AUTHOR: M. C. Beaton

PUBLISHER: Grand Central Publishing

ISBN: 978-1455558315 Hardcover

ISBN: 978-1455558339 E-book


Hamish McBeth is a village constable in the Scottish Highlands, the star of some 33 books so far. The books are short little murder mysteries that follow a general pattern and use the same continuing cast of characters. They are light in tone, easy to read, and usually rather fun.

As a confirmed audiobook fan, I have listened to a dozen or more of Hamish’s adventures on CD while driving the car. They are fun to hear, as the books are full of odd place names and feature Scottish Highland dialect and its arcane vocabulary. Hearing the accents is a good bit of the fun.

Actually reading the book is a different experience. Those strange words and place names are right there on the page, ready to confound you with their outrageous spellings and total unfamiliarity. Luckily, I was reading on a Kindle, where a long-pressed finger on the strange word brings up a definition or a Wikipedia explanation of the place or event. What a big help! Having the meaning of those odd words really enhanced my enjoyment. (There was one word, however, that even the Kindle’s vast information resources couldn’t demystify.)

Before we discuss the book’s plot, let’s ruminate a bit on the willing suspension of disbelief required to read this. As a former fan of fantasy and science fiction, I find it relatively easy to suspend my disbelief—that is, to accept the unlikely and even absurd elements in the story as plausible under the circumstances. This Hamish story really stretches that willingness to ignore the unending stream of wildly implausible or impossible things that happen--more so than any of the other Hamish stories I have previously been exposed to. All of them stretch your credibility somewhat; this one does it a-lot-what.

I do not wish to be unkind, but I suspect that Ms. Beaton, who is now over 80, may be experiencing the same sad fate of aging authors that we have seen with others, such as Lilian Jackson Braun, whose last Cat Who… books were all but unreadable. This Hamish book is not that far gone, but it is well on the way.

Why do I say that? Well, we have a yellow-eyed wildcat that is the personification of evil, that refuses to die, and somehow finds it way unaided across many miles to appear at just the right moment to play a pivotal role in the plot. We have Blair, the Deputy Chief Inspector who has been Hamish’s nemesis throughout the series, finally going completely bonkers and actually shooting at Hamish and his assistant. We see Blair taking off across country seriously intending to kill the new husband of an extremely fetching young former policewoman with whom Blair has fallen instantly in love.

We get one rabid implausibility after another. Yet, somehow, somehow by the end we have bought into the story enough to enjoy the way it all plays out.

OK, now for the basic plot. As usual in these stories, a non-Highlander who is patently evil shows up and somehow gets murdered early in the story. Hamish works on solving the case while his boss, DCI Blair, actively tries to hinder and hamstring our good hero so Hamish can’t solve the case, leaving it to Blair to solve. We long-time readers know Blair has never solved anything on his own; he is brutishly incompetent. He impotently rides on Hamish’s coattails, which Hamish is glad to provide. The last thing Hamish wants is glory or credit, which could lead to a promotion. That would force him to abandon his comfy, lazy, non-stressful idyll of a life in Lochdubh. He solves murder after murder, letting anyone else get the credit.

In this story, the honest man of the title is a startlingly reprehensible fellow who has just retired from being a banker who took great delight in denying every loan possible. He likes to be “honest,” which translates into insulting everyone he ever comes into contact with—in the name of honesty. Everyone hates him. So, when he turns up dead, there is no shortage of suspects.

As Hamish works the case, his pet wildcat (not just a feral cat, but a true wildcat) disappears. As Hamish searches for him, he finds what he thinks is his cat, which has just been shot by hunters. He tenderly takes the beast to the vet and pays a fortune to keep the cat alive. Everyone who sees the cat knows it is not Hamish’s pet Sonsie but is really a force of pure evil with supernatural powers. Everyone but Hamish, that is. He knows it’s Sonsie.

Things go on and on and on, with one unlikely turn of plot following another until you really have to wonder who this author is trying to fool. It’s just too much. But, as your intrepid reviewer, I have to soldier on so I can tell you the whole story. By the end, I was punchy with all the hopelessly unbelievable, downright silly things that were presented to me with a straight face, as it were. Somehow, though, when it was all over, I felt I had been entertained adequately and I would probably be interested in the next book in this long series. Don’t ask me how that happened. It just did.

So…if you can occasionally be lulled into halfway believing a bunch of unlikely nonsense because it makes for a fun story, give this a try. But don’t start your exposure to Hamish McBeth with this story—read a bunch of his earlier adventures so you’ll know what’s going on and why he does the strange things he does. Then and only then, you might like this.