By M. C. Beaton
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Returning from a vacation, Constable Hamish Macbeth senses a dark cloud of evil hanging over his Scottish village of Lochdubh. Newcomer Catriona Beldame has cast a bewitching spell over the town, causing the local men to visit her cottage at all hours of the night and infuriating the women. Hamish suspects that she is a great danger to the town. Before he can prove that Catriona is truly wicked, she is brutally murdered-and Hamish becomes the prime suspect in the case. The constable will call upon the assistance of a pretty female forensic expert as he attempts to clear his name . . . and perhaps even find some romance. But when more violence breaks out, loyal Hamish must use all his detective skills to restore peace to his beloved village.
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
A Highland Christmas
Death of an Addict
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 Valentine
Constable & Robinson Ltd
3 The Lanchesters
162 Fulham Palace Road
London W6 9ER
First published in the USA 2009 by
Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Book Group USA,
237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017
First UK edition published by Constable,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd 2009
This paperback edition published by Robinson,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd 2010
Copyright © 2009, 2010 M. C. Beaton
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
ISBN: 978-1-84529-964-4 (pbk)
ISBN: 978-1-84529-918-7 (hbk)
Printed and bound in the EU
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For Rene and Carole of Stow-on-the-Wold,
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
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
– William Shakespeare
Police Constable Hamish Macbeth, heading home to his police station in the village of Lochdubh in Sutherland, heaved a sigh of relief. He stopped for a moment by the side of the road and rolled down the car window. He was driving a battered old Rover, manufactured before the days of power steering and electronic windows.
Hamish breathed in all the familiar scents of the Scottish Highlands: peat smoke, wild thyme, pine and salt air blown in on the Atlantic gales from the coast.
Urged by his friend Angela Brodie to go abroad on holiday for once in his life, Hamish had opted for a cheap off-season package trip to the south of Spain.
His hopes of a holiday romance had been dashed as soon as he arrived. The hotel, ambitiously named The Royal Britannia, catered for British old-age pensioners who wanted to escape the winter back home and the heating bills that came with it. He was in great demand at tea dances, as the other guests were mostly sprightly ladies in their sixties and seventies. When he tried to escape from the hotel food, which was designed for the British palate – chips with everything – and went to some little Spanish restaurant, he would find that several of the ladies had followed him only to become amorous over jugs of sangria. Cursed with innate highland courtesy, he could not find it in him to be rude enough to get rid of them.
But now he was heading home. He had bought the old banger of a car to leave at Inverness airport when he started his journey, not wanting to use the police Land Rover and so incur the wrath of his bosses.
Hamish started off again as the car coughed and spluttered, threatening to collapse at each steep hill like a weary horse.
At last he drove over the hump backed bridge and into the village of Lochdubh.
He uncoiled his long length from the little car and stood up and stretched. Fingers of rain were blowing down the sea loch, but there was a patch of blue over to the west heralding better weather to come. Although it was November, the proximity of the Gulf Stream meant there were often mild days.
Then for some reason he could not explain, he began to feel uneasy. It seemed that the very air was full of some vague threat.
He shook himself impatiently, unlocked the police station door, and went in.
There was a note from Angela lying on the kitchen table. It read: ‘Hamish, this is the very last time I look after your pets for you. Come and collect them as soon as you can, Angela.’
Hamish owned a mongrel called Lugs and a domesticated wild cat called Sonsie. Angela Brodie was the doctor’s wife. He went out again and walked to Angela’s cottage. The cat and dog looked at him sullenly as if he was not to be forgiven for having left them.
‘About time, too,’ said Angela crossly.
‘They weren’t too much trouble, surely?’ said Hamish.
‘They kept escaping and going to look for you and I had the gamekeeper, Willie, and several of the others up on the braes to hunt them down and bring them back. Oh, well, sit down and have a coffee and tell me about your trip. Lots of sunshine, pretty girls?’
‘I’m glad to be home, and I don’t want to talk about it,’ said Hamish.
