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Death of a Green-Eyed Monster
By M. C. Beaton
With R.W. Green
Read by Graeme Malcolm
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Hamish's new constable, Dorothy McIver, may be the most beautiful woman he's ever seen. Completely bewitched by her sparkling blue eyes, Hamish spends the summer traveling with her up and down Sutherland until finally, he can take it no longer. He gets down on one knee beside the Land Rover and begs her to marry him—and to his amazement and delight, she says yes.
But just as the town of Lochdubh gets ready to celebrate, Hamish finds himself with a new murder on his hands. If he doesn't find the killer fast, Hamish's dream wedding could become a nightmare.
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Foreword by R. W. Green
Murder is Hamish Macbeth's business. Tracking down fiendish killers is what he does best. Figuring out whether his murder suspects have the ability, opportunity, and motive to perpetrate the crime and then slapping the cuffs on them is his stock-in-trade . . . yet it really shouldn't be, should it?
A police officer based where Hamish lives wouldn't have much experience of murder at all. Hamish's patch of Sutherland is the northernmost part of the Scottish mainland, one of the most sparsely populated regions in the whole of the UK. If you were considering taking a trip to this beautiful, dramatically scenic area, and I recommend that you do, then you needn't be quite as concerned for your safety as reading a Hamish Macbeth murder story might make you believe. Sutherland has a very low crime rate. Of the sixty or so murders committed in Scotland every year, the country's two largest cities—Glasgow and Edinburgh—account for around half, while there is generally only one anywhere near Hamish's territory. A rural police officer like Hamish, therefore, wouldn't get involved in many murder cases. M. C. Beaton knew all that when she first created Hamish—and that's what makes him so special. Sergeant Macbeth is not an ordinary country cop.
M. C. Beaton—Marion—had worked as a crime reporter on the Scottish Daily Express in Glasgow, so she knew all about the murky, seedy, violent nature of Scotland's underworld. Judging by the hair-raising stories she liked to tell, she also knew, quite literally, where some of the bodies were buried. That's one of the reasons why she wanted to make Hamish Macbeth different. She didn't want to write about how a real detective operated. She didn't want to write true crime. She had done that. She wanted to provide her readers with some gentle escapism for a rainy afternoon read, set in a landscape that would fire their imaginations. She wanted to give them a hero with endearing contradictions—a hard worker who is prone to skiving off when the mood takes him; a law-abiding police officer who might poach a few salmon or a deer from time to time; an honest cop who deals with people fairly but is also capable of bribing witnesses or planting evidence to get his man. In short, Marion wanted Hamish to be a typically lovable rogue, a maverick with a heart of gold.
The characters he deals with on a regular basis in his fictional home village of Lochdubh are, like the setting itself, inspired in part by the time Marion spent living in a croft in Sutherland and the people she met there. Events in the books are also often based loosely on her real-life experiences in the Highlands. In the very first Hamish Macbeth adventure, Death of a Gossip, the story is set in a Highland fishing school, where a group of budding anglers spend a holiday learning how to catch salmon or trout, just as Marion herself had once done. She invented a fictional bubble in which Hamish could exist, but it wasn't entirely watertight—reality regularly leaked in.
I had the enormous pleasure of learning about Hamish not only from the pages of Marion's books but from the master storyteller herself. We first met many years ago in London and, although we didn't meet very often, both being exiled Scots, both having worked on newspapers and magazines, both being writers, we were never stuck for something to talk about. I loved hearing her stories about the different places she had lived around the world, but, more often than not, the conversation would drift back home to Scotland. I had spent time travelling and hill walking in Sutherland, so we were able to compare notes and swap stories about the area.
Then, when she fell ill and was worrying about her writing commitments, I was delighted to be asked to lend a hand. Marion was never short of ideas and always knew what challenges she wanted her characters to face, what their reactions would be and what the ultimate outcome would be. She was not, however, able to cope with the physical demands of sitting typing at a keyboard for hour after hour. My first thought was that I would simply act as a kind of secretary, basically taking dictation from her, but that wasn't her plan at all. She wanted to talk about the "scenes" that unfolded in her head and carried a plotline forward. Dictating would be too slow and tedious for her. She wanted spontaneity to keep things barrelling along at a good pace. So we discussed characters and scenes and I went off to write them up, bringing back a draft printout for Marion to read through. For me, this was the least enjoyable part of the process. I like to think that I always remained calm, acting cool, but it was actually hugely stressful. It was like watching the teacher mark your homework while you're sitting in the dentist's waiting room hearing the whizz of his high-speed drill, and you're having that dream where all your clothes disappear and you're sitting in public stark naked. You've never had that dream? It can't just be me, can it?
