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Death of a Scriptwriter
By M. C. Beaton
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With the lovely Priscilla Halburton-Smythe away in London, Lochdubh Constable Hamish Macbeth pines for company during the long Scottish winter. He gets his wish — and more — when a troupe of flashy, urbane filmmakers clamors into the nearby town of Drim. Before long bedlam erupts around their make-believe mystery …and culminates in the sudden appearance of one very real corpse.
The initial suspect in the killing is one Patricia Martyn-Broyd, the aging mystery writer furious that her musty old cozies are getting a risque face-lift in their TV reincarnation. Yet, going behind the scenes, Hamish soon finds a town full of locals bitten by the movie bug and a cast of quarreling show business types, all harboring their own secrets, lies, and hidden agendas. And as the culprit strikes again, Hamish must quickly find the right killer — or script the wrong finale to a show gone murderously awry.
DEATH of a
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
DEATH of a
A Hamish Macbeth Murder Mystery
M. C. BEATON
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 Robinson,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson, 2009
Copyright © M. C. Beaton 1998, 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: 978-1-84529-909-5
Printed and bound in the EU
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
For Mary Devery of Cheltenham
Hamish Macbeth fans share their reviews . . .
‘Treat yourself to an adventure in the Highlands; remember your coffee and scones – for you’ll want to stay a while!’
‘I do believe I am in love with Hamish.’
‘M. C. Beaton’s stories are absolutely excellent . . . Hamish is a pure delight!’
‘A highly entertaining read that will have me hunting out the others in the series.’
‘A new Hamish Macbeth novel is always a treat.’
‘Once I read the first mystery I was hooked . . . I love her characters.’
Share your own reviews and comments at www.constablerobinson.com
Alas, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth’s sweet-scented Manuscript should close!
– Edward Fitzgerald
Patricia Martyn-Broyd had not written a detective story in years.
In her early seventies she had retired to the Highlands of Sutherland on the east side of the village of Cnothan, to a trim, low, whitewashed croft house. She had now been living in the outskirts of Cnothan for five years. She had hoped that the wild isolation of her surroundings would inspire her to write again, but every time she sat down in front of her battered old Remington typewriter, she would feel a great weight of failure settling on her shoulders and the words would not come. For the past fifteen years her books had been out of print. Yet her last detective story, published in 1965, The Case of the Rising Tides, featuring her Scottish aristocrat detective, Lady Harriet Vere, had been a modest success.
Patricia looked remarkable for her age. She had a head of plentiful snow-white hair, a thin, muscular, upright figure and square ‘hunting’ shoulders. Her nose was thin and curved like a beak, her pale blue eyes hooded by heavy lids. She was the daughter of a land agent, dead many years now, as was her mother. Patricia had been head girl in her youth at a school more famed for the titles of its pupils than for educational standards. A crush on her English teacher had introduced her to reading detective stories, and then, after an unsuccessful spell on the London scene as a debutante, she had decided to write.
She had never forgotten the thrill of having her first book published. Her plots were complicated and thoroughly researched. She was fond of plots involving railway timetables, the times of high and low tides and London bus routes. Her main character, Lady Harriet Vere, had grown up, as Patricia herself had grown up, in a world where everyone knew their place in society and what was due to their betters. Light relief was provided by a cast of humorous servants or sinister butlers and gardeners and clod-hopping policemen who were always left open-mouthed by the expertise of Lady Harriet.
But as the world changed, Patricia stayed the same, as did her characters. Sales of her books dwindled. She had a private income from a family trust and did not need to find other work. She had at last persuaded herself that a move to the far north of Scotland would inspire her. Although her character, Lady Harriet, was Scottish, Patricia had never been to Scotland before her move north. There was a stubborn streak in Patricia which would not let her admit to herself that she had made a terrible mistake and added the burden of loneliness to the burden of failure.
