A Highland Christmas


By M. C. Beaton

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From the author of the Agatha Raisin television series…
A HIGHLAND CHRISTMAS: A Hamish Macbeth Mystery
Celebrate the Holidays with M. C. Beaton, The Queen of The Cozy Mystery. In the dark, wintry highlands of Lochdubh, Scotland, where the local Calvinist element resists the secular trimmings of Christmas, the spirit of Old St. Nick is about as welcome as a flat tire on a deserted road. Nor is crime taking a holiday, as Constable Hamish Macbeth soon finds himself protecting an unhappy girl, unlocking the secrets of a frightened old woman, and retrieving some stolen holiday goods. Now the lanky lawman must use all his Highland charm and detective skills to make things right. And he had better do it quickly, for the church bells will soon toll and all of Lochdubh will be forced to face another dreary winter without the comforting embrace of Yuletide cheer.



The Hamish Macbeth series

Death of a Gossip

Death of a Cad

Death of an Outsider

Death of a Perfect Wife

Death of a Hussy

Death of a Snob

Death of a Prankster

Death of a Glutton

Death of a Travelling Man

Death of a Charming Man

Death of a Nag

Death of a Macho Man

Death of a Dentist

Death of a Scriptwriter

Death of an Addict

A Highland Christmas

Death of a Dustman

Death of a Celebrity

Death of a Village

Death of a Poison Pen

Death of a Bore

Death of a Dreamer

Death of a Maid

Death of a Gentle Lady

Death of a Witch



A Hamish Macbeth Festive Mystery


Constable • London


Constable & Robinson Ltd
3 The Lanchesters
162 Fulham Palace Road
London W6 9ER

First published in the USA by Grand Central Publishing, a division of Hachette Book Group USA, Inc.

This edition published by Constable,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson, 2009

Copyright © M. C. Beaton 1999, 2009

The right of M. C. Beaton to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in Publication data is available from the British Library

UK ISBN: 978-1-84529-890-6

Printed and bound in the EU

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five


For Brian and Judith Harris

and their son, Adam

With love


Chapter One

More and more people each year are going abroad for Christmas. To celebrate the season of goodwill towards men, British Airways slams an extra one hundred and four pounds on each air ticket. But the airports are still jammed.

For so many people are fleeing Christmas.

Fed up with the fact that commercial Christmas starts in October. Fed up with carols. Dreading the arrival of Christmas cards from people they have forgotten to send a card to. Unable to bear yet another family get-together with Auntie Mary puking up in the corner after sampling too much of the punch. You see at the airports the triumphant glitter in the eyes of people who are leaving it all behind, including the hundredth rerun of Miracle on 34th Street.

But in Lochdubh, in Sutherland, in the very far north of Scotland, there is nothing to flee from. Christmas, thought Hamish Macbeth gloomily, as he walked along the waterfront, his shoulders hunched against a tearing wind, was not coming to Lochdubh this year any more than it had come the previous years.

There was a strong Calvinist element in Lochdubh which frowned on Christmas. Christmas had nothing to do with the birth of Christ, they said, but was really the old Roman Saturnalia which the early Christians had taken over. And as for Santa Claus – forget it.

So there were no Christmas lights, no tree, nothing to sparkle in the dark winter.

PC Hamish Macbeth was feeling particularly sour, for his family had taken off for Florida for a winter vacation. His mother had won a family holiday for thinking up a slogan for a new soap powder – ‘Whiter Than The Mountain Snow’ – and Hamish could not go with them. Sergeant Macgregor over at Cnothan was ill in hospital with a grumbling appendix and Hamish had been instructed to take over the sergeant’s beat as well as do his own.

Hamish’s family were unusual in that they had always celebrated Christmas – tree, turkey, presents and all. In parts of the Highlands, like Lochdubh, the old spirit of John Knox still wandered, blasting anyone with hellfire should they dare to celebrate this heathen festival.

Hamish had often pointed out that none other than Luther was credited with the idea of the Christmas tree, having been struck by the sight of stars shining through the branches of an evergreen. But to no avail. Lochdubh lay silent and dark beside the black waters of the loch.

He turned back towards the police station. The wind was becoming even more ferocious. The wind of Sutherland can sound frightening as it moves up from ordinary tumult to a high-pitched screech and then a deep booming roar.

Hamish decided to settle down with a glass of whisky in front of the television. He was just reaching up for the whisky bottle in one of the kitchen cupboards when he realized he had not checked the answering machine. He went through to the police office. There was one message, and it was Mrs Gallagher saying she wanted him to call on her immediately as she wished to report a burglary.

Hamish groaned. ‘This is all I need,’ he said to the dingy, uncaring walls of the police office. He loathed Mrs Gallagher. She was a tough, wiry old lady who ran her small croft single-handed. She lived out on the Cnothan road and was generally detested. She was described as crabbit, meaning ‘sourpuss’. Mrs Gallagher never had a good word to say for anybody. She had a genius for sniffing out the vulnerable points in anyone’s character and going in for the kill.

In the far north of Scotland in winter, there are only a few hours of daylight. Hamish glanced at his watch. ‘Three o’clock and black as hell already,’ he muttered.

The wind cut like a knife as he climbed into the police Land Rover. As he held the wheel tightly against the buffeting of the wind and drove along the curving road out of the village, he realized that he had never questioned Mrs Gallagher’s bitterness. It had simply been one of those unpleasant facts of his existence since he had started policing in Lochdubh.

At last he bumped up the rutted track leading to the low croft house where Mrs Gallagher lived. Bending his head against the ferocity of the wind, he rapped at the door. He waited as he heard her fumbling with locks and bolts. What was she afraid of? Most crofters didn’t bother locking their doors.