The wild cat put a large paw on Hamish’s leg and gave a low hiss. Lugs, a shaggy dog with floppy ears and odd blue eyes, stared up at Hamish accusingly.
Hamish sat down at the cluttered kitchen table where Angela’s cats roamed among the unwashed breakfast dishes. Looking at Angela, with her wispy hair and gentle face, Hamish wondered, not for the first time, how a doctor’s wife could be so unhygienic.
‘I had an offer for your cat while you were away,’ said Angela, putting a mug of coffee down in front of him. ‘Most insistent, she was. Last offer was a hundred pounds.’
‘Who are you talking about?’
‘Of course, you don’t know. We’ve got a newcomer. She bought Sandy Ross’s cottage.’
‘Must have got it for a song,’ said Hamish. ‘That place has only a corrugated iron roof and an outside toilet. Who is she?’
‘What sort of a name is that? Is she foreign?’
‘No, she has a bit of a highland accent.’
‘And where’s she from?’
‘Nobody knows. She just arrived. She’s . . . well, odd.’
‘She gives me the shivers. She’s very tall, as tall as you, and she has a queer sort of medieval face, very white, and yellowish brown eyes with heavy white lids. She has a long thin nose and a small mouth. She saw your cat and decided she must have it. There’s something else.’
‘Some of the local men have been seen visiting her late at night.’
‘Dinnae tell me Lochdubh’s got its own brothel at last!’
‘That’s not it. I think she supplies herbal medicines.’
‘So why men, why late at night? Why no women?’
‘That’s the odd thing. No one talks about it. The Currie sisters said something to me about the men visiting her and then they clammed up.’
‘Not like that precious pair,’ commented Hamish. The Currie sisters were spinster twins and usually a great fund of gossip, some of it at Hamish’s expense. ‘I’d better go and visit this newcomer.’
‘If you can find the time. Detective Chief Inspector Blair has been demanding to know when you’re getting back. He said that you’re to report to police headquarters in Strathbane as soon as you arrive.’
‘It might be because some gang has been robbing all the little local post offices in the north. Lochinver was attacked last week and then Altnabuie. You know how it is. They think we’re easy pickings this far north and with only one policeman to cover hundreds and hundreds of square miles.’
Hamish returned to the station, changed into his uniform, helped his pets into the police Land Rover, and set off over the hills.
As he drove down the long slope that led to Strathbane, he thought the town really was a blot on the beauty of the highland landscape with its decaying docks, crumbling tower blocks, vice and crime.
Steady rain was beginning to fall as he walked up the steps of headquarters and made his way up to the detectives’ room.
Detective Sergeant Jimmy Anderson cried, ‘Well, if it isn’t señor back from Spain! Bring me a present?’
‘Some duty-free whisky.’
‘Got it with you?’
‘Back at the station.’
Hamish noticed that Jimmy’s usually sharp foxy face was getting blurred round the edges and his blue eyes were watery. The amount the detective drank was at last beginning to show.
‘What’s all this about burglaries?’ asked Hamish.
‘Lot of them at wee post offices.’
‘What’s been done about it?’
‘Nothing much. The territory’s huge and we never know where they’ll hit next. Blair wants to see you.’
The man himself lumbered out of his office. He was a thickset Glaswegian who loathed Hamish.
‘There you are, you teuchter,’ he snarled. ‘Anderson, gie him what we’ve got on thae burglaries. I want a quick result.’
Blair went back into his office and slammed the door.
‘I’ve printed off all the reports for you,’ said Jimmy. ‘It’s always the same. Three men, masked wi’ balaclavas. One wi’ a sawn-off shotgun. Nobody’s been hurt so far.’
‘Any undercover cops been sent out to hide in the post offices?’ asked Hamish.
‘Aye, for a bit. But the villains always chose the one there wasn’t a cop in.’
Hamish pulled out a chair and sat down. ‘Now, there’s a thing. Could it be possible that some cheil here was giving them information?’
‘Aw, come on, Hamish. It’s hardly the Great Train Robbery we’re talking about.’