She had recently returned from a holiday in Athens. The weather in Greece had been bright and sunny and, in the evenings, the streets of Athens were well lit and bustling with people. But all too soon it was back to London, to catch the plane to Inverness. The plane had descended through banks of cloud into Heathrow. How dark and dismal everything had seemed. How cold and rainy. How grim and sour the people. Then the flight to Inverness and down into more rain and darkness, and then the long drive home.
The county of Sutherland is the largest, most under populated area in western Europe, with its lochs and mountains and vast expanses of bleak moorland. As she had unlocked the door of her cottage, the wind had been howling around the low building with a mad, keening sound. A brief thought of suicide flicked through Patricia’s weary brain, to be quickly dismissed. Such as the Martyn-Broyds did not commit suicide.
Patricia attended the local Church of Scotland, although she was an Anglican, for the nearest Episcopal church involved too long and weary a drive. She could have made friends, but the ones she considered of her own caste did not want to know her, and the ones who did, she considered beneath her. She was not particularly cold or snobbish, and she was lonely, but it was the way she had been brought up. She did have acquaintances in the village, the local people she stopped to chat to, but no close friends at all.
A week after her return from Athens, she still felt restless and so decided to treat herself to dinner at the Tommel Castle Hotel. The hotel had been the home of Colonel Halburton-Smythe, who had turned it into a successful hotel after he had fallen on hard times. Although a hotel, it still had all the air of a comfortable Highland country house, and Patricia felt at home there.
She began to feel better as she sat down in the dining room and looked around. The month was June, and after a grim winter and icy spring, when Siberian winds had blown from the east, bringing blizzards and chilblains, the wind had suddenly shifted to the west, carrying the foretaste of better weather to come.
The dining room was quite full. A noisy fishing party dominated the main table in the centre of the room, Patricia’s kind of people but oblivious to one lonely spinster in the corner.
Then waitresses came in and began to bustle about, putting the remaining tables together to form one large one. A coach party entered, noisy and flushed, and took places round this table. Patricia frowned. Who would have thought that the Tommel Castle Hotel would allow a coach party?
The fact was that the colonel was away with his wife visiting friends, his daughter was in London and the manager, Mr Johnson, had decided that a party of middle-aged tourists could do no harm.
Patricia had just finished her soup and was wishing she had the courage to cancel the rest of her order when a tall, lanky man came into the dining room and stood looking around. He had flaming red hair and intelligent hazel eyes. His suit was well cut and he wore a snowy-white shirt and silk tie. But with it, he was wearing a large pair of ugly boots.
The maître d’ went up to him and Patricia heard him say sourly, ‘We have no tables left, Macbeth.’
‘Mr Macbeth to you, Jenkins,’ she heard the man with the red hair say in a light, amused voice. ‘I’m sure you’ll have a table soon.’
They had both moved into the dining room and were standing beside Patricia’s table.
‘No, not for a long time,’ said the maître d’.
The man called Macbeth suddenly saw Patricia watching him and gave her a smile.
Patricia could not quite believe the sound of her own voice, but she heard herself saying stiffly, ‘The gentleman can share my table if he wishes.’
‘That will not be necessary . . .’ began Jenkins, but the red-haired man promptly sat down opposite her.
‘Run along, Jenkins,’ he said, ‘and glare at someone else.’
Hamish Macbeth turned to Patricia. ‘This is verra kind of you.’
She regretted her invitation and wished she had brought a book with her.
‘I am Hamish Macbeth,’ he said with another of those charming smiles. ‘I am the village policeman in Lochdubh, and you are Miss Patricia Martyn-Broyd and you live over by Cnothan.’
‘I did not think we had met,’ said Patricia.
‘We haven’t,’ said Hamish. ‘But you know what the Highlands are like. Everyone knows everyone else. I heard you had been away.’ He took the menu from a hovering waitress as he spoke. He scanned it quickly. ‘I’ll have the soup and the trout,’ he said.
‘I have just come back from Greece,’ said Patricia. ‘Do you know Greece?’
‘I don’t know much of anywhere except the Highlands of Scotland,’ said Hamish ruefully. ‘I’m an armchair traveller. I am surprised you stayed up here so long.’
