Tue
Feb 21 2012 2:00pm

Fresh Meat: Death of a Kingfisher by M.C. Beaton

Death of a Kingfisher by M.C. BeatonM. C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth series is 27 years old, and while the mysteries have lost some steam, the hapless love life of Hamish Macbeth and the scenic highlands of Scotland still hold lots of appeal.

In Death of a Kingfisher, the village of Braikie in the Scottish highlands, like everywhere else, is suffering through a recession. A wealthy landowner has left the town a place of rare beauty call Buchan’s Wood. Soon the Wood is renamed “The Fairy Glen” and it isn’t long before tourists are lured to the area. Macbeth is none too happy, for part of the appeal of the highlands is its remoteness.

Sutherland stretches over much of Scotland’s far north and is one of the most sparsely populated areas of Britain—and perhaps, the most beautiful. It usually has a sense of peace because it is too remote to be blighted by crowds of tourists. Giant monolithic mountains are reflected in blue lochs. In fact, it contains all the charm and beauty that kept Hamish Macbeth determined to stay anchored to his police station.

The beauty is soon disturbed by violence. The beautiful kingfisher which makes its home in the waters of the Glen is found with a noose about its neck. As vandalism turns to murder, Macbeth tracks down a murderer while still looking for love.

Early in the series, Macbeth was besotted with Priscilla Halburton-Smythe, the daughter of a wealthy local landowner. The affair ultimately ended in a broken engagement; thereafter, he hooked up with Elspeth Grant, a reporter, but that relationship too went south. However, the new tourist director for The Fairy Glen seems a bonnie lass, and when Macbeth meets Mary Leinster with her heart shaped face, wide blue eyes, and long curly strawberry blonde hair, he is smitten. He asks her to dinner where she tells him her marriage is on the rocks.

He falls hard despite the advice of the seer Angus:

“Aye, well, chust so long as she doesn’t give you that auld chestnut about an unhappy marriage and so there’s hope for one red-haired copper getting that cuddly body into bed.”

Macbeth is too blinded by her beauty to pay any attention to Angus:

Those blue eyes of hers were enough to addle any man’s wits. It was rare to see such blue. People often had grey-blue eyes, or pale blue, but hardly ever that colour of the summer sky or like the blue of the kingfisher’s wing.

While a dalliance with Mary seems unlikely, Macbeth gets lucky with a policewoman who is forced to spend the night at Macbeth’s place. He offers to take the cot in the cell while she sleeps in his bed.

She gave him an impish grin. “Why don’t we both share your bed?”

“Annie!”

She stood up and bent over him and gave him a passionate kiss on the mouth.

“Feeling better about the idea?” she asked.

“Oh, yes,” said Hamish Macbeth hoarsely.

The next morning brings a funny scene, though Macbeth is not amused. Annie takes a call and when Macbeth asks her about it, she tells him it was her husband. His Scottish burr gets thicker when he confronts her.

“So it was chust a fling?”

“Don’t look at me like that,” said Annie hotly. “You enjoyed yourself, didn’t you?”

“Women!” said Hamish savagely and banged his fist on the steering wheel.

Though not lucky in love, Macbeth still has the enchanted Highlands, which never disappoint.

The glen looked enchanting and enchanted. A thin veil of mist was rising above the pool, and little rainbows were dancing in the waterfall. He felt a surge of joy. It was like the beginning of the world before sin and evil. He could almost believe in such a place as the Garden of Eden before the snake.


Susan Amper, author of How to Write About Edgar Allan Poe, still mourns the loss of her Nancy Drew collection.

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5 comments
Laura K. Curtis
1. LauraKCurtis
I must admit to being less interested in the mysteries that poor Hamish is saddled with than in his life in general. I came to these books by way of the television series, which starred the ever-wonderful Robert Carlyle. To me, that's what Hamish will always look like.
2. s.amper
I missed the series because I read the books years later. I'll have to pick it up on Netflix.
Carolyn Rector
3. inthekitchenwiththecandlestick
I first found Hamish this winter when I read the Highland Christmas. I just loved the way M.C. Beaton created this charming man, so taken with everyone that he meets. The police officer who cares deeply about his village and its people. I tried to warch the TV series later, but he just didn't ring true to the character in the novel. Someday I want to read all of them in order.
Laura K. Curtis
4. LauraKCurtis
Susan -

I am pretty sure they're all available streaming on Netflix. At least watch one or two and tell us what you think!
5. s.amper
Laura--

Unfortunately, no streaming available on the series. I'll probably check it out anyway.
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