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Hamish Macbeth is an unhappy policeman. A recent spate of success has brought him promotion - and a constable to help him. Unfortunately, this means that he actually has to do some work. His laziness is further put to the test with the arrival of a pair of travellers - Sean and Cheryl - who turn up in a camper van. Hamish is uncomfortable about their presence, aware that there is something strange about Sean, but when he tries to move them on, some of the villagers criticise him for his behaviour. However, Hamish proves to be right when Sean is found murdered in his van after a spate of thefts. The problem is that there could be any number of suspects and yet, despite the fact that Sean is dead, some of the villagers are still behaving oddly. Can he solve the crime without harming the villagers' reputations? Will he manage to get rid of his constable? And will he manage to woo the long-term love of his life, the luscious Priscilla?
M C Beaton is probably best known for her Agatha Raisin books, but she is also responsible for the Hamish Macbeth series, which was televised in the 1990s. Hamish is not your average fictional policeman. He tries to avoid work as far as possible, yet always seems to land himself in the middle of a murder investigation. Thankfully, there is a comical feel to his character - so whereas it probably wouldn't work in a more serious piece of fiction, it works here. What does annoy me a little is Hamish's on-off relationship with Priscilla. As any readers of the earlier books will know, this has been going on for some time now, although Hamish has had other flings in between, and I just wish the author would call it a day and either marry them, or get rid of Priscilla. Hamish is a strong enough character to not need a romantic partner.
The other characters that come into the novel are likely two-dimensional - they're either good, or bad, rarely anything in between. Priscilla is supposed to be good (although personally, I think she's too good to be true!), whereas characters like Sean and Cheryl are just downright nasty. This does make the book feel a little childish at times. The books are short, which probably explains at least some of the lack of characterisation, but a little more effort would be welcome. There are a number of recurring characters that could have been developed during the course of the series, but here, we find out no more than we have in past books and it means that the books don't have much of a chance to develop either.
The story doesn't make up for the lack of character development either. It starts off well, but much of that is down to the descriptions of Hamish's behaviour and the lovely Scottish Highlands. Once Sean has been murdered, the story begins to go downhill - there are a couple of interesting threads, but on the whole, the villagers' behaviour seems to be very strange and not particularly well thought out. There is certainly nothing memorable about the story - in another few weeks, I doubt very much about it will stand out in my mind. Like many of this author's books, the crime element of the story comes to an end a couple of chapters before the end of the book - which, when there's only just over 200 pages anyway, means that the crux of the story doesn't take up much room at all.
This is very much a light-hearted novel that is not meant to be taken too seriously - and it is this element that keeps me coming back to these books. Hamish is very much the centre of this humour - it is his lacksadaisical way of carrying out investigations and his way of dealing with his friends and colleagues that keep the story going. I suspect that M C Beaton's publishers have realised this and so keep her pumping out the books at a rate that she can't cope with - hence the fact that the stories are not as good as they could be. She does try to make them original by injecting something unusual into each story, as she has here, but it does come across as a little desperate. Here, Sean has a way of dealing with his admirers in a very odd way that isn't either particularly funny or realistic. It is worth noting that the feel of the books is quite different from the TV series - many of Hamish's little foibles were changed for the screen and the television stories are generally much stronger.
This author's writing style, seems to have gone downhill over the last few years - probably partly because of the pressure on her to produce books at a ridiculous rate. This one was published back in 1993 and I can't help but feel that the style is an awful lot better than her recent novels, which have been downright sloppy. It is clear that M C Beaton hasn't put a huge amount of effort into creating a well-written novel, but it does at least make sense and, bearing in mind that it is a light-hearted read, there is no call for more literary language. I'm not always sure about her transliteration of the local Scottish dialect, but it's not enough to put me off reading. I just hope that she can return to this style of writing in her future novels.
Despite all the criticism, this is actually a very readable book, particularly if you are a fan of the series. However, if you're new to Hamish Macbeth, I'm not sure it's the best book to start from. It isn't so much that it would be difficult to catch up with the characters, it is more that the first few books are much stronger. Then again, if you just want some comfort reading and don't care too much about the standard of the plot, there are far worse books that you can read - and it is a very quick read. Three stars out of five.
The books is available from Amazon for £4.48. Published by Robinson Publishing, it has 272 pages. ISBN-10: 1845297342