Death of a Village


By M. C. Beaton

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Travel to the Scotland Highlands with this classic Hamish Macbeth cozy mystery from the author of the Agatha Raisin series.

Death of a Village: A Hamish Macbeth Mystery

Trouble is afoot in a Scottish fishing village as Constable Macbeth finds the pub empty, the church full, and the air permeated with fear. With the help of a journalist, Macbeth begins to ferret out the truth.


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





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 2003, 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: 978-1-84901-276-8

Printed and bound in the EU

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10


To my friend David Lloyd of

Lower Oddington, Gloucestershire,

with affection


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

Chapter One

In all my travels I never met with any one Scotchman but what was a man of sense. I believe everybody of that country that has any, leaves it as fast as they can.

– Francis Lockier

The way propaganda works, as every schoolboy knows, is that if you say the same thing over and over again, lie or not, people begin to believe it.

Hamish Macbeth, police constable of the village of Lochdubh and its surroundings, had been until recently a happy, contented, unambitious man. This was always regarded, by even the housebound and unsuccessful, as a sort of mental aberration. And he had been under fire for a number of years and from a number of people to pull his socks up, get a life, move on, get a promotion, and forsake his lazy ways. Until lately, all comments had slid off him. That was, until Elspeth Grant, local reporter, joined the chorus. It was the way she laughed at him with a sort of affectionate contempt as he mooched around the village that got under his skin. Her mild amazement that he did not want to ‘better himself’, added on to all the other years of similar comments, finally worked on him like the end result of a propaganda war and he began to feel restless and discontented.

Had he had any work to do apart from filing sheep-dip papers and ticking off the occasional poacher, Elspeth’s comments might not have troubled him. And Elspeth was attractive, although he would not admit it to himself. He felt he had endured enough trouble from women to last him a lifetime.

He began to watch travel shows on television and to imagine himself walking on coral beaches or on high mountains in the Himalayas. He fretted over the fact that he had even taken all his holidays in Scotland.

One sunny morning, he decided it was time he got back on his beat, which covered a large area of Sutherland. He decided to visit the village of Stoyre up on the west coast. It was more of a hamlet than a village. No crime ever happened there. But, he reminded himself, a good copper ought to check up on the place from time to time.

After a winter of driving rain and a miserable spring, a rare period of idyllic weather had arrived in the Highlands. Tall twisted mountains swam in a heat haze. The air through the open window of the police Land Rover was redolent with smells of wild thyme, salt, bell heather, and peat smoke. He took a deep breath and felt all his black discontentment ebb away. Damn Elspeth! This was the life. He drove steadily down a winding single-track road to Stoyre.

Tourists hardly ever visited Stoyre. This seemed amazing on such a perfect day, when the village’s cluster of whitewashed houses lay beside the deep blue waters of the Atlantic. There was a little stone harbour where three fishing boats bobbed lazily at anchor. Hamish parked in front of the pub, called the Fisherman’s Arms. He stepped down from the Land Rover. His odd-looking dog, Lugs, scrambled down as well.

Hamish looked to right and left. The village seemed deserted. It was very still, unnaturally so. No children cried, no snatches of radio music drifted out from the cottages, no one came or went from the small general stores next to the pub.

Lugs bristled and let out a low growl. ‘Easy, boy,’ said Hamish. He looked up the hill beyond the village to where the graveyard lay behind a small stone church. Perhaps there was a funeral. But he could see no sign of anyone moving about.

‘Come on, boy,’ he said to his dog. He pushed open the door of the pub and went inside. The pub consisted of a small whitewashed room with low beams on the ceiling. A few wooden tables scarred with cigarette burns were dotted about. There was no one behind the bar.

‘Anyone home?’ called Hamish loudly.

To his relief there came the sound of someone moving in the back premises. A thickset man entered through a door at the back of the bar. Hamish recognized Andy Crummack, the landlord and owner.

‘How’s it going, Andy?’ asked Hamish. ‘Everybody dead?’

‘It iss yourself, Hamish. What will you be having?’

‘Just a tonic water.’ Hamish looked round the deserted bar. ‘Where is everyone?’

‘It’s aye quiet this time o’ day.’ Andy poured a bottle of tonic water into a glass.

‘Slainte!’ said Hamish. ‘Are you having one?’

‘Too early. If ye don’t mind, I’ve got stock to check.’ Andy made for the door behind the bar.

‘Hey, wait a minute, Andy. I havenae been in Stoyre for a while but I’ve never seen the place so dead.’

‘We’re quiet folks, Hamish.’

‘And nothing’s going on?’

‘Nothing. Now, if ye don’t mind . . .’

The landlord disappeared through the door.

Hamish drank the tonic water and then pushed back his peaked cap and scratched his fiery hair. Maybe he was imagining things. He hadn’t visited Stoyre for months. The last time had been in March when he’d made a routine call. He remembered people chatting on the waterfront and this pub full of locals.