‘Who’s the newest policeman on the force?’
‘Policewoman. Wee Alice Donaldson.’
‘Where is she right now?’
‘Off duty today. Och, Hamish. You just can’t think . . .’
‘Of anything else,’ said Hamish. ‘Let me have her address.’
Jimmy applied himself to the computer and then said, ‘Here it is. Write it down. Eight Bannoch Brae. That’s down near the docks. Not a tower block. There’s a row of wee houses just before you get to the tower blocks on the Inverness Road.’
‘And what’s she like?’
‘Neat, quiet. Come on, laddie. You’ve had too much sun.’
‘It iss worth a try,’ said Hamish angrily, the sudden sibilance of his accent showing he was uneasy. ‘I haff nothing else to go on.’
‘Suit yourself. Did you get laid?’
But Hamish was already walking away.
When Hamish left headquarters, the wind had risen. Rain slashed into his face as he hurried to the Land Rover.
He found Bannoch Brae and parked outside number 8. ‘Won’t be long,’ he said to his animals. ‘Sit there and shut up and I’ll buy ye a fish supper on the road home.’
There was a weedy garden in front of a small stone house. Hamish went up to the front door and rang the bell.
The door opened and a girl stood looking up at him. She was not very tall. Two wings of black hair hung on either side of a thin face.
‘Alice Donaldson?’ asked Hamish.
‘Yes, that’s me. It’s my day off. Am I wanted back on duty?’
‘No, I chust wanted to be having a wee word with you.’
She stood aside to let him past and then closed the door and ushered him into a small front room.
The room seemed rather bleak. It was simply furnished with a three-piece suite and a paraffin heater in front of the empty fireplace.
‘Sit down,’ said Alice. ‘Tea?’
‘No, thank you. I’m chust back from Spain and I haff been asked to investigate the burglaries of the post offices,’ said Hamish, nervously wondering why his imagination had leapt to the conclusion that some member of the force had been tipping off the gang.
‘Oh, yes? How can I help? I haven’t had anything to do with any of the cases.’
Hamish could not see much of her face because of those wings of hair. Didn’t they irritate her?
She was wearing a man’s shirt tied at the waist and a pair of worn jeans. His hazel eyes suddenly sharpened.
‘What are you staring at?’ she demanded.
‘That looks like a cigarette burn on your neck,’ said Hamish.
Her hand fluttered up to the burn. ‘It’s nothing. I’m clumsy.’
Hamish looked around the room. He could not see any ashtray; neither could he smell smoke. If she smoked, he thought, then the fabric upholstery would have retained some of the smell.
He was sitting at one end of the sofa and Alice was in an armchair next to him.
Hamish leaned forward suddenly and swept a wing of her hair back from her face. There was a black-and-yellow bruise on her cheek. She jerked her head back, and the other wing of hair flew back. The other side of her face was bruised as well.
‘Who did this to ye, lassie?’ asked Hamish gently.
‘No one!’ Her voice was shrill. ‘I’m clumsy. This is my day off. You’ve no right . . .’
‘They beat you up for information, didn’t they?’ said Hamish. ‘Do you know them, or did they just pick on you?’
She began to cry. Great sobs racked her body. Hamish waited patiently. He felt that if he comforted her, she might take it as a sign of weakness.
He took a handkerchief out of his pocket and handed it to her. It had been given to him by one of his admirers at the Spanish hotel who had even embroidered his initials in one corner.
At last she wiped her eyes and looked at him bleakly. ‘I’m finished with the force.’
‘Let’s hear it,’ said Hamish.
In a flat tired voice she told him what had happened. She had been out clubbing in Strathbane and had got picked up by a man, George MacDuff. They had gone out for a bit and then one evening he had come round with two friends, Hugh Sutherland and Andy Burnside. George had said the police were staking out post offices and they wanted her to tell them which ones. She refused. George got nasty. They tied her to a chair and stripped off her blouse and began to burn her with cigarettes. She said she was terrified and told them she would find out for them.