‘Why?’ asked Patricia.
‘It can be a lonely place. Usually the English we get are drunks or romantics, and I would say you do not fall into either category.’
‘Hardly,’ said Patricia with a fluting, humorless laugh. ‘I am a writer.’
‘I read a lot o’ those,’ said Hamish. ‘You must write under another name.’
‘I regret to say my books have been out of print for some time.’
‘Ah, well,’ said Hamish awkwardly. ‘I am sure you will find the inspiration up here.’
‘I hardly think the county of Sutherland is overrun with criminals.’
‘I meant, it’s a funny landscape which can produce the weird fancies.’
‘My last detective story was set in Scotland, but the others, mainly in the south, were village mysteries.’
‘Like Agatha Christie?’
‘A little better crafted, if I may say so,’ said Patricia, again with that irritating laugh of hers.
‘Then it iss the miracle that yours are out o’ print,’ said Hamish maliciously.
‘It is not my fault. I had a useless publisher, who would not promote them properly, and a worse agent,’ snapped Patricia, and then, to her horror, she began to cry.
‘There, now,’ said Hamish. ‘Don’t greet. You havenae settled down after all the travel, and it’s been a grim winter. I would like to read one o’ your books.’
Patricia produced a small, white, starched handkerchief from her handbag and wiped her eyes and blew her nose.
‘I think I am too out of touch with the modern world to write a detective story again,’ she said, all the time wondering why she was confiding in a village policeman.
‘I could help you wi’ a wee bit of information, if you like.’
‘That’s very kind of you. But I do not think it would do much good. I’ve tried to write another one with a Highland background, but my mind seems set in England.’
‘Perhaps you should get to know a few of us better,’ said Hamish, ‘and then it might come easier.’
‘Perhaps,’ she echoed sadly.
‘Although, if I may point out,’ said Hamish cautiously, ‘Cnothan is not the friendliest village in the place. In fact, I would say it’s a sour little dump.’
She gave him a watery smile. ‘Not like Lochdubh?’
‘There’s nowhere like Lochdubh,’ said Hamish stoutly. ‘Maybe if you stopped writing for a bit, it would all come back. Do you fish?’
‘I still have my rods, but I haven’t done any fishing for a long time.’
Somewhere in Hamish’s head a warning bell was beginning to clang, telling him to stay away from lame ducks in general and this woman in particular, who had been locally damned as an ‘awfy auld snob’. But he said, ‘I hae the day off tomorrow. I’ll take ye out on the Anstey if ye want.’
This met with Patricia’s ideas of what was right and fitting. Fishing on a Scottish river with a policeman as ghillie was socially acceptable to her mind.
‘Thank you,’ she said. ‘I will need a permit.’
Hamish shifted uneasily. ‘Oh, I’ll see to that. Pick you up at nine in the morning.’
They chatted pleasantly through the rest of the meal, Hamish amiably but Patricia betraying with each further sentence the awful rigidity of her attitudes.
They separated at the end of the meal, each with different thoughts; Hamish regretting his generous gesture and Patricia feeling quite elated. Hamish Macbeth was really quite intelligent, she thought. It was a shame he was only a village policeman. Perhaps with her help he could make something of himself. And so Patricia drove happily homewards, not knowing she had joined the long list of women who thought they could change one contented, unambitious Highland constable.
* * *
She felt the glorious blustery morning that dawned was a good omen. But nine o’clock came and went and she began to feel panicky. If Hamish did not come, then it meant slipping back into that depressing isolation which had become her way of life.
And then at half past nine, she saw to her relief a police Land Rover lurching over the potholes in the road, a fishing rod sticking out of the window.
She went out to meet him. ‘Sorry I’m late,’ said Hamish. ‘Have you got waders? I forgot to ask.’
‘Yes, although I haven’t used them for some time. I hope they’re still waterproof,’ said Patricia.
‘We’ll take your car if you don’t mind,’ said Hamish. ‘I’m not really supposed to drive people around in a police car unless I’m arresting them.’