Marion read the draft with an editing pen poised in her hand like a guided missile searching for targets to obliterate. It wasn't launched at the paper too often, but Marion also saw straight through my "Mr. Cool" act. She had a way of holding her head to one side and raising an eyebrow as though she was most displeased about something she had just read, then bursting out laughing when she saw me squirming. So much for being cool, but it was good-natured teasing and I was immensely proud that she was happy with what I produced.
I loved chatting with her about her characters and working out what calamities would befall them. As we both became more used to trading thoughts, she was happy to offer me just the start of an idea, leave me to carry it forward a bit and then take it back to add a final flourish which, once she thought it was working, she would do with a big smile, a theatrical wave of the hand and the words: "The End!" It wouldn't be the end of the book, maybe not even the end of a chapter, but it was Marion's way of making sure that little episodes weren't dwelt upon for too long. She liked to keep the story moving forward.
I feel hugely honoured that she trusted me to work with her on Hamish, and in the time we spent together we discussed many more potential plotlines and scenes than were needed for this book. Hamish has far more than his fair share of trouble ahead, but for the meantime he has to contend with the twin demons of jealousy and revenge. The majority of Marion's previous Hamish Macbeth books dealt with human failings of one sort or another. In some, the traits were obvious, in titles like Death of a Gossip, Death of a Bore, or Death of a Liar. Marion was very clear about what she had in mind for this thirty-sixth book, and the title eventually became Death of a Green-Eyed Monster.
I hope you enjoy Hamish's latest investigation as much as I did working with Marion to pull it all together. I will miss all those story sessions, I will always miss Marion, and I count myself as very lucky to have had so much fun with her delving into the world that she created.
R. W. Green, 2022
O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-ey'd monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.
William Shakespeare, Othello
She was stunning. Her glossy black hair was drawn back into a high ponytail that dropped in a shining cascade beneath her hat. The shade from the brim did nothing to dim either the sparkle of her blue eyes or the radiance of the perfect smile with which she greeted him.
"Good afternoon, Sergeant," she said, in a soft voice delicately laced with an endearing lilt that might have drifted in from the Western Isles on the summer breeze. "Constable Dorothy McIver reporting for duty."
Hamish Macbeth could scarcely believe his eyes. Was this really his new constable? She stood tall and slim in the sunshine outside his cottage police station in Lochdubh, her outline framed by a blush of purple heather on the hillside behind her. She was wearing a black Police Scotland uniform T-shirt, regulation black cargo trousers. and gleaming black boots. It was the sort of modern police uniform that never looks anything more than bulky, ungainly, and utterly inelegant on most police officers—the kind of uniform Hamish thought made policemen look more like binmen—yet on her it clung to the curves of her shapely, athletic figure as though she were on the catwalk of a high-class Paris fashion house. She even managed to make the ugly service belt at her waist, loaded with handcuffs, a collapsible baton, a torch, and various pouches, look like a designer accessory. He became suddenly aware that he was staring at her and he cast his eyes to the pavement, blushing as vividly as the mountain heather.
"Are you all right, Sergeant?" she asked. "Is there something wrong?"
"No, no. It's chust I neffer . . . I mean I didn't . . ." His Highland accent always grew more pronounced when he was flustered. "I didn't expect . . ."
"You didn't expect a woman?" She folded her arms and gave him a reproachful smile.
"No, no . . . no that," he said quickly. "I chust didn't expect . . . yourself until tomorrow. Come away in and we'll have a cup of tea."
She took a step towards the front door of the police station.
"Ah, no that way," Hamish said. "It's jammed with the damp. I've been meaning to see to it. The kitchen door is round the side."
Just as they turned the corner of the building, an odd-looking dog, an assortment of colours and clearly an assortment of breeds, burst through the large flap in the kitchen door and galloped towards them, its big floppy ears flapping like wings and its plume of a tail waving like a flag.
"Lugs!" cried Hamish, stooping to accept the dog's enthusiastic welcome, then swiftly straightening his lanky frame again, laughing as Lugs dashed past him towards Dorothy. "Aye, well, I reckon he finds you a sight more attractive than me!"
"He's adorable!" Dorothy smiled, crouching to make a fuss of the delighted Lugs. "And who might that be?"
Sonsie, Hamish's pet wild cat, slunk through the flap and eyed Dorothy suspiciously.