‘You had their names and descriptions,’ said Hamish. ‘Why didn’t you just report them?’
‘George knows where my mother lives in Bonar Bridge. He said if I told anyone, they would kill her.’
‘Lassie, the police could have put your mother under protection.’
‘With Blair in charge?’
‘Oh, well, maybe you have a point. What’s the next job?’
‘They came round today. I said I wouldn’t tell them anything more and they beat me. I still wouldn’t tell them but they hurt me so much, I told them that the post offices were no longer under surveillance. George said something like “Leave her.” Then as they went out, I heard one of the others say, “Braikie tomorrow’ll be our last anyway.” I’d better get my coat. You’ll be taking me in.’
‘Let me think.’ Hamish ran his long fingers through his flaming red hair. ‘Who’s your doctor?’
‘He seemed like a nice man. I only saw him the once when I had a sprained ankle.’
‘Get me his number.’
Supplied with the phone number, Hamish phoned Dr Sing and asked him to call, adding that it was a police matter.
‘What are you going to do?’ asked Alice.
‘Try to get you out of this.’
When Dr Sing arrived, Hamish said, ‘Miss Donaldson has been beaten up during some undercover work. We fear this might be because of some informant at headquarters. Until we investigate further, we want you to sign her off for two weeks suffering from injuries incurred after a bad fall down the stairs. You would be helping an investigation considerably if you could do this.’
Dr Sing was a young doctor, recently qualified and anxious to please. He wrote out the certificate and would have examined Alice but Hamish said a police doctor had already had a look. ‘But the certificate has to be issued by her own doctor,’ said Hamish.
When the doctor had left, Hamish said, ‘Get over to your mother in Bonar Bridge and get her off to a wee hotel somewhere until this blows over. Now, if these men are caught and your name comes up, don’t say I had anything to do with it or we’ll both be out of the force.’
‘I don’t know how to thank you,’ said Alice.
‘Just move fast and get out of here,’ said Hamish. ‘Have you got a car?’ She nodded. ‘Pack quickly and off you go!’
Hamish stopped on the road back to Lochdubh and bought three fish suppers to feed his pets and himself, wondering all the time how to catch the men who proposed robbing the Braikie Post Office. They were getting bolder, he thought. The others had mainly been sub post offices in general stores, but Braikie was a pedigree one and quite new. No one could understand how Braikie, a remote highland town, should get a new post office when the government was proposing to close so many down.
Twice Hamish had been promoted to sergeant and twice he had been demoted. During the two periods he had held the rank of sergeant, he had policemen working under him. One was Willie Lamont, who had married the daughter of an Italian restaurant owner and left to work in the restaurant. The other, Clarry Graham, was now employed as a chef at the Tommel Castle Hotel. He decided to get them to help him. If he got a squad from Strathbane, they would insist on knowing how he got the information about the proposed robbery. Or Blair might take over and make a mess of it.
Hamish had a sudden image of Blair being blasted to death by a shotgun and he smiled. It was great that some of the things inside his head never got to the outside, he thought.
In the morning, Hamish, flanked by Clarry and Willie, broke the news to the alarmed postmistress, Ellie Macpherson, that he expected the place to be raided. Unfortunately for Hamish, Ellie was the leading light of the local dramatic society and also a sort of female Walter Mitty He had managed to talk to her just before she opened up in the morning. Ellie, a scrawny woman who jangled with cheap jewellery, drew herself up and said, ‘I shall throw myself on the guns!’ Her eyes were half-closed. Hamish repressed a sigh. He guessed Ellie was already seeing herself on the front page of some newspaper.
‘You’ll do nothing of the sort,’ snapped Hamish. ‘You’ll lie down behind your counter as soon as they come in. Now, Willie and Clarry here will be in the post office, looking at cards or something. They’ve got their shotguns and if anyone asks, they’ll say they are going out hunting rabbits up on the braes.’
