By M. C. Beaton
Formats and Prices
Format:Mass Market $8.99 $12.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around July 1, 1998. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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 The Mysterious Press,
Warner Books, Inc.
This edition published by Robinson,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson, 2009
Copyright © M. C. Beaton 1997, 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: 978-1-84529-908-8
Printed and bound in the EU
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
For Jane Sybilla Crosland
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
For there was never yet a philosopher,
That could endure the toothache patiently.
– William Shakespeare
It was a chill autumn in the Highlands of Scotland when Police Constable Hamish Macbeth awoke in hell.
The whole side of his jaw was a burning mass of pain.
Toothache. The sort of toothache so bad you cannot tell which tooth is infected because the pain runs through them all.
His dentist was in Inverness and he felt he could not bear the long drive. Lochdubh, the village in which his police station was situated, did not boast a dentist. The nearest one was at Braikie, a small town twenty miles away. The dentist there was Frederick Gilchrist.
The problem was that Hamish Macbeth still had all his teeth and meant to keep them all and Mr Gilchrist had a reputation for pulling out teeth rather than saving them, which suited the locals, who still preferred to have their teeth drawn and a ‘nice’ set of dentures put in. Also Gilchrist, in these days of high dental charges, was cheap.
One summer visitor complained bitterly that Gilchrist had performed The Great Australian Trench on her. Australian dentists had gained the unfair reputation for casually letting the drill slide across as many teeth as possible, thereby getting themselves a lucrative and steady customer. And although Mr Gilchrist was Scottish, he was reputed to have performed this piece of supposedly Australian malpractice. Mrs Harrison, a local widow, alleged nastily that she had been sexually molested by Gilchrist while unconscious under gas, but Mrs Harrison was a strange woman who always seemed to think every man was lusting after her and so her charge was not taken very seriously, and as she had not reported it to the police, but only to everyone else who would listen, there had been no excuse for Hamish Macbeth to take the matter further.
And yet the pain was so fierce that by the time he had dressed, he had argued himself into sacrificing one tooth.
He dialled Gilchrist’s number. Gilchrist’s receptionist, Maggie Bane, answered the telephone and to Hamish’s frantic appeal for help said sourly he would just need to come along and take his chances. Mr Gilchrist was very busy. Come at three and maybe he’ll fit you in.
Hamish then went to the bathroom and scrabbled in the kitchen cabinet, looking for aspirin and found none. He petulantly slammed the cabinet door shut. It fell off the wall into the hand-basin, and cracked the porcelain of the hand-basin before sending large shards of glass from its shattered glass doors on to the bathroom floor.
He looked at his watch through a red mist of pain. Eight o’clock in the morning. Dear God, he wouldn’t live until the afternoon. A sorry, lanky figure in his worn police uniform, he left the police station and made his way rapidly along the waterfront to Dr Brodie’s home.
Angela, the doctor’s wife, answered the door in her dressing gown. ‘Why, Hamish, you’re early,’ she cried.
‘I need help,’ moaned Hamish. ‘I’m dying.’
‘Come in. He’s in the kitchen.’
Dr Brodie, wrapped in a camel hair dressing gown, looked up as Hamish entered, a piece of toast and marmalade halfway to his lips. ‘Hamish!’ he said. ‘You look like death.’
‘You’ve got to give me something quick,’ gabbled Hamish, grabbing his arm. ‘I am in the mortal pain. I haff the toothache.’
‘You look as if you’ve got mad cow disease,’ said Dr Brodie sourly, jerking his arm away. ‘Oh, very well, Hamish. Sit yourself down while I get my bag.’
Hamish sank down in a chair and clutched his jaw. One of Angela’s cats leapt lightly on to the table, studied Hamish with curious eyes and then began to drink the milk out of the jug.
Dr Brodie came back with his bag, opened it, and took out a small torch. ‘Now, open wide Hamish. Which one is it?’
‘It feels like all of them,’ said Hamish. He opened his mouth and pointed to the lower left of his jaw.
Dr Brodie shone the torch in his mouth. ‘Ah, yes, nasty.’
‘Nasty what?’ demanded Hamish.
‘You’ve got an abscess there. The bottom right-hand molar. Ugh! I don’t know that a dentist could treat you until it’s cleared up. I’ll give you a shot of antibiotic. I’ll need to go to the surgery. Stay here and Angela’ll get you a coffee. I’ll need to get dressed.’
‘Where am I getting this injection?’
‘In the backside.’
‘Then I will be coming with you.’
Hamish blushed. ‘I do not want your wife seeing my bare bum.’
