From the author of the Agatha Raisin television series...
DEATH OF A POISON PEN: A Hamish Macbeth Mystery
When the residents of Lochdubh begin receiving poison pen letters, no one takes them seriously. But Constable Hamish Macbeth fears them, and his instincts prove correct when the postmistress is found hanging from a rope with a vicious poison pen letter at her feet.
About the Author
M. C. Beaton has won international acclaim for her New York Times bestselling Hamish Macbeth mysteries. The BBC has aired 24 episodes based on the series. Beaton is also the author of the bestselling Agatha Raisin series, which will air as an eight-episode dramatic series on Sky1, starring Ashley Jensen. She lives in the Cotswolds with her husband. For more information, you can visit MCBeaton.com.
Read an Excerpt
Death of a Bore
By M.C. Beaton
Mysterious PressCopyright © 2005 Marion Chesney
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNo man, but a blockhead, ever wrote, except for money. -Samuel Johnson
There used to be quite a lot going on in a highland village during the long, dark winter months. There was a ceilidh every week where the locals danced or performed, singing the old songs or reciting poetry. Often there was a sewing circle with its attendant gossip; the Mothers' Union meetings; the Girl Guides and Boy Scouts classes; and the weekly film show in the village hall. But with the advent of television and videos, people often preferred to stay cosily indoors, being amused by often violent films with heroines with high cheekbones, collagen-enhanced lips, and heels so high it made ankles comfortably ending in slippered feet just ache to look at them.
Therefore when Hamish Macbeth, police constable of Lochdubh, heard that a newcomer, John Heppel, was planning to hold a series of writers' classes in the village hall, he set out to dissuade him. As he said to his fisherman friend, Archie Maclean, "I don't want to see the poor wee man humiliated when nobody turns up."
Hamish had seen a poster in Patel's general store: DO YOU WANT TO BE A FAMOUS WRITER? FAMOUS WRITER JOHN HEPPEL WILL HELP YOU BECOME ONE.
The first meeting was scheduled for the following week on a Wednesday evening atseven-thirty. Hamish knew that on that evening Petticoat Cops was showing at just that time, a cop series set in LA with three leggy blondes with large lips, high busts, and an amazing skill with firearms and kung fu. He did not know anyone in Lochdubh who would risk missing the latest episode, except perhaps himself.
So on one wet black evening with a gusty gale blowing in from the Atlantic and ragged clouds ripping across the sky, Hamish got into the police Land Rover and set out for John's cottage, which was out on the moors above the village of Cnothan. Hamish was feeling lonely. His affair with the local reporter, Elspeth Grant, had come to an abrupt halt. She had been offered a job on a Glasgow newspaper and had asked him bluntly if he meant to marry her.
And Hamish had dithered, then he had said he'd think about it, and by the time he had got around to really considering the idea, Elspeth had accepted the job and left. He wondered gloomily whether he was cut out to live with anyone, for his first feeling on hearing the news that she had gone was one of relief.
He wondered at first why John had not decided to hold his classes in Cnothan but then reflected that Cnothan was a sour town and specialised in ostracising newcomers.
Sergeant MacGregor, who had policed Cnothan for years, had retired, and the village and surrounding area had been added on to Hamish's already extensive beat. Village police stations were being closed down all over the place, and Hamish had not felt strong enough to protest at the extra work in case he lost his beloved home in the police station in Lochdubh.
Hamish had never met John Heppel. Normally he would have made a courtesy call, but an irritating series of burglaries over in Braikie had to be solved, and somehow the man's arrival in the Highlands had gone out of his mind. Much as he loved Sutherland and could not consider living anywhere else, Hamish knew that newcomers often relocated to the far north of Scotland through misguided romanticism. Writers or painters imagined that the solitude and wild scenery would inspire them, but usually it was the very long dark winters that finally defeated them.
He drove through Cnothan, bleak and rain-swept under the orange glare of sodium lights, and up onto the moors. The heathery track leading to John's cottage had a poker-work sign pointing the way. It said, "Writer's Folly."
Hamish drove along the track and parked outside the low whitewashed cottage that was John's home.
Hamish chided himself for not phoning first. He rapped on the door and waited while the rising gale whipped at his oilskin coat.