Then he saw the gleam of an eye through the door, which she opened on a chain. She had always had all those locks. How on earth could anyone manage to get in and burgle her?

‘Police,’ he said.

The chain dropped and the door opened wide. ‘Come ben,’ she said curtly.

He ducked his head and followed her in.

As in most croft houses, the kitchen was used as a living room with the parlour being kept for ‘best’. That meant the parlour was usually only used for weddings and funerals. Mrs Gallagher’s kitchen was cosy and cheerful, belying the permanently sour expression on her face. She had a mass of thick crinkly pepper-and-salt hair. The skin of her face was like old leather, beaten into a permanent tan by working outdoors. Her eyes were that peculiar light grey, almost silver, you still see in the Highlands. Emotions flitted over the surface of such eyes like cloud shadows on the sea and yet rarely gave anything away.

‘What’s been taken?’ asked Hamish.

‘Sit down and stop looming over me,’ she snapped. Hamish obediently sat down. ‘My cat, Smoky’s been stolen.’ Hamish had started to tug out his notebook, then left it alone.

‘How long’s the cat been gone?’

‘Twenty-four hours.’

‘Look here, Mrs Gallagher, it’s probably strayed, gone wild or been killed by the fox.’ Like ‘the devil’, it was always ‘the fox’ in the Highlands of Scotland, where crofters had no sentimentality about an animal they damned as the worst piece of vermin in the countryside.

‘Havers!’ said Mrs Gallagher. ‘If I say it is stolen, then it is stolen and it is your duty to get it back.’

‘I’ll have a look around for it,’ said Hamish, struggling to rise out of the low chair on which he was sitting. ‘Is there any sign of a break-in? Any doors, locks or windows been tampered with?’

‘Not a sign. But they could be too cunning for the likes of you. I want you to get a SOCO team out here,’ said Mrs Gallagher. Hamish, who watched police soaps as well, knew she meant a Scene of Crime Operatives team. ‘Smoky was here with me. He didn’t go out.’

‘Did you go out yourself?’

‘Yes, I went to feed the sheep.’

‘And wouldn’t Smoky nip out after you?’

‘No, Smoky never goes out until dinnertime.’ Hamish interpreted ‘dinnertime’ to mean midday. In most houses in and around Lochdubh, dinner was still in the middle of the day and high tea, that is, one course followed by bread and scones and cakes and washed down with tea, in the early evening.

‘I cannot order a forensic team frae Strathbane for a missing cat,’ said Hamish. ‘Anyway, they chust wouldn’t come.’

‘Your trouble,’ said Mrs Gallagher, ‘is that you are lazy. That is why you are still unmarried. You are too damn lazy to get off your scrawny backside to even court a lassie.’

Hamish stood up and looked down at her. ‘I will look around outside for your cat and post a notice at the police station,’ he said evenly. ‘That iss all I can do.’ His Highland accent became more sibilant when he was angry or distressed.

‘You have not even checked the doors or windows to see where they might have got in!’ shouted Mrs Gallagher. ‘I’ll report you.’

‘Do that.’ Hamish put on his cap and let himself out.

The wind had died as suddenly as it had sprung up. It was still blowing hard far up in the sky, for ragged black clouds were tearing across a small cold moon. He set off over the surrounding fields calling ‘Smoky!’ but there was no sign of any cat.

He wearily returned to the croft house and knocked on the door. Again he waited and called out ‘Police’ in answer to her sharp demand to know who was there. ‘Have you got a photo of the cat?’ he called. After some time, the door opened on the chain. She handed a photograph to him. ‘I want a receipt,’ she said. He wrote out a receipt and went on his way.

The next day, Hamish forgot about the cat. He had a more important burglary to investigate in a neighbouring village.

Cnothan, less rigid on the subject of Christmas than Lochdubh, had planned to decorate its main street with fairy lights. Now they were gone. He set out, enjoying the faint glow from a red sun which shone low on the hills. All was still after the gales of the day before. Smoke rose up from cottage chimneys in straight lines. The waters of the sea loch were flat and still, one great mirror reflecting the clouds and mountains above.

Hamish did not like Cnothan, the least friendly place in the Highlands. He marvelled that Cnothan of all places should want to brighten the place up with lights. He went to the home of the chairman of the parish council, a Mr Sinclair, who had reported the burglary. The door was opened by Mrs Sinclair who told him he would find her husband at his shop in the main street. The shop, it turned out, sold electrical goods. Hamish grinned. Nothing like Highland enterprise when it came to making money.

Mr Sinclair was a smooth, pompous man. There is not much of a pecking order in the north of Scotland and so often the shopkeeper is head of the social world. He had an unlined olive face, despite his age which Hamish judged to be around fifty. His unnaturally black hair was combed straight back and oiled.

‘Was the shop burgled?’ asked Hamish, looking around.

‘No, we didnae have the lights here,’ said Mr Sinclair. ‘They were kept in a shed up by the community hall.’

‘Maybe you’d better take me there.’

‘You’ll need to wait until I’m closed for lunch. This is my busiest season.’

Hamish looked around the empty shop. ‘Doesn’t look busy now.’

‘Temporary lull. Temporary lull.’


On Sale
Nov 1, 2002
Page Count
160 pages

M. C. Beaton

About the Author

M. C. Beaton, hailed as the "Queen of Crime" by the Globe and Mail, was the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling Agatha Raisin novels—the basis for the hit series on Acorn TV and public television—as well as the Hamish Macbeth series. Born in Scotland, Beaton started her career writing historical romances under several pseudonyms as well as her maiden name, Marion Chesney. Her books have sold more than twenty-two million copies worldwide.

A long-time friend of M. C. Beaton, R. W. Green has written numerous works of fiction and non-fiction. He lives in Surrey with his family and a black Labrador called Flynn.

Learn more about this author