Death of A Liar by M C Beaton

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Death of A Liar by M C Beaton

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Category: Crime
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: A rape that wasn't and a murder that really was leads Hamish Macbeth on his latest highland adventure. Sticking to the tenets that have made this a justifiably popular series, it's old-fashioned mystery solving at its usual entertaining best. A few gripes about style and editing shouldn't be allowed to get in the way - although to be fair, it's probably not the best in the series to date.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 261 Date: February 2015
Publisher: Constable
ISBN: 9781780331096

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Hamish Macbeth is still enjoying the relatively easy life of running the two-man station in remote Lochdubh in the highlands of Scotland. He could maybe do without current side-kick Dick Fraser's eternal presence on site, but has to admit that the man's cooking skills and his tendency to whip out a stove and frying pan in the remotest of locations do have their advantages. Still and all, it's not doing our eternal Sergeant's love-life any favours.

This is the 30th in the Macbeth series or possibly the 31st depending on whether you believe the book cover or the author's website. As the story opens it is a rare beautiful day and our heroes have nothing better to do (indeed is there even any better to do?) than to sit in deckchairs in the garden, with the sky blue and rowan berries red as Hamish's hair and Sconsie and Lugg (for a time content) lying at their master's feet.

Then the phone rings.

Liz Bentley. At Cromish. In total distress – she's been raped.

Liz it turns out is the Liar of the title. There has been no such crime. She's famous locally for her stories and fabrications. A cry of 'wolf' that gets its come-uppance soon enough. All stories of vicious criminals on the loose are satisfactorily discounted until a Liz actually is found horribly murdered. Hamish and Dick are sent to investigate.

Meanwhile, there's another mystery brewing closer to home: one involving the newcomers to Loch Dubh – southerners who've bought the old school-house, but don't take kindly to the welcoming ways of the local community.

Now for those not familiar with the tales of our Scottish sleuths (from either the books or the much-loved TV series starring a young Robert Carlyle back in the 1990s), you don't pick up a Beaton and expect a Coben. This is not edge-of-your-seat, stay-awake-until-dawn thriller territory. It's much more Christie's Marple domestic observational murder-next-door kind of stuff.

There's precious little police procedure – indeed in any modern force most of Beaton's coppers would be up on charges of their own. One might hope!

Although he's in uniform, this is really just to give MacBeth access to forensics and records and such that he wouldn't have as a private investigator. For the rest he's as maverick as any P.I. you care to pick. He doesn’t carry a gun – that would be illegal – but he knows a few people who are handy in a fight.

The other side of him is the man that truly loves the highlands. He doesn't want to change the way of life that's clung to up there. He fights so hard and dirty to keep Loch Dubh operational because if it goes, who else will keep a caring eye on the old folk in the hills? Who else will consider digging out the sheep or taking the shopping to the old widow part of the job?

There are side plots running through the series about how that fight about the station rumbles on. There's also the continuing saga of our man's unhelpful relationship with his superiors. These are loose-woven threads that might be of interest to the series fans, but for occasional visitors like myself they're downplayed enough not to get in the way.

So what you get for you money is a traditional brain-teaser of a detective story. Who killed Liz Bentley? What (if anything) has it got to do with goings on at the school house? And where exactly does the happy clappy pink neon Church of the Chosen fit in?

The plot runs along smoothly, and whilst it won't keep you up all night, nor will it take you more than a day or two to rattle through.

Good old fashioned entertainment. For the most part.

For I have to raise an irritation. Either the writing is slipping, or the editing is. I lost count of the number of times that I was told that the sudden sibilance of his accent showed Hamish's nervousness. Bits of the backstory are also somewhat laboured – even though most of it isn't remotely necessary to enjoy the current tale. It's a shame that Beaton hasn't learned to trust her audience a bit more and credit them with the intelligence to work some of it out for themselves. It's also a shame that her editors don't take a bit more time rather than rushing the books out at the current rate, because it's the only trait that mars what would otherwise be worth buying the whole canon and going back to the beginning.

Set that aside though, or skate over it, and the rest is a decent enough read. Quirky insights into remote life might seem a bit dated, but I don't doubt for a minute that they still hold true in some places. And you can't help but envy Hamish and Dick who've got the most beautiful beat on the planet, and appreciate why now and again they decide to camp out in the middle of it and just look at the place!

If you like your crime on the gentle side you might also enjoy Dead in the Water by Veronyca Bates.

M C Beaton's Hamish Macbeth Novels in Chronological Order

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