Death of a Ghost by M.C. Beaton. (Mystery Novel, 2017).
The above is the 33rd (!) Hamish Macbeth mystery novel by M.C. Beaton; the above is also the 1st of the series that I’ve read. The BBC did a series based on the books in the 1990s (which I’ve never seen, either). Coming in so late on such an ongoing body of work can be pretty dicey. Happily, I found this book an entertaining, somewhat offbeat crime/murder mystery with interesting local color (I eventually found out just what a ‘bap’ is) and welcome doses of humor. Any references to events from past installments were handled in such a way as to add depth to the storyline and characters (as opposed to leaving this neophyte feeling that he’s missing something).
Hamish Macbeth is a police sergeant whose beat is in the rural far north of Scotland, encompassing a number of coastal villages and the surrounding countryside. He’s currently partnered with Charlie Carson, a younger cop who is something of a klutz (his nickname, deservedly is “Clumsy” and thus he often provides comic relief).
Hamish himself is a bit of an odd-seeming choice as an ace crime-buster. Oh, sure, such figures are commonly portrayed in fiction as somewhat cranky, often politically incorrect and abrasive mavericks. And seeing such individuals often clashing with and/or needing to outmaneuver less competent or dishonest superiors is a crime genre standard.
Hamish is and does all these things.
But he also has one very unusual trait. While not lazy and deceptively brilliant, he is almost obsessively unambitious. He’s found his niche as a small-town law enforcer and goes out of his way to avoid promotion (which would mean assignment to a city environment). In fact, while solving any and all murder mysteries that come his way, he habitually manages to shift the credit to less-capable higher-ups.
As for this particular title: Hamish and Charlie have been called to an isolated, ancient and partially ruined mansion on what seems a silly case involving an alleged ghost. A lot of people in the nearby village are freaked out and the retired Police Supervisor who recently bought the place has asked them to put such silliness to rest. But then “Clumsy” Charlie literally stumbles onto a very real, very dead professor in the lower reaches of the building.
This sets in motion a serious and fairly complex investigation involving numerous false leads, drug use and smuggling, lust, social decay, people who aren’t at all what they seem at first glance and several more violent deaths. In the end, of course, Hamish uncovers the truth and the guilty are punished–intrigues and attempted cover-ups by other parties notwithstanding.
Along the way, Hamish dodges local matchmakers’ efforts to get him linked to a widow, plays with his dogs while pining for the beloved pet wildcat he had to release into the wild, grumbles about police bureaucracy and other aspects of the modern world, touches base with several old friends and eats a whole lot of the local cuisine (‘baps’ are among his favorites).
So what’s my take on Death of a Ghost?
I certainly wouldn’t call it a great crime/mystery novel. But as part of a series, it’s darn good. The dialogue–including local accents and slang–is well done; the criminal doings (including all the smaller, non-fatal things the two rural Bobbys must deal with even as they work the big case) are of interest; and the rugged rural setting is agreeably different.