"That's Sonsie, my cat."
"She's some size," Dorothy noted. "She looks like a . . ."
"A wild cat?" Hamish interrupted. "Folk often say that, but she's just a big tabby."
Hamish had the Highlanders' relaxed relationship with the truth. Sometimes a sympathetic lie served the world far better than a savage truth, and being a proficient liar made it easier for him to tell when a witness or a suspect was trying to hoodwink him. You can't kid a kidder. He had been knocked a little off balance when he first set eyes on Dorothy, but he was now feeling far steadier in his boots.
"She certainly has the look of a wild cat," said Dorothy, keeping her distance from the beast, as Sonsie's yellow eyes fixed her with a hypnotic gaze. The big cat narrowed her stare to a look of pure malice and then hissed loudly at Dorothy before sauntering off round the back of the cottage, closely followed by Lugs.
"Have you ever actually seen a wild cat? They're as rare as haggis teeth."
"Och, don't, please," she laughed. "That's one to save for the tourists."
She looked even more beautiful when she laughed. Hamish grinned in response. He'd never had much luck with women, or with his constables for that matter, but he was suddenly filled with a thrill of hope that his luck was about to change.
"Well, wild cats are no often spotted," he said quickly, keen to maintain a babble of conversation to disguise the fact that he couldn't keep his eyes off her, "even down at the wild cat sanctuary at Ardnamurchan."
Hamish had once tried to release Sonsie on the Ardnamurchan peninsula but had been so miserable without her that the locals in Lochdubh were glad when he eventually retrieved her. Lugs and Sonsie were his constant companions, and it was an open secret in the village that Sonsie was more than just a large tabby.
"They'll be off down the beach to terrorise the seagulls," said Hamish. "Come ben and we'll get the kettle on."
Mary Blair stirred a low-calorie sweetener tablet into her tea and stared out of the tall window towards the River Clyde and the Glasgow cityscape. Tea didn't taste the same without real sugar but she was watching her weight, determined to drop a dress size and fit more easily into the new clothes she had been buying. She had been amazed when her husband, Detective Chief Inspector Blair, had encouraged her to visit Glasgow's "Style Mile" around Buchanan Street with a credit card that appeared to have no limit. But Mary hadn't held back. Her drastically improved wardrobe reflected her drastically improved circumstances. When her husband had been slung out of Strathbane and banished to Glasgow, the best she had expected was a damp and decrepit bungalow in some suburban backwater. Yet this apartment in Hyndland was breathtaking.
Mary knew that her husband's salary should always have provided a comfortable lifestyle, but his years of drinking and gambling had often left them struggling with the bills. The wife of a detective chief inspector should not have to worry about having her electricity and phone cut off. She knew that things could turn ugly when she complained, but she knew how to handle men like him. Once, when she told him she needed money to pay the gas bill, he had thrown a few notes at her.
"And if that's not enough"—he had been reeking of cheap whisky and yelling in her face—"you can aye go back on the game!"
She had taken one step back and swung a right hook that laid him out on the living-room floor and blackened his eye. It was true that she had worked the streets. She was no angel, but Hamish Macbeth had saved her from all that and set her up to be married to Blair. That had been her escape from the gutter, but she was still forced to struggle through some hard years. She had seen Blair's gentler side, but more often than not he kept it well hidden, and he loathed Hamish. Yet, often as not, it had been Hamish who had dug Blair out of whatever hole in which his own ineptitude had left him languishing. Hamish had let her husband take the credit for solving countless crimes where Blair had done more to hinder rather than help the investigation and Hamish was the one who had brought the villains to book. Mary owed a great deal to the big Highlander, yet Hamish wanted none of the glory and nothing for himself. His only ambition was to be allowed to get on with his life, the resident police officer in his beloved Lochdubh, looking after his weird dog and cat, his few chickens, and his handful of sheep up on the hillside.
Relaxing into a large armchair, Mary brushed her foot across the carpet where she had been standing, sweeping away the indentations her feet had left in the deep wool pile. New carpets, new furniture, all chosen to suit the large rooms of their new home. The apartment itself was not new but occupied the top floor of a sandstone tenement building that dated back to the end of the nineteenth century, benefiting from the opulence and grandeur through which the Victorian middle classes had declared their wealth. The rooms had high ceilings with elaborate plasterwork in the cornices and ceiling roses, deep skirting boards and elegant fireplaces. The bay in which Mary now sat extended proudly from the corner of the room, topping the bays on the three floors below to form a grand tower crowned with a slated spire. Its four windows looked out over avenues lined with trees—clean streets that had never known the dismal nocturnal trade that had once been Mary's lot.