Soon they were fishing on the river Anstey. The mountaintops were clear against a blue sky for the first time in months. Patricia found to her delight that she had lost none of her old skill. She was just about to suggest a break for lunch when the enterprising constable said he had brought along a picnic. Patricia had caught two trout and Hamish one.
‘Afore we have our food, I would suggest we pack everything up and put it in the boot o’ your car,’ said Hamish.
‘But why?’ She felt sharply disappointed. ‘I hoped we would have some more fishing.’
Hamish looked around, scanning the riverbanks and the surrounding hillsides. ‘Aye, well, we’ll do that, but chust let’s put the stuff away.’
They stripped off their waders and dismantled their rods and put all the fishing impedimenta in the boot of Patricia’s car.
Hamish produced a picnic basket from which he removed thick chicken sandwiches and a flask of coffee.
They were sitting on a flat rock beside the river when a truculent voice behind them said, ‘I hope ye havenae been fishing this river, Macbeth.’
‘Oh, it iss yourself, Willie,’ said Hamish without turning around. ‘No, no, Miss Martyn-Broyd and myself was chust having the picnic.’
Patricia swung round, her mouth full of sandwich.
‘Willie MacPhee, the water bailiff,’ said Hamish, his eyes signalling a warning.
Willie was a thick-set man with beetling brows in a red weather-beaten face. He had a heavy round chin, but his head tapered to a narrow crown, giving the appearance of a face seen reflected in a shiny balloon.
He lumbered up to Patricia’s car and peered in the windows. Patricia’s heart beat hard. All at once she knew Hamish’s reason for shutting all the fishing stuff up in the boot. He did not have a fishing permit!
Willie came back and stood over them. ‘I hope ye know, missus,’ he said, addressing Patricia, ‘that ye cannae fish the Anstey without a permit.’
The daughter of the land agent felt quite queasy. She wondered why she had never stopped to consider how a Highland policeman could even afford the probably horrendous price of a fishing permit. But she did not like being loomed over.
Miss Patricia Martyn-Broyd got to her feet.
‘Are you accusing me of poaching, my good man?’ she demanded in glacial tones.
Willie gave an odd, ducking movement of his head, like a dog backing down before a more powerful adversary.
‘Just making sure,’ he said sulkily. ‘Macbeth here has no respect for the law.’
With that, he lumbered off.
Patricia waited until she was sure he was out of earshot and then rounded on Hamish. ‘How could you? And you a policeman.’
‘Well, I’m a Highlander as well, and it iss considered no crime up here to take a fish from the river.’
‘If it is no crime, then why do they have game laws and why do they have water bailiffs?’
‘That,’ said Hamish, unrepentant, ‘is to add a spice o’ danger to the sport. We’ll just enjoy our meal and try the river again.’
‘Are you mad? I, for one, do not want to appear in a Scottish sheriff’s court.’
‘He won’t be back,’ said Hamish cheerfully. ‘He’s lazy. He only picks on easy targets.’
Patricia was about to suggest sternly that she return home immediately, but in that moment a picture of her windswept cottage arose in her mind’s eye. Having broken out of her long isolation, she was reluctant to go back to it.
She gave a weak smile. ‘You are a terrible man. You must be in your thirties and yet you are still only a policeman. Is that because you have little respect for the law?’
‘Except for the fishing, I haff the great respect for the law,’ said Hamish. ‘But I like Lochdubh and I hate Strathbane, which is where I would have to go if I got promoted.’
‘But everyone is ambitious.’
‘And not everyone is happy. You are looking at the exception to the rule.’
They fished all afternoon in the warm sunlight without catching anything else, but Patricia enjoyed herself immensely. At the end of the day, she invited Hamish to join her for dinner, but he said he had reports to type up. Patricia wanted to ask if she could see him again but felt as shy and tongue-tied as a teenager and just as frightened of rejection.
