This is the very first in the Hamish Macbeth series; I'm amazed it's taken me this long to get around to reading it since I've read all of the Agatha Raisin series written by the same author (M.C. Beaton), and I've also had at least eight of the HMacbeth books in my unread cozy bookcase for quite some time. In fact, this photo taken in February 2011, when we were still living in Reading, shows that I owned several of the books in the series even then (second shelf down, far left - in case you've got a magnifying glass handy.) And, finally, over two-and-a-half years later, I've actually read one.Go, me!
When society widow and gossip columnist Lady Jane Winters joins the local fishing club she wastes no time in ruffling the feathers of those around er. Among the victims of her sharp tongue is Lochdubh constable Hamish Macbeth, yet not even he imagines anyone would seriously take steps to silence her ladyship's shrill voice permanently - until her body is fished out of the river.
As the first book in a series I was surprised at how little time is spent introducing the main characters and discussing their backgrounds. So little, in fact, that I actually had to double check that this was definitely the first in the series and that I hadn't perhaps missed a book where Hamish, Priscilla Halburton-Smythe, her parents and any other recurring characters were first discovered in the sleepy Scottish Highland village of Lochdubh. Basically they are written about as if we already know them, their backgrounds, their relationships, etc, which is better than having to plough through pages of 'Hamish Macbeth was born in Blahdiblah and became a policeman at the age of XX; his unrequited love for Priscilla first flourished in...'; don't you think? I can only assume that we learn more about the characters as the series continues. A clever idea on the part of the author to keep the reader interested.
In this book eight very different people (including the murder victim) enrol on a fly fishing course run by a married couple in the village of Lochdubh. Lady Jane Winters spends the majority of her time dropping vicious comments into conversation and generally upsetting her fellow fly-fishers, so it comes as no surprise when her body is found in a pool with a fishing line round her neck and chains round her ankles. What is surprising is that it's not until page 93 of the 186-page book, that the murder occurs. This gives you some idea of just how much background story is covered, meaning there are plenty of motives and, therefore, plenty of suspects and red herrings.
Considering this book was first published in 1984, it doesn't feel dated. It definitely falls into the cozy crime category, which perhaps help it not to feel too out-moded. Some of the characters are a little stereotyped, but if you can put that aside and enjoy the book as a gentle romp through the Scottish countryside, with a little murder on the side, then you might enjoy it.
I'm definitely looking forward to reading more in the series and finding out how the characters develop. I didn't watch the TV series when it aired in the 1990s, so I may look out to see if it's being repeated at all (probably on an obscure satellite channel in the early hours of a Tuesday morning, or the like.)