Dr Brodie laughed. ‘I’m glad there’s one woman left in this village you don’t want to show your bum to.’
When he had gone upstairs to change, Hamish whimpered, ‘No coffee, Angela. I’m in such awfy pain, I couldnae get it past my lips.’
‘You’re nothing but a big baby, Hamish Macbeth,’ said Angela, her thin face lighting up with amusement.
‘Women!’ said Hamish sourly. ‘All that talk about maternal feelings and womanly sympathy is chust the myth.’
‘If the abscess is that bad, why did you let it go so far?’
‘I felt a few twinges,’ muttered Hamish, ‘but, och, I thought I had the cold in the face.’
Angela smiled again at him, sat down at the kitchen table, grabbed the cat by the scruff of the neck and dragged its face out of the milk jug, poured some in her coffee, and picked up a book, saying before she started to read, ‘I am sure you do not feel like talking.’
Hamish glared at her and nursed his jaw. Dr Brodie eventually appeared. ‘Let’s get to the surgery, Hamish, and spare your blushes.’
They walked silently along the waterfront. The day was cold and still. Smoke from the cottage chimneys rose straight up into the clear air. A heron sailed lazily over the sea loch. The village of Lochdubh in Sutherland – that county which is as far north in mainland Britain as you can go – dreamed in the pale sunlight making one sad constable feel like a noisy riot of pain.
Once in the surgery, Dr Brodie injected Hamish with a stiff shot of antibiotics, gave him a prescription for antibiotic pills and told him to go home and lie down. Hamish had told him about the appointment with Gilchrist. ‘You’d best cancel it,’ said Dr Brodie, ‘until that abscess has cleared up. You don’t want to go to Gilchrist anyway. He’ll pull the tooth and there’s no need for that these days. You’d be better off in Inverness. There’s been some awfully nasty stories about Gilchrist circling about.’
Hamish crept off back to the police station. He had bought a bottle of aspirin from Patel’s, the local supermarket on the way there. He took three aspirin, swallowing them down with a stiff glass of whisky. He undressed slowly and climbed back into bed, willing the pain to go away. To take his mind off the pain, he began to think of Gilchrist and all the rumours about the man, and then he suddenly fell asleep.
He awoke two hours later. The pain had almost gone, but he was frightened to get out of bed in case that dreadful pain came roaring back. He clasped his hands behind his head and stared at the ceiling. He missed his dog, Towser, who had died so suddenly. Towser would have lain on the end of the bed and wagged his tail and he, Hamish, would have felt that someone in the whole wide world cared about his suffering. Priscilla Halburton-Smythe, the once love of his life, had gone to London to stay with friends and no other woman had come along to fill the gap left by her going. They had once been unofficially engaged, but he had broken off the relationship because of Priscilla’s odd coldness when he had tried to make love to her. He missed her, but he tried to tell himself that missing Priscilla had simply become a habit.
His thoughts then turned to Gilchrist and his Highland curiosity about the dentist was fully roused. Hamish had never met the man. He would phone up and say he could not see him that day and then he would make another appointment. If Gilchrist showed any signs of removing the tooth, he would remove himself from that dentist’s chair and go to Inverness. But that way he would be able to see the dentist and form his own opinion. It was all so easy to lose one’s reputation in the Highlands of Scotland where one tall tale was embellished and passed around and another added to it.
The phone rang shrilly from the police station office. He got gingerly out of bed and went to answer it. It was from the owner of a hotel fifteen miles away on the Lairg road, complaining he had been burgled the night before.
Hamish promised to be over as soon as he could, dressed again, got into the police Land Rover and drove out to The Scotsman Hotel where the burglary had taken place He expected to find vandalism, broken windows, the bar a mess, but it transpired that the break-in had been a professional one. The safe in the office had been broken into and the week’s takings stolen.
The safe looked heavy and massive and the door undamaged.
‘How did they get into that?’ he asked, pushing back his peaked cap and scratching his fiery red hair.
The manager, Brian Macbean, nodded to two men, who swung the safe round.
‘Oh, my,’ said Hamish. For the back of the safe had been made of a panel of chipboard which the burglar had simply sawn through.
He took out his notebook. ‘Can we sit down, Mr Macbean, and I’ll take some notes. Then I’ll phone Strathbane and get them to send a forensic team over. How much was in the safe?’
‘Two hundred and fifty thousand pounds.’
‘What on earth were you doing keeping that amount of money on the premises?’
‘It’s the giant prize for this Saturday night’s bingo session. Man, we’ve got folk coming from every part of the Highlands.’
