics, and the occasional offender, not to mention the women in his life that have failed to catch the elusive bachelor but remain connected in one way or another, like Patricia Halburton-Smythe, Angela Brodie (the doctor’s wife), and Elspeth Grant, a news presenter frequently sent to cover Hamish’s cases.
Macbeth vacillates between inspired investigation and utter frustration as he navigates the murky waters of Gloria’s murder--another one follows--and the activities of his superiors, a country policeman whose only goal is to stay in Lochdubh and find a woman to love: “My world is beginning to be peopled by beautiful, unavailable women.” It’s either feast or famine in Death of a Nurse, a particularly complicated case forcing Macbeth to investigate a variety of suspects as he instinctively follows twisted motives and bad intentions. Filled with the familiar faces of locals and Macbeth’s former female attachments, Hamish is busier than usual with a nest of unhelpful suspects at the hunting lodge.
Though the usual machinations of Macbeth’s nemesis, Detective Chief Inspector Blair, are blocked by the impressive moves of Police Inspector Fiona Herring, she brings a few complications of her own, Blair pulling out all the stops in a fit of rage and frustration. Even Hamish’s domestic harmony is disrupted when Blair casts his eye on Macbeth’s beloved Sonsie, but all is put to rights by the end, Macbeth musing: “For the first time in my life I could do with a wee nice crime to take my eyes off things”. Not to worry; more murders are in the wings, the quiet country patch about to erupt in a flurry of crime. No matter who gets murdered, how many times Blair comes at Hamish Macbeth, or which women fail to catch the red-haired bachelor, Beaton’s charming crime stories are always a treat, violence and humanity ever in flux, Lochdubh the heart of an enchanting universe.