A small man opened the door and stared up at the tall policeman. "I am Police Constable Hamish Macbeth from Lochdubh," said Hamish. "Might I be having a wee word with you?"
Hamish followed him into a living room lined with books. A computer stood on a table by the window. Peat smouldered on the open fire. Over the fireplace hung a large framed photograph of the author accepting a plaque.
"You have interrupted my muse," said John, and gave a great hee-haw sort of laugh.
He was only a little over five feet tall, bespectacled, with thinning grey hair, the strands combed over a balding scalp. His eyes were large and brown above a squashy, open-pored nose and fleshy mouth. He wore a roll-necked brown sweater and brown cords.
"Sit down," he said. "You're making my neck ache."
Hamish removed his cap and coiled his lanky length down into an armchair by the fire.
"Is that your own colour?" asked John, staring at Hamish's flaming-red hair.
"All my own. You don't seem to be surprised at getting a visit from the police."
"I'm not married, my parents are dead, and I have no close relatives. People are only frightened when they see a policeman at the door if they're worried about a loved one or have something to hide. So why have you come?"
"It's about your writing class."
"I'll be delighted to see you there. You can pay for the whole term or at each class."
"I wasn't thinking of attending. I don't think anyone will. They'll all be at home watching the telly."
John looked a trifle smug. "I have already had ten applications from the residents of Lochdubh."
"Who might they be?"
"Ah." John wagged a finger. "I suggest you come along and see."
"I might do that. Have you had much published?"
"I received the Tammerty Biscuit Award for Scottish literature." John pointed to the photograph. "That's me getting the award for my book Tenement Days. Have you read it?"
"Then let me give you a copy." John left the room. Hamish looked around. A small table over against the wall opposite from the computer held the remains of a meal. Apart from the books lining the low walls and the large photograph over the fireplace, there were no ornaments or family photographs.
John came back in and handed him a copy of Tenement Days. "I signed it," he said. Hamish flipped it open and looked at the inscription. It read, "To Hamish MacBeth. His first introduction to literature. John Heppel."
"I haff read other books," said Hamish crossly, the sudden sibilance of his highland accent showing he was annoyed. "And my name is spelled without a capital B. What else have you written?"
"Oh, lots," said John. "I've just finished a film script for Strathbane Television."
"What's it called?"
John looked suddenly uncomfortable. "Well, it's a script for Down in the Glen."
Hamish smiled. "That's a soap."
"But I have raised the tone, don't you see? To improve the public mind, even great authors such as myself must lower themselves to write for a popular series."
"Indeed? Good luck to you. I had better be going."
"Wait a bit. You asked about my work? I have been greatly influenced by the French authors such as Jean-Paul Sartre and François Mauriac. Even when I was at school, I became aware that I had a great gift. I was brought up in the mean streets of Glasgow, a hard environment for a sensitive boy. But I observed. I am a camera. I sometimes feel I have been sent down from another planet to observe."
"Quite a lot of highland drunks feel the same way," said Hamish, made malicious by boredom. "You know, they all think they're off another planet."
But John's eyes had taken on the self-obsessed glaze of the bore. "You are wondering why I never married?"
"Last thing I was wondering," muttered Hamish.
"There was one woman in my life, one great love. But she was married. We met in secret. Our passion soared like ... like ..."
"The eagle," corrected John crossly. "She had raven hair and skin like milk."
"Aye, well," said Hamish, determinedly getting to his feet. "All verra interesting, but I've got to go."
"Oh, must you? Then I shall see you next Wednesday."
Hamish jammed on his cap. "Don't get up," he said. "I'll see myself out."
He noticed that a wax coat hanging by the door was wet.
He was just getting into the Land Rover when John ran out after him. "You've forgotten your book."
"Aye, thanks." Hamish took it from him and threw it onto the passenger seat and drove off at great speed.
He won't last the winter, he told himself, unaware at that time that John Heppel was to leave the Highlands but not in a way that Hamish Macbeth expected.
As Hamish drove along the waterfront in Lochdubh, he saw that one wire mesh waste bin had not yet been stolen by the fishermen to be used as a lobster pot. He stopped the Land Rover with a jerk, picked up John's book, opened the window, and hurled the book into the bin. The inscription had annoyed him.