He put his glass on the bar and went out into the sunlight. The houses shone white in the glare and the gently heaving blue water had an oily surface.

He went into the general store. ‘Morning, Mrs MacBean,’ he said to the elderly woman behind the counter. ‘Quiet today. Where is everyone?’

‘They’ll maybe be up at the kirk.’

‘What! On a Monday? Is it someone’s funeral?’

‘No. Can I get you anything, Mr Macbeth?’

Hamish leaned on the counter. ‘Come on. You can tell me,’ he coaxed. ‘What’s everyone doing at the church on a Monday?’

‘We are God-fearing folk in Stoyre,’ she said primly, ‘and I’ll ask you to remember that.’

Baffled, Hamish walked out of the shop and was starting to set off up the hill when the church doors opened and people started streaming out. Most were dressed in black as if for a funeral.

He stood in the centre of the path as they walked down towards him. He hailed people he knew. ‘Morning, Jock . . . grand day, Mrs Nisbett,’ and so on. But the crowd parted as they reached him and silently continued on their way until he was left standing alone.

He walked on towards the church and round to the manse at the side with Lugs at his heels. The minister had just reached his front door. He was a new appointment, Hamish noticed, a thin nervous man with a prominent Adam’s apple, and his black robes were worn and dusty. He had sparse ginger hair, weak eyes and a small pursed mouth.

‘Morning,’ said Hamish. ‘I am Hamish Macbeth, constable at Lochdubh. You are new to here?’

The minister reluctantly faced him. ‘I am Fergus Mackenzie,’ he said in a lilting Highland voice.

‘You seem to be doing well,’ remarked Hamish. ‘Church full on a Monday morning.’

‘There is a strong religious revival here,’ said Fergus. ‘Now, if you don’t mind . . .’

‘I do mind,’ said Hamish crossly. ‘This village has changed.’

‘It has changed for the better. A more God-fearing community does not exist anywhere else in the Highlands.’ And with that the minister went into the manse and slammed the door in Hamish’s face.

Becoming increasingly irritated, Hamish retreated back to the waterfront. It was deserted again. He thought of knocking on some doors to find out if there was any other answer to this strange behaviour apart from a religious revival and then decided against it. He looked back up the hill to where a cottage stood near the top. It was the holiday home of a retired army man, Major Jennings, an Englishman. Perhaps he might be more forthcoming. He plodded back up the hill, past the church, and knocked on the major’s door. Silence greeted him. He knew the major lived most of the year in the south of England. Probably not arrived yet. Hamish remembered he usually came north for a part of the summer.

When he came back down from the hill, he saw that people were once more moving about. There were villagers in the shop and villagers on the waterfront. This time they gave him a polite greeting. He stopped one of them, Mrs Lyle. ‘Is anything funny going on here?’ he asked.

She was a small, round woman with tight grey curls and glasses perched on the end of her nose. ‘What do you mean?’ she asked.

‘There’s an odd atmosphere and then you’ve all been at the kirk and it isn’t even Sunday.’

‘It is difficult to explain to such as you, Hamish Macbeth,’ she said. ‘But in this village we take our worship of the Lord seriously and don’t keep it for just the one day.’

I’m a cynic, thought Hamish as he drove off. Why should I find it all so odd? He knew that in some of the remote villages a good preacher was still a bigger draw than anything on television. Mr Mackenzie must be a powerful speaker.

When he returned to Lochdubh, Hamish found all the same that the trip to Stoyre had cheered him up. The restlessness that had plagued him had gone. He whistled as he prepared food for himself and his dog, and then carried his meal on a tray out to the front garden, where he had placed a table with an umbrella over it. Why dream of cafés in France when he had everything here in Lochdubh?

He had just finished a meal of fried haggis, sausage and eggs when a voice hailed him. ‘Lazing around again, Hamish?’

The gate to the front garden opened and Elspeth Grant came in. She was wearing a brief tube top which showed her midriff, a small pair of denim shorts, and her hair had been tinted aubergine. She pulled up a chair and sat down next to him.

‘The trouble with aubergine,’ said Hamish, ‘is that it chust doesnae do.’

‘Doesn’t do what?’ demanded Elspeth.

‘Anything for anyone. It’s like the purple lipstick or the black nail varnish. Anything that’s far from an original colour isn’t sexy.’

‘And what would you know about anything sexy?’

‘I am a man and I assume you mean to attract the opposite sex.’

‘Women dress and do their hair for themselves these days.’


‘It’s true, Hamish. You’ve been living in this time warp for so long that you just don’t know what’s what. Anyway, I’m bored. There’s really nothing to report until the Highland Games over at Braikie and that’s a week away.’