Hamish, with that almost telepathic ability of the Highlander, was well aware of what was going through her mind. She hadn’t been bad company, he thought. Maybe she would now branch out a bit. Don’t get involved, screamed his mind. She’s all right, but she’s a bit rigid and pompous, and if she’s lonely, it is all her own damned fault. But he found himself saying weakly as he climbed out of her car, ‘Perhaps I could help ye with some ideas for a detective story? Maybe we could hae a bit o’ dinner tomorrow night.’
Her face glowed. ‘That is very kind of you, but let it be my treat. Where would you like to go?’
‘The Napoli, that Italian restaurant in Lochdubh.’
‘Very well,’ said Patricia happily. ‘I will see you at eight o’clock.’
She turned and went indoors. She scooped the post up from the doormat. The postman had delivered her mail that day after she had left. She carried the letters in and dropped them on the table in the living room. She never received anything interesting through the post. It was usually bank statements and junk mail.
She hummed to herself as she made a cup of tea. She carried it through to her little living room cum dining room and sat down at the table.
Then she found there was a letter with the legend ‘Strathclyde Television’ on the envelope. She slowly opened it.
‘Dear Ms Martyn-Broyd,’ she read. ‘We have had the delight of reading some of your detective stories and are interested in making some of them into a series, possibly starting with The Case of the Rising Tides. We would be happy to deal with you through your agent if you could supply us with a name, address and telephone number. In any case, please telephone so that I can arrange to meet you to discuss this project. Yours sincerely, Harry Frame, Executive Producer, Strathclyde Television.’
Patricia read the letter several times and then slowly put it down with a shaking hand. After all these long years, recognition at last!
She passed a night of broken sleep and was awake by dawn, waiting and waiting until such time as offices opened and she could begin to make telephone calls.
She had to wait until ten o’clock before she was finally able to talk to Harry Frame.
‘This is a pleasure,’ he boomed. ‘May I call you Patricia?’
‘Please do . . . Harry.’ Patricia felt she had just made an exciting leap into an exciting, modern world.
‘Would you have any objection to us dramatizing your books?’
‘I am very flattered,’ fluted Patricia. ‘Who will play Lady Harriet?’
‘Early days, early days. Perhaps you could visit us in Glasgow so we may discuss the terms of the contract? Or perhaps you would like me to contact your agent?’
Patricia felt a sudden burst of hatred for her ex-agent, who had done nothing to stop her precious books going out of print.
‘No,’ she said firmly, ‘I will handle the negotiations myself.’
And so the arrangements were made. The day was Wednesday. On Friday Patricia would take the early train from Inverness to Perth and then the train from Perth to Glasgow, where a taxi would be waiting to bear her to Strathclyde Television.
By the time she put down the phone, her face was flushed and her heart beating hard.
Then, after another restorative cup of coffee, she dialled her old publishers and asked to speak to her former editor, Brian Jones, only to find that Mr Jones was dead. She explained the reason for her call and was put through to a woman editor, Jessica Durnham. Patricia explained about the television series. To her disappointment, her news was not met with an offer of thousands for the reissue of all her books. The editor said cautiously that she would discuss it at conference and get back to her, or perhaps phone her agent? ‘No, you will deal with me,’ said Patricia firmly.
She spent the rest of the day in rosy dreams, and it was only as evening approached that she remembered her date with the village constable.
She frowned. She should not have gone slumming with a policeman. Good heavens! What if that water bailiff had caught her and she had ended up in court? A celebrity such as Patricia Martyn-Broyd must be very careful of her reputation. She telephoned the police station and left a curt message on the answering machine.
Hamish had been visiting his parents in Rogart and had then gone straight to the restaurant on his return and so did not receive the message until after he had eaten a solitary meal.
The voice on his answering machine was almost offensively curt. He shrugged. He probably wouldn’t see her again, and that was no great loss.
Half an hour before Patricia was due to arrive at Strathclyde Television, Harry Frame was chairing a conference. Several people sat around the table, each clutching a copy of The Case of the Rising Tides. They had been able to get only one of the books and had run off copies.
- On Sale
- Jun 1, 1999
- Page Count
- 224 pages
- Grand Central Publishing