He drove a little further and then noticed a small crowd outside Patel's general store. Mrs. Wellington, the minister's wife, was one of the group, and she waved to him.
Hamish stopped again and rolled down the window. "What's going on here?"
"It's dreadful," said Mrs. Wellington. "Come and look."
Hamish climbed down and walked over. The group parted to let him through. There on the whitewashed wall of the store by the door, someone had sprayed in red paint, "Paki Go Home."
"And he's not even Pakistani!" wailed Mrs. Wellington. "He's Indian."
The door of the shop, which had been closed for the night, opened, and Mr. Patel came out. "Hamish, what's happened?" he asked.
"Some maniac's been writing on your walls," said Hamish.
Mr. Patel looked at the wall. "Who would have done this?" he asked, looking round the little crowd.
"Do you sell spray paint?" asked Hamish.
"Yes, but never to children. I mean, I only sell it to people who're going to use it round the house."
Hamish addressed the group. "I want all of you to ask round the village and find out if anyone saw anyone near the shop. You closed half-day today, Mr. Patel. It gets dark after two in the afternoon. So it must have happened sometime between then and now. In the meantime let's get some turpentine and wash the stuff off."
"What about fingerprints?" asked Mrs. Wellington.
"No forensic team's going to turn out for this, and the kit I've got wouldn't be able to get one off that wall. Let's get to it. And tell that new schoolteacher, Miss Garrety, that I'll be along to speak to the pupils tomorrow first thing."
"You think it's children?" asked Angela Brodie, the doctor's wife, who had joined the group.
"I don't know," said Hamish. "I chust cannae think of anyone who would do this. Mr. Patel is one of us and has been for ages."
The group was getting larger, and everyone was desperate to take a hand at cleaning the wall. Hamish pushed back his cap and scratched his fiery hair. "If it was 'English Go Home,' I could understand it," he said to Angela. "There's a lot of stupid English-bashing in Scotland these days."
"But not in Lochdubh," said Angela. "It must be someone from outside. Everyone in Lochdubh knows that Mr. Patel originally came from India."
The next day Hamish put his odd-looking dog, Lugs, on the leash and walked along to the village school. The school, like his police station, was under threat. The children were taught up to the age of eleven years, and then the older ones were bussed to the secondary school in Strathbane. There had been various moves to close down the school, but each time the well-organised villagers had mounted such a strong protest that they had succeeded in keeping it.
Miss Freda Garrety, the schoolteacher, was a tiny slip of a thing in her twenties. She barely came up to Hamish's shoulder. She had straight black hair cut in a bob and a white triangular face with large black eyes. She was dressed in a black T-shirt and black trousers. Hamish thought she looked like a harlequin.
"I'm here to speak to your pupils," said Hamish.
"About the graffiti?" She had a lowland accent. "Make it quick. Exams are coming up."
Hamish walked into the classroom, where the children still sat behind old-fashioned desks: the oldest at the back and the youngest at the front.
He walked to the front of the room. "I'm here to talk to you about the racist graffiti on the wall of the general store. This is a disgrace and should not be allowed to happen in Lochdubh. Do any of you know anything about this?"
Solemn faces stared back at him, but nobody spoke. "Now, some of you may know something but don't want to tell me in front of the others. If you do know anything at all, I want you to call at the police station with one of your parents."
A small boy put his hand up.
"My faither says there's too many foreigners in this country. Maybe you should speak to him."
"You're Dermott Taggart, am I right?"
"Is your father at home?"
"He's down on a building site in Strathbane."
"Do you think he might have had something to do with this?" Dermott looked suddenly frightened. "Don't be telling him I said anything," he said, and burst into tears. Freda rushed forward to comfort him.
"Anyone else?" asked Hamish.
"Well, listen carefully. Racism is a serious crime. The culprit will be punished, and mark my words, I'll find out who did this."
Hamish returned to the police station and went into his office, where he stared blankly at the computer. Who on earth would want to paint a racist slogan on Patel's shop?
There was a cry from the kitchen door. "Hamish, the telly's here. They're outside Patel's wi' that writer cheil."
Hamish rushed out. Archie Maclean stood there. "Ye wouldnae think they'd bother."