‘So someone knew about it, and someone knew about the back of the safe.’
Macbean, a squat, burly man with thinning hair, looked morose. ‘The big bingo night’s been in all the local papers, so it has.’
‘But why cash?’ Hamish was puzzled. ‘A cheque would ha’ done.’
‘That was the attraction. It was all in twenty pound notes. All the press photographers were coming. It would have made the grand picture, some winner with all those notes.’
Hamish licked the end of his pencil. ‘So why the wooden back on the safe?’
‘I needed a safe and there was this one over at the auction rooms in Inverness. I thought that would do me fine.’
‘And probably charged the owners for a real safe.’
Macbean looked mulishly at the floor and did not reply.
Hamish patiently took him through exactly when the theft had been discovered and then said, ‘Who knew the safe had a wooden back?’
‘The barman, Johnny King, and one of the waiters, Peter Sampson. They helped me bring it back from Inverness.’
‘What about your family?’
‘Well, of course they knew. My wife, Agnes, and my girl, Darleen.’
Hamish racked through his mind for any gossip he might have heard about Macbean’s family, but could think of nothing in particular. ‘I’ll need to interview the barman and the waiter,’ he said, ‘and then I’ll talk to your wife and daughter.’
‘Whit! Leave my family out of it.’
‘Don’t be daft, Mr Macbean. They might have seen something or heard something. How old is Darleen?’
‘Where is she now?’
‘She’s over at the dentist in Braikie with her mother.’
Gilchrist again, thought Hamish, and then realized with a sort of glad wonder that the hellish pain in his tooth had subsided.
‘How come a Highland hotel can afford to offer such a huge money prize?’
‘We run the bingo nights all year round with small prizes and the profits are put in the bank. I drew the big money out of the bank in the middle of the week.’
‘I’ll just use the phone there,’ Hamish said, ‘and call Strathbane, and then I’ll take a look around.’
Detective Chief Inspector Blair when contacted said he was busy on a drugs job but would send his sidekick, Jimmy Anderson, over with a forensic team.
Hamish examined the hotel office. Apart from the gaping hole in the back of the safe, there was no other sign of a break-in that he could see. ‘You discovered this in the morning,’ he said. ‘What was going on here last night?’
‘There was a ceilidh.’
‘How many people?’
‘About a hundred or so. But the office was locked.’
Hamish examined the office door. It was wooden with a frosted-glass panel. The lock was a simple Yale one, easily picked.
The barman and the waiter were brought in. Hamish questioned them closely. They hadn’t finished their duties until one in the morning and then had gone straight to bed. The barman, Johnny King, was a sinister-looking man in his thirties with his hair worn in a ponytail and his thin face marred by a long scar. Peter Sampson, the waiter, was a small, smoothfaced youth of about twenty.
After he had finished interviewing them, Hamish walked around the public rooms of the hotel. It was typical of the more depressing type of Highland hotel, everything in pine and plastic and with the once gaudy carpets looking as if they badly needed shampooing. Tartan curtains hung at the windows and the walls were ornamented with plastic claymores and plastic shields along with bad murals of depressing historical events like the Battle of Culloden and the Massacre of Glencoe. The artist had not liked Bonnie Prince Charlie, for there he was with a cowardly look on his white face fleeing the Battle of Culloden. And he hadn’t liked the Campbells either, witness their savage and gleeful faces as they massacred the Macdonalds of Glencoe.
‘What’s the polis doing here?’ demanded a shrill voice behind him.
He swung round. A small blonde middle-aged woman stood glaring at him. Her hair was wound around a forest of pink plastic rollers and a cigarette hung from thin lips, painted orange. Beside her stood a tall, sulky girl in micro skirt and black suede thigh boots, fringed suede jacket and purple blouse. Her make-up was dead-white, her lipstick purple and her black hair gelled into spikes.
‘Aye, what’s it to you?’
‘The safe in the office was broken into last night, Mrs Macbean,’ explained Hamish patiently.
‘The bingo money! It’s gone?’
‘All gone,’ said Hamish.
‘Cool,’ said Darleen. Her eyes were flat and dead. Valium or sheer bovine stupidity, thought Hamish.
‘Where is he?’ demanded Mrs Macbean.
‘In the office,’ said Hamish, and then turned away as he heard cars driving up outside.
He went out to meet the contingent from Strathbane.
Detective Jimmy Anderson’s foxy features lit up in a grin when he saw Hamish.
‘If it isnae Mr Death hisself,’ he said cheerfully. ‘Where’s the body? Wi’ the great Hamish Macbeth on the scene, there’s bound to be a body.’