The day dragged on. Hamish, hidden in the back shop, yawned and fidgeted. Willie and Clarry, tired of reading the rhymes of the greeting cards to each other, yawned as well with boredom.
Just when Hamish was beginning to fear that the robbers planned to attack somewhere else, the door of the post office was thrown open. He heard the customers scream and a man’s voice say, ‘Hand over the money or you’ll get shot.’
Hamish darted out of the back of the shop, holding his own shotgun. He trod on the prone figure of Ellie, who screamed.
Willie was holding his shotgun against the neck of the one armed man who had dropped his gun to the floor, and Clarry was covering the other two. Hamish leapt over the counter and, taking out three sets of handcuffs, arrested and cautioned the robbers.
Blair was furious when he got the news. ‘Whit was that loon daein’ playing the lone sheriff?’ he said to Chief Superintendent Peter Daviot.
‘Now, now,’ said Daviot. ‘Hamish has got these men and I am not going to quibble about the way he did it.’
Jimmy Anderson waylaid Hamish as he was on his way out of headquarters after typing up a full report.
‘So was Alice the informant?’ he asked.
‘No, nothing to do with it. Chust a lucky guess on my part.’
‘She’s not in today.’
‘Och, the lassie had a bad fall. I called her doctor and he told her to take a couple of weeks off.’
‘Aye, right,’ said Jimmy cynically.
‘Come over to Lochdubh one evening,’ said Hamish. ‘Don’t forget, I’ve a bottle for you.’
Hamish was just sitting down wearily to an evening meal of Scotch pie and peas when someone knocked at the door.
‘Come in,’ he shouted. ‘The door’s open.’
Alice walked in. ‘I heard about it on the evening news,’ she said. ‘Did they say anything about me?’
‘No, I’d have heard. They’re not going to confess to beating someone up for information. They’ll all be sent away for a long time. You can get drunk and run someone over in your car and get a suspended sentence, but if you steal money then the full weight of the courts comes down on your head. Sit down. I hope you’ve eaten, because this is all I’ve got.’
‘Yes, I did have something earlier. So I can move back home?’
‘Certainly. None of that lot will be getting out on bail.’
She sat down with a sigh. ‘I’m going to hand in my resignation.’
‘I’m just not cut out for the force. It’s not really because of the beating. I don’t have much courage. I’m going back to university to get a degree and then maybe I’ll teach.’
‘If that’s what you want to do . . .’
‘But we can see each other sometimes?’
‘Maybe. I do haff the girlfriend, you know.’
‘Oh, well, I’d better be on my way.’
Hamish saw her out, finished his meal, undressed, showered and went to bed, stretching out with a groan of relief. There were two thumps and the cat and dog got into bed with him.
A gale was howling outside, wailing round the building like a banshee. Before he plunged into sleep, Hamish found he was experiencing a stab of superstitious dread. Must be that pie, was his last waking thought.
The morning was glittering with yellow sunlight. Wisps of high cloud raced across a washed-out blue sky, and the waters of the loch were churned up into angry choppy waves.
Hamish put on his uniform of serge trousers, blue shirt, dark blue tie and police sweater with epaulettes. He put his peaked cap on his red hair. He noticed that his trousers were baggy at the knees.
He unlocked the large cat flap, big enough to let the dog in and out as well, and said to his pets, ‘You stay here. I’ve got a visit to make.’
The wind sang in the heather as he made his way on foot to Sandy Ross’s old cottage. Who was this Catriona Beldame that even the Currie sisters wouldn’t gossip about?
Praise for M.C. Beaton and the Hamish Macbeth series:
"It's always a pleasure to return to Lochdubh, the picturesque village in the Scottish highlands."—New York Times Book Review
- "Superb entertainment, as rich and warming as a fine malt whisky, and every bit as addictive."—Houston Chronicle
- "Macbeth is the sort of charcter who slyly grows on you...as you realize that beneath his unassuming exterior, he's a whiz at cutting through all the hokum."—Chicago Sun-Times
- On Sale
- Jan 1, 2010
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Grand Central Publishing