‘I might have a wee something for you. I’ve just been over at Stoyre. There’s a religious revival there. They were all at the kirk this morning. Seems they’ve got a new minister, a Mr Mackenzie. I was thinking he must be a pretty powerful preacher.’

‘Not much, but something,’ said Elspeth. ‘I’ll try next Sunday.’

‘The way they’re going on, you may not need to wait that long. They’ve probably got a service every day.’

‘Want to come with me?’

Hamish stretched out his long legs. ‘I’ve just been. Have the Currie sisters seen you in that outfit?’

The Currie sisters were middle-aged twins, spinsters, and the upholders of morals in Lochdubh.

‘Yes. Jessie Currie told me that I should go home and put on a skirt and Nessie Currie defended me.’

‘Really! What did she say?’

‘She said my boots were so ugly that they made everything else I had on look respectable.’

Hamish looked down at the heavy pair of hiking boots Elspeth was wearing. ‘I see what she means.’

Elspeth flushed up to the roots of her frizzy aubergine hair with anger. ‘I don’t know why I bother even talking to you, Hamish Macbeth. I’m off.’

When she had gone, Hamish lay back in his chair, his hands clasped behind his head. He shouldn’t have been so rude to her but he blamed her remarks about him being unambitious for having recently upset the lazy comfort of his summer days.

The telephone in the police station rang, the noise cutting shrilly through the peace of the day.

He sighed, got to his feet, and went to answer it. The voice of his pet hate, Detective Chief Inspector Blair, boomed down the line. ‘Get yoursel’ over to Braikie, laddie. Teller’s grocery in the High Street has been burgled. Anderson will be there soon.’

‘On my way,’ said Hamish.

He took his peaked cap down from a peg on the kitchen door and put it on his head. ‘No, Lugs,’ he said to his dog, who was looking up at him out of his strange blue eyes. ‘You stay.’

He went out and got into the police Land Rover and drove off, turning over in his mind what he knew of Teller’s grocery. It was a licensed shop and sold more upmarket groceries than its two rivals. He was relieved that he would be working with Detective Sergeant Jimmy Anderson rather than Blair.

He parked outside the shop and went in. Mr Teller was a small, severe-faced man with gold-rimmed glasses. ‘You took your time,’ he said crossly. ‘They’ve taken all my wine and spirits, the whole lot. I found the lot gone when I opened up this morning, and phoned the police.’

‘I was out on another call,’ said Hamish. ‘How did they get in?’

‘Round the back.’ Mr Teller raised a flap on the counter and Hamish walked through.

A pane of glass on the back door had been smashed. ‘The forensic people’ll be along soon,’ said Hamish. ‘I can’t touch anything at the moment.’

‘Well, let’s hope you hurry up. I’ve got to put a claim into the insurance company.’

‘How much for?’

‘I’ll need to total it up. Thousands of pounds.’

Hamish looked blankly down at the shopkeeper. He had been in the shop before. He could not remember seeing any great supply of wine or spirits. There had been three shelves, near the till, that was all.

He focused on Mr Teller. ‘I haven’t been in your shop for a bit. Had you expanded the liquor side?’

‘No, why?’

‘I remember only about three shelves of bottles.’

‘They took all the stuff out of the cellar as well.’

‘You’d better show me.’

Mr Teller led the way to a door at the side of the back shop. The lock was splintered. Hamish took out a handkerchief and put it over the light switch at the top of the stairs and pressed. He stood on the top step and looked down. The cellar was certainly empty. And dusty.

He returned to the front to find that Jimmy Anderson had arrived.

‘Hello, Hamish,’ said the detective. ‘Crime, isn’t it? A real crime. All that lovely booze. Taken a statement yet?’

‘Not yet. Could I be having a wee word with you outside?’

‘Sure. I could do with a dram. There’s a pub across the road.’

‘Not yet. Outside.’

Under the suspicious eyes of Mr Teller, they walked out into the street.

‘What?’ demanded Jimmy.

‘He is saying that thousands of pounds of booze have been nicked. But when I pointed out to him that he only kept about three shelves of the stuff, he said they had cleared out the cellar as well.’


‘The cellar floor is dusty. Even dust. No marks of boxes and, what’s more to the point, no drag marks. It is my belief he had nothing in that cellar. He could have been after the insurance.’

‘But the insurance will want to see the books, check the orders.’

‘True. Well, we’d best take a statement and then talk to his supplier.’

They returned to the shop. Hamish took out a notebook. ‘Now, Mr Teller, you found the shop had been burgled when you opened up. That would be at nine o’clock?’


‘You didn’t touch anything?’

‘I went down to the cellar and found everything gone from there.’

‘We’ll check around and see if anyone heard or saw anything. What is the name of your supplier?’

‘Frog’s of Strathbane. Why?’

‘The insurance company will want to see your books to check the amount of the lost stores against your record of deliveries.’