She settled her cup gently in its saucer on a side table. She was never going back to that life. Her husband appeared to have turned over a new leaf. He was working long hours, not only on duty but also at home, where he had taken one of their three bedrooms as an office. Now she seldom saw him without a glass of whisky in one hand and his phone in the other, renewing old contacts from previous years as a young police officer in Glasgow, talking quietly on long calls that rang back and forth throughout the night. She could never actually trust him, of course—past deceits and the wisdom of experience told her that—but for now there was money in the bank and the future looked rosy. She picked up a glossy brochure and began to browse holiday villas in Malaga.
"I'm afraid I haven't had much of a chance to do any housework since I lost Freddy." Hamish liked to keep things tidy, but the kitchen was not as clean as it might have been. He fanned a copy of last week's Sunday Post over one of his kitchen chairs to scatter a little dust and a few crumbs. "Freddy . . . Constable Ross, that is . . . is now the chef at the Tommel Castle Hotel."
"A chef?" said Dorothy, accepting the seat offered by Hamish. "It must have been nice having someone here to cook for you."
"Aye, we ate well, no doubt about it." Hamish filled the kettle, placing it on the stove. "Are you much of a cook yourself?"
"I can rustle up a few things, but cooking surely isn't part of my duties, is it, Sergeant?"
"No, no, that's not what I meant at all—and by all means call me Hamish when it's just the two of us. We can share all of that kind of domestic stuff. There's not much room around here, though, so you might find it a bit cramped at first."
"That won't be a problem. I will—"
"Sergeant Macbeth!" There was no mistaking the booming voice of Mrs. Wellington, the minister's wife, which thundered through the open kitchen door just before she did so herself. A large woman, clad, as always, in the kind of coarse tweed that looked more like carpet backing than country clothing, Mrs. Wellington glowered at Dorothy. "Who is this?"
"Constable McIver," Hamish explained, "my new assistant."
"I see." Mrs. Wellington exchanged a firm handshake with Dorothy, then turned straight back to Hamish. "We had someone skulking around in the churchyard again last night. After the lead off the church roof, no doubt. I hear they get a fine price for it from the scrap-metal men nowadays."
"Had you called me straight away," said Hamish, "I might have been able to catch them."
"I doubt it. You were nowhere to be found. Perhaps now, however," she said, looking at Dorothy, "female company might tempt you to spend more time here at your police station."
"Oh, I won't be living here," said Dorothy. "Headquarters didn't think that would be appropriate, so they have arranged for me to stay at Mrs. Mackenzie's boardinghouse until I can make other arrangements."
"That's entirely as it should be." Mrs. Wellington took note of Hamish's crestfallen expression. "Now, what about these thieves, Macbeth?"
"How much did they strip from the roof?"
"Nothing. I chased them off into the dark and heard them drive away in a van."
"It'll be those scunners up from Strathbane again. I'll have a word with the local police. They'll make sure the lead burglars know we're watching for them."
"Please do. Good day, Miss McIver."
Mrs. Wellington departed in a rustle of tweed, and Hamish turned to Dorothy.
"So you're staying at the Mackenzie place?"
"Yes, temporarily. Is it all right there?"
"Aye, it's fine. She doesn't have what you might call 'top-class clientele'—mainly forestry workers and the like—but it should do you until we can sort something else out for you."
"Right. Well, I'll get back there now and finish getting my things out of my car, if that's okay?"
"Aye, yes, of course, and . . . well, would you be needing any help with that?"
"No, I can manage, thanks."
As she left, she flashed him another smile, and, had Hamish been a hopeless romantic, his heart would have melted. But part of him was, and part of it did.
By the time Mrs. Wellington had marched back to the manse, she had passed the time of day with Mrs. Maclean, the wife of Archie, a local fisherman; Mrs. Brodie, wife of the village doctor; and Mrs. Patel, who ran the village store with her husband. That was more than enough to ensure that by the time she had boiled the kettle and sat down with a cup of tea and a copy of Life and Work, the Church of Scotland magazine, everyone in the entire area surrounding Lochdubh knew that Hamish Macbeth's new constable was but a slip of a girl who looked more like she should be playing a police officer in a TV soap than actually catching real criminals. And how was he supposed to maintain law and order throughout Sutherland with such a distraction filling his every thought day and night? He was only human, after all, only a man, and she such a temptress. So it was that Dorothy McIver became branded a "scarlet woman" before most people in Lochdubh had ever even clapped eyes on her.
