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I found this book extremely hard to get into as the storyline was a bit wishy washy in some places and slightly hard to follow. As this book is one from the Hamish Macbeth collection and written by the same author as the famous Agatha raisin books I thought I would enjoy it. However this book is written in a completely different style and is a lot harder go relate to than the lovable Agatha raisin. The book sees a woman who insists on petty snobbery and blackmail to scare all that meet her and eventually and not by surprise however she is bumped off. (as if we didn't see that one coming). I also found the book very predictable in places and slightly farfetched in others. I bought this on kindle and it only cost me 99p and I am happy about this as it would have been tragic for myself to have spent any more money on this book. M.C Beaton portays Agatha raisin perfectly however this book was not to my own personal tastes and was a let down upon reading .
What is it about?
John Cartwright and his wife, Heather, run a fishing school in Lochdubh in the Highlands of Scotland and are ready to greet a new class. Their latest students include a wealthy American couple, Marvin and Amy Roth, a barrister and cad, Jeremy Blythe, a frumpy secretary, Alice Wilson, an Oxford debutante, Daphne Gore, a 12 year old boy, Charlie Baxter and old solider, Major Peter Frame. Last but not least there is Lady Jane Winters, a widow of a Labour peer, who quickly makes herself very unpopular by her barbed remarks and uncanny ability to know everyone's business. Local police constable, Hamish Macbeth, normally likes the quiet life, but begins to feel increasingly uneasy about the fishing school, particularly when Lady Jane also ferrets out details from his own private life. It seems that everyone has an axe to grind in relation to Lady Jane Winters, but who would dislike her enough to murder her? Read the book to find out.
My thoughts about the book
This is the first in the series of novels featuring the village police officer, Hamish Macbeth. Many of you will be familiar with the TV series starring Robert Carlyle. I enjoyed the series and have a boxed set on DVD, so I was curious as to whether I would recognise this particular story. However, I understand that the series was only loosely based on the books and Death of a Gossip was never adapted for television. I didn't recognise any of the characters in this book from the TV series, apart from Hamish of course. The series was filmed in Plockton in Kyle of Lochalsh, which is a picturesque area that I have been lucky enough to visit, so I was able to picture this clearly in my mind as I read about the fictional town of Lochdubh. The author's description is beautifully evocative and brings to life the small fishing village huddling at the foot of the vast, twisted, primitive-looking mountains, with its cluster of 18th century houses, a couple of small shops and four churches - "each with a congregation of about five." I smiled at the author's portrayal of the locals who treat the (mainly English) tourists with "outward Highland courtesy and inner Highland hate." When the author refers to the sun on the loch, the purple heather in the moorlands and the buzzards and peregrine falcons in the sky she conjures up a familiar picture of the Highlands that I remember fondly. (Her references to the clouds of midges reminded me of the less attractive aspects as well.)
M.C. Beaton (aka Marian Chesney) was inspired to write the first Hamish Macbeth book when she attended a fishing school in Sutherland, hence the fishing school setting. As someone with no interest in fishing at all, I did think I was going to get bored with this theme, particularly the technical references to casting and how to tie 'leaders' (thin pieces of nylon to attach to your line, apparently) but this was not the case. I actually began to understand 'fishing fever' and how it grips the most unlikely people. Fishing provides a wonderful metaphor throughout the book to show how people 'fish' for gossip and reel their human catches in, squirming.
I loved the concept of a bunch of dissimilar folk being thrown together on holiday, being forced to spend time in close proximity to each other so that bonds and allegiances form and enemies are also made. From the start I found that I was interested in the character of Alice whose unworldliness and gullibility was sometimes charming but at other times made me want to slap her across the face with a wet fish. Alice is every feminist's worst nightmare, totally untouched by Women's Lib, with a very naïve attitude towards love. Lady Jane caught my imagination from the start too and I was desperate to find out how anyone could be so downright unpleasant. I actually found some of her rude remarks quite amusing, such as when she comments on a female character's attire, saying it would frighten away the fish. She is almost like a comedy villain. You want to boo and hiss each time she appears.
The themes of social snobbery and the ways that people lie to impress others are explored, often in a humorous way, with references to people fibbing about their fishing triumphs and the sometimes farcical episodes involving Hamish and his love interest, Priscilla Halburton-Smythe, the daughter of a stuck-up rich landowner. Hamish's character intrigued me straightaway and although at first I couldn't help but picture Robert Carlyle, I began to focus more on M.C. Beaton's description of him as being very tall and lanky with red hair. When we first meet Hamish he is scrounging coffee from the Cartwrights, which prompts John to grumble that all Hamish does is mooch around and get in the way and that - "what that policeman needs is a good, juicy murder." I loved Hamish's easy going approach to life and refreshing lack of ambition. I was amused by his calm way of deflecting the put-downs and criticisms others send in his direction.
Death of a Gossip is very much an old fashioned murder mystery. It you want blood and guts, this won't be for you. It has an Agatha Christie-like gentleness, with everyone gathered together in the hotel lounge in the final episode when the killer is revealed. It presents a charming, although totally unrealistic, scenario of the local bobby getting the better of the big shot CID officers who come to investigate the case. Whilst the likes of DCI Blair wrestle with forensics and other sophisticated methods of investigation, Hamish relies on his local knowledge and gut feelings to unravel the mystery. Hamish's philosophy is straightforward - "all criminals were the same whether it was theft in the school or poaching deer on the hills. You talked, asked questions, listened and watched and waited." The novel has a leisurely pace, which perhaps some might find too slow. For my part, I enjoyed the gradual build-up as we learned more about each of the characters and began to discover that not everyone was as they seemed. The title gives away very quickly which of the characters is going to die, but this does not spoil the tension. On the contrary, the reader is conscious that it is only a matter of time before something will happen to Lady Jane and it is just a question of how it will happen and at whose hands. The author makes you suspect each character in turn and keep changing your mind. I didn't guess the identity of the killer until it was revealed right at the end.
I enjoyed the sub plots within the main story, such as the rivalry between Alice and Daphne in their efforts to attract the awful Jeremy and the dysfunctional home life of young Charlie Baxter. You also realise that Hamish's own love life is far from straightforward and I imagine the Priscilla Halburton-Smythe story is set to run and run in the books that follow. It's interesting to get a glimpse of Hamish's passionate emotional side beneath that laidback exterior. I felt that I'd really only had an introduction into Hamish's character in this first book, but enough to show him to be complex and contradictory. It made me want to find out more.
Would I recommend it?
Yes. I would recommend this book to those who like a quaint, cosy murder-mystery. It's ideal to curl up with on a cold night, thinking yourself lucky not to be wading in the freezing waters of a Scottish river. It is a lovely piece of escapism. It is true that some of the characters are rather stereotypical, but as long as you aren't looking for an in-depth psychological thriller type mystery, this book will not disappoint. As someone who loves the Scottish Highlands, I thoroughly enjoyed the brooding atmosphere of this book, which re-created the wonderful untamed landscape for me, contrasting the calm, natural world with the busy, materialistic worlds that many members of the fishing party are drawn from. I will certainly be reading some of the other books in the series. Death of a Gossip is available for £2.86 on Kindle. The paperback version can be obtained new from Amazon from £4.86.