I have a dim recollection of the Hamish Macbeth television programme, my parents were fans but it was barely on my radar. I just remember it starred Robert Carlyle and he had a little white dog. Sad news, canine lovers, there’s no dog in the book.
I picked this up cheap and it’s actually a decent enough read, with a solid mystery and a likeable hero in Macbeth, a fairly laid-back small town copper in the Scottish Highlands. When a TV company starts filming in nearby Drim, adapting an old novel by a retired writer Patricia Martyn-Boyd, a rather uptight and snobbish older woman. Old fashioned she is upset by the revamping of her novel and scandalised by the raunchy additions to the story.
Meanwhile, the filming causes arguments and rivalry among the residents of Drim and the production crew have their own conflicts, secrets and tensions as well. It all comes to a head when the arrogant scriptwriter is found dead and suspicion begins to swirl. The police believe they have a strong suspect and an easy case, with another body to pin the murder on. But Macbeth is uncomfortable with this and thinks there’s more going on.
Against the orders of his superiors, he keeps digging into the case.
There are some nice twists along the way, and Beaton keeps things simple. Macbeth is engaging enough, a clever, but unambitious man happy enough to remain in uniform in his small town, relaxed about the law and more intent on keeping the peace. He’s shown to be shrewd and insightful, cleverly playing suspects and subtly influencing other characters throughout.
The only criticism I would level, other than a rather rushed ending, is that Beaton’s characterisation skews towards the cynical. I lost count of how many characters are presented as borderline or full blown alcoholics, and it made me wonder if Beaton needs to move in different circles or is merely perpetuating old stereotypes.
Macbeth aside almost every character is shown to be pettily cruel, vindictive, selfish or generally unpleasant. None of the characters seem happy and this rather undercut my enjoyment. A story where everyone is unlikable gets old quickly, so it’s clever of Beaton to keep this books brief and quick.
It’s a decent enough read, and kept me involved, but it just feels a bit bleak in places. There’s humour here, but it’s a grim, nasty world that Beaton creates.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.