‘They’re welcome to look at them anytime.’

‘Have you seen anyone suspicious about the town?’

‘Now, there’s a thing. There were two rough-looking men came into the shop two days ago. I hadn’t seen them before. They asked for cigarettes and I served them but they were looking all around the place.’


‘One was a big ape of a man. He had black hair, foreign-looking. Big nose and thick lips. He was wearing a checked shirt and jeans.’

‘Did he sound foreign?’

‘I can’t remember.’

Two men in white overalls came into the shop carrying cases of equipment. ‘We’ll stop for a moment while you take the forensic boys through the back to check the break-in,’ said Hamish.

‘What do you think?’ Hamish asked Jimmy when the shopkeeper had gone through to the back shop with the forensic team.

‘Seems a respectable body. Still, we’ll check with Frog’s. If he’d had the stuff delivered, then he must be telling the truth.’

‘I don’t like the look o’ that cellar floor.’

‘Well, if there’s anything fishy, the forensic boys will find it.’

They waited until Mr Teller came back. ‘Now,’ said Hamish, ‘what did the other fellow look like?’

‘He was small, ferrety. I remember,’ said Mr Teller, excited. ‘He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and he had a snake tattooed on his left arm.’

‘Hair colour?’

‘Maybe dark but his head was shaved. He had a thin face, black eyes, and a long nose.’


‘Like a told you, he had a short-sleeved shirt on, blue it was, and grey trousers.’

Hamish surveyed the shopkeeper with a shrewd look in his hazel eyes. ‘I’m puzzled by the state of your cellar floor.’

‘How’s that?’

‘There were no marks in the dust. No signs of dragging.’

‘Well, maybe they just lifted the stuff up.’

Jimmy Anderson was exuding the impatient vibes of a man dying for a drink.

‘Come on, Hamish,’ he said impatiently. ‘Let forensics get on with it while we go over what we’ve got.’

Hamish reluctantly followed him over to the pub. ‘Maybe I’ll nip back and tell those chaps from forensic about that cellar floor.’

‘Och, leave them. They know their job.’ Jimmy ordered two double whiskies.

‘Just the one, then,’ said Hamish. ‘I don’t trust that man Teller one bit.’

Finally he dragged a reluctant Jimmy away from the bar. Mr Teller was serving a woman with groceries.

‘I think you should close up for the day,’ said Hamish.

Mr Teller jerked a thumb towards the back shop. ‘They said it was all right.’

‘Let us through,’ said Hamish.

Mr Teller lifted the flap on the counter.

Hamish and Jimmy walked through to the back shop.

‘How’s it going?’ Jimmy asked one of the men.

‘Nothing much,’ he said. ‘Looks like a straightforward break-in. Can’t get much outside. There’s gravel there. Nothing but a pair of size eleven footprints at the top of the cellar stairs.’

‘Those are mine,’ said Hamish. ‘But what about the cellar itself, and the stairs? When I looked down, there seemed to be nothing but undisturbed dust.’

‘Then you need your eyes tested, laddie. The thieves swept the place clean and the stairs.’

‘What?’ Hamish had a sinking feeling in his stomach.

‘Have a look. We’re finished down there.’

Hamish went to the cellar door, switched on the light, and walked down the steps. He could see sweeping brush marks in the dust.

‘Those weren’t there before,’ he said angrily. ‘Teller must have done it when you pair were out the back.’

Hamish retreated wrathfully to the shop, followed by Jimmy. ‘Why did you sweep the cellar?’ he demanded angrily.

Mr Teller looked the picture of outraged innocence. ‘I never did. I went back outside to ask them if they wanted a cup of tea. I am a respectable tradesman and a member of the Rotary club and the Freemasons. I shall be speaking to your superior officer.’

‘Speak all you want,’ shouted Hamish. ‘I’ll have you!’

‘Come on, Hamish.’ Jimmy drew him outside the shop. ‘Back to the bar, Hamish. A dram’ll soothe you down.’

‘I’ve had enough and you’d better not have any more. You’re driving.’

‘One more won’t hurt,’ coaxed Jimmy, urging Hamish into the dark interior of the bar. When he had got their drinks, he led Hamish to a corner table. ‘Now, Hamish, couldn’t you be mistaken? When anyone mentions Freemasons, my heart sinks. The big cheese is a member.’ The big cheese was the chief superintendent, Peter Daviot.

‘I’m sure as sure,’ said Hamish.

‘So what do you suggest we do if the wee man’s books are in order and tie in with Frog’s records of deliveries?’

‘I don’t know,’ fretted Hamish.

‘It’s your word against his.’

‘You’d think the word of a policeman would count for something these days.’

‘Not against a Freemason and a member of the Rotary,’ said Jimmy cynically.


On Sale
Jan 1, 2004
Page Count
272 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