The following morning, Dorothy reported to the police station bright and early to find Hamish standing by the open front door, sipping coffee from a mug, Lugs and Sonsie at his feet. Hamish had spotted her long before she reached the station. She looked every bit as lovely as he remembered, and he had spent most of the night thinking of her—her blue eyes, her smile, her every graceful movement—until he reached the point when he was beginning to believe that he had imagined her.
"Good morning," she said. "I see you've managed to unstick the front door." Lugs bounded up to her and she stooped to ruffle his ears. Sonsie simply glowered at her.
"Aye, it just needed a wee bit of encouragement." Hamish had spent hours trimming the bottom of the door, rehanging it and giving it a fresh coat of blue paint. He ran his free hand through his fiery red hair, noticed the dried paint stains on his fingers, and shoved the hand in his pocket. "Will you be wanting some breakfast?"
"I've already eaten, thanks, but a coffee would be nice."
"Come away in, then," said Hamish. He turned and stepped into the small hallway, closing the door to the office. He hadn't yet had time to spruce that up, but the kitchen was now an immaculately clean, cosy haven. He was fairly sure Dorothy approved, although neither mentioned the transformation. Over coffee he explained a little about Lochdubh and the vast area of Sutherland that was their "patch," then they took a walk through the village, along the seawall. The sun, despite having lost the heat of high summer, broke through the high white clouds, warming the mountainsides around the loch. The tide was out, exposing the widest expanse of beach, patrolled by a scattering of white gulls. Lugs and Sonsie dashed among them and the gulls took to the air, screeching in protest.
To the side of the Patels' shop, they came across Mrs. Patel, pacing back and forth beside a small van, wringing her hands with worry.
"Is there a problem, Mrs. Patel?" Hamish asked.
"Can you help, Hamish? I've been such a dunderheid—locked myself out of the van," she said in a hushed voice. "The engine's running and the keys are inside. All that petrol being wasted. I dare not tell my husband I've been so stupid. He's working in the shop."
"Have you not a spare set?"
"Aye, of course. They're in my handbag—on the passenger seat."
"I have a tool in my Land Rover that we can maybe force down through the top of the door and pop the lock."
"Will it cause any damage?"
"No more than a wee scratch at most."
"But he'll go daft if we scratch his precious van!"
"I'm sure he wouldn't. He's not some kind of monster," said Hamish, looking over the van, which, to him, seemed as scraped and scuffed as a comfortable pair of old shoes. "Are you that sure he'd even notice?"
"Don't worry, Mrs. Patel," said Dorothy. "This should do the trick." She pulled a length of nylon cord from her pocket. In the middle of the cord was a small loop. Gently easing the string in between the rubber door seals, she used a sawing motion to drag one end along the top of the door and the other down the side, carefully lowering the loop towards the pop-up button lock on the top of the door trim. Once she had worked the loop around the button, she pulled outwards on both ends of the string to tighten the loop, then upwards to lift the button and open the lock.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you, Constable," said Mrs. Patel, climbing into the van.
"No problem," said Dorothy, "and you're fine calling me Dorothy, Mrs. Patel."
Showering Dorothy with thanks and praise, Mrs. Patel set off for the cash and carry in Strathbane.
"A neat trick," said Hamish.
"We got lucky." Dorothy smiled. "It doesn't always work."
Walking on through the village, Hamish spotted the alarming, familiar forms of Nessie and Jessie Currie approaching. He glanced left and right but there was nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.
- "Longing for escape? Tired of waiting for Brigadoon to materialize? Time for a trip to Lochdubh, the scenic, if somnolent, village in the Scottish Highlands where M. C. Beaton sets her beguiling whodunits featuring Constable Hamish Macbeth."—New York Times Book Review
- "Hamish Macbeth is that most unusual character, one to whom the reader returns because of his charming flaws. May he never get promoted."—New York Journal of Books
- "With residents and a constable so authentic, it won't be long before tourists will be seeking Lochdubh and believing in the reality of Hamish Macbeth as surely as they believed in Sherlock Holmes."—Denver Rocky Mountain News
- "Macbeth is the sort of character who slyly grows on you."—Chicago Sun-Times
- "Satisfying for both established and new Macbeth fans."—Booklist on Death of an Honest Man
- On Sale
- Feb 22, 2022
- Hachette Audio