"Death of a Valentine" by M.C. Beaton
Grand Central, 246 pp., $23.99
Reviewed by David Marshall James
Prolific British mystery writer M.C. Beaton has tallied up a twenty-fifth serving of Scottish village police constable Hamish Macbeth, he of the Highlands-red hair and hazel eyes, who's quite content in his rustic office/dwelling, with its peat-burning fires.
He keeps sheep and hens out back, and his pet "beasties" inside: dog Lugs, and an unusual cat name Sonsie.
Yet only a fool would think less of Hamish's abilities and detective skills, given a glimpse of the trappings of his village idylls. He's solved many a murder case that has been presumed closed or left for cold.
Nevertheless, he is not seeking promotion, being that rara avis who's happy just (or "chust," in the Highlands brogue) where he is.
By and large, the residents of Lochdub, a fishing village on the west coast, are pleased with him. Och, they could easily have someone instead who's a wee numptie! The vicar's wife (now, isn't that breed a caution?) would like to see him married off, and that constitutes a major portion of the plot, as Hamish must adjust to an attractive young policewoman assigned to assist him. (When he would much prefer being left alone.)
She's taken a room at the Manse, home to that meddlesome wife, who hopes to orchestrate a union between her lodger and the village bobby.
However, Hamish has dallied in a sort of dual romance over the years and through previous novels, and never the twain shall meet. On the one hand, there is Patricia Halburton-Smythe, whose father owns the Tommel Castle hotel near Lochdub. One thinks of her (given Beaton's cues) along the lines of Grace Kelly in "Rear Window": patrician-looking yet still eager to tumble in a murder investigation.
On the other hand, there is Elspeth Grant, who first met up with Hamish as a reporter for the local newspaper, and who since has risen to become a TV news celebrity out of Glasgow. For Miss Grant (again, given the author's cues), picture Kirstie Alley back in her "Cheers" days: mildly zaftig, frazzled one minute, while fetching the next. And woefully insecure when it comes to Patricia.
And this young policewoman thinks she can jump the counter, straight into Hamish's heart? Well, she's a mighty determined lassie.
Meanwhile, she and Hamish are looking into the murder of a teenaged beauty queen on Valentine's Day; hence, the title. This plot strand results in a satisfying whodunit with nicely dealt clues.
'Tis pity, though, that Hamish cannae solve the ongoing concerns of his love life, which lands him in myriad troubles. 'Tis likely to supply enough storylines to fuel this series as far as the clever Ms. Beaton cares to carry it.
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