Hamish walked with him round to Patel's. John Heppel was standing outside the shop, facing a camera crew.
"... and that is all I have to say," he was declaring pompously. "I, John Heppel, will do my utmost to help the police find the perpetrator of this wicked crime. Thank you."
Hamish's hazel eyes narrowed in suspicion. John Heppel was made up for the cameras, and yet he could not see a make-up girl anywhere around.
He pushed his way through the crowd that had gathered to where John was talking with the interviewer, a pretty girl called Jessma Gardener.
"How did you find out about this?" demanded Hamish of John.
"Ah, Constable. I just happened to be passing and saw the television crew."
Hamish leaned forward and drew a long finger down John's cheek and then studied the brown make-up on his finger.
"Do you usually wear make-up?" he asked.
John flushed angrily. "I am so used to television appearances," he said, "that I carry a kit in the car. I owe it to my readers to look my best at all times."
Hamish turned to Jessma. "How did you hear about this?"
"Someone phoned the news desk late last night."
Excerpted from Death of a Bore by M.C. Beaton Copyright © 2005 by Marion Chesney. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I just love the whole series of books and TV It is so much fun to curl up with old friends and a cup of tea. Hamish is his usual laid back ladies man trying to solve two murders and a kidnapping while the Scottish weather plays havoc. What could be more fun?
A rash of poisoned pen letters creates misery and unleashes a string of murders. Hamish Macbeth must deal with the crimes while juggling the attentions of three women with a little better luck than usual.
M.C Beaton has created a Scottish constable, Hamish Macbeth, who gets in trouble with lady friends as much as dead bodies. In this "episode" someone is sending poison pen letters which cause people to die. On the surface, it looks like suicide but Macbeth knows better and tries to solve the crimes. Of course his superiors aren't happy neither are his girlfriends . A light hearted read!
First time reading something from this author. Kept me coming for more.
Death of a Poison Pen by M. C. Beaton is a good book. I read this through a B&N serial read where a new chapter is delivered every day to my Nook. The plot and characters are well developed and I enjoyed the interaction of Hamish Macbeth with the townspeople. At times Hamish and others would revert to local dialect and I had to really concentrate to get the meaning of the dialog. Other than that, I found this book to be an easy read and I was trying to solve the murders along with Hamish. This is a good cozy mystery and I enjoyed reading it. I recommend it to anyone who likes mysteries.
Hamish MacBeth is back - not quite as much fun as he used to be in the earlier books of the series. The red-haired constable-sleuth is up to his ears in murder again, when two deaths are linked to a series of poison pen letters. Lots of daft Scottish village characters show up, as always, and there are a few good laughs. But MC, watch out - Hamish is becoming a little too industrious lately - the old amiably lazy constable was a bit more entertaining.
Someone in the small Highland town of Braikie has instituted a poison pen letter writing campaign going so far as to accuse Police Constable Hamish Macbeth of having an affair with the minister¿s wife. Although nobody is taking it seriously, Hamish knows it is just a matter of time before someone gets very angry and violence could be the result. When the post mistress Miss Beatie dies with a poison pen letter near her body, the police rule it a suicide............................................... Hamish doesn¿t think it is suicide and an autopsy proves him right. The thirty something year old women was poisoned and he doesn¿t have a clue who the culprit could be. When the retired school mistress is killed, the victim of several knife wounds Hamish knows instinctively the two killings are linked but he needs some help. His ex-girlfriend¿s girlfriend and the local reporter are more than willing to help the constable out............................. This is the twentieth Hamish Macbeth Mystery and the series is as fresh, witty and upbeat as the day the first book in the series was published. Hamish takes his job very seriously but in his personal life when it comes to romance, he is, to put it bluntly, a doofus. This makes him adorable and endearing to readers who hope that just once he winds up with the woman he truly loves. This mystery has a fast paced plot and a descriptive look into the culture of a small Highlander village which makes DEATH OF A POISON PEN a treat not to be missed...................................... Harriet Klausner
Agatha..where art thou? After reading Death of a Poison Pen, I long for a good mystery that is a mystery! The bumbling Hamish Macbeth should be retired for lack of depth and plots that a 12 yr old would find boring. Surely we can do much better.