‘No body. The safe’s been broken into like I told you. I figure someone from the hotel did it.’
‘Aye, maybe, Hamish. But what makes you think that?’
‘I chust have this feeling.’
‘The seer of Lochdubh,’ jeered Jimmy. ‘Man, I could murder a dram. Any chance of them opening up that bar?’
‘You shouldnae be thinking o’ drinking on duty,’ said Hamish primly.
‘Och, Hamish, it’s only on the TV that they say things like that.’
‘And in police regulations.’
‘If you paid any attention to police regulations, you would smarten up that horrible uniform. Your trousers are so shiny I can see ma face in them.’
‘Are we going to investigate this,’ snapped Hamish, ‘or are we going to stand here all day trading insults?’
‘Where’s the body, then?’ said Jimmy with a sigh.
‘If you mean the safe, it’s in the office. Afore you go in, Jimmy, is there any gossip about Macbean?’
‘Not that I’ve heard. Somat Enterprises, a Glasgow company that owns this place, employed him two years ago. The food’s rotten and the drinks are suspect, but they come for the bingo and the dancing. You know how it is, Hamish, it’s not as if Sutherland is a swinging place. No competition. Oh, well, lead the way.’
Macbean was standing outside the office in the entrance hall. Through the open office door, the white-coated forensic team were busy dusting everything for fingerprints.
‘Damn,’ muttered Hamish. ‘Two of the men turned the safe around. Their fingerprints will be on it.’
‘I’ll tell them,’ said Jimmy.
‘You stupid fool,’ Mrs Macbean suddenly shouted in her husband’s face. One pink roller shaken loose by her rage fell on to the carpet. ‘I tellt ye that safe was silly. But you had tae go and dae things on the cheap.’
‘Shut your face,’ growled Macbean, ‘and go and do something to yourself. You look a right fright with them curlers in.’
Hamish’s tooth gave a sinister twinge. ‘Wait a bit, Mrs Macbean,’ he said, ‘you went to the dentist in Braikie.’
‘What’s Gilchrist like?’
She looked at him in amazement. ‘It wisnae me. It was Darleen that had the toothache.’
Hamish turned questioningly to Darleen, who was slumped against the wall, studying her long purple fingernails.
She suddenly opened her mouth and pointed to the bottom front row of her teeth where there was a gap.
‘He pulled your tooth?’
‘Couldn’t he have saved it?’
‘Because teeth can be saved these days.’
Darleen stifled a yawn. ‘No shit, Sherlock.’
‘Whit the hell are you asking questions about some poxy dentist when you’re supposed to be finding out who burgled my safe?’ howled Macbean.
‘I’m working on something else,’ said Hamish.
Jimmy Anderson came out of the office. ‘Okay, I’ll take you one at a time. There’s no need for you any mair, Hamish. You can get back to your sheep dip papers or whatever exciting things you usually do in Lochdubh.’
Hamish went reluctantly. There was an odd smell of villainy about the hotel. ‘I’ll type up my notes for you,’ he said stiffly to Jimmy.
‘I wouldnae bother,’ said Jimmy cheerfully. ‘When does that bar open?’
Hamish left. He drove back to Lochdubh but instead of going to the station, he stopped at the Tommel Castle Hotel just outside the village. The hotel was owned by Colonel Halburton-Smythe, Priscilla’s father, a landowner who, on Hamish’s suggestion, had turned his family home into a hotel when he was in danger of going bankrupt. The hotel had prospered, first through the efforts of Priscilla and then under the efficient management of Mr Johnson, the manager. He went through to the hotel office where Mr Johnson was rattling the keys of a computer. Hamish pulled up a chair to the desk and sat down opposite the manager. ‘Help yourself to coffee, Hamish,’ said the manager, jerking his head in the direction of a coffee machine in the corner.
Hamish rose and helped himself to a mugful of coffee and sat down again. ‘That’s that,’ said Mr Johnson with a sigh. ‘I miss Priscilla. She’s a dab hand at the accounts. What brings you, Hamish, or are you just chasing a free cup of coffee?’
‘There’s been a burglary over at The Scotsman.’
‘Druggies from Inverness?’
‘No, the safe was robbed. The bingo prize money. Two hundred and fifty thousand pounds.’
‘Did they blow it?’
‘No, Macbean got the safe on the cheap at an auction in Inverness. It had a wooden back.’
‘I mind that safe. I was at that auction myself. That safe was made by a company nobody had ever heard of. I couldn’t believe that wooden back.’
‘So what’s the gossip about Macbean?’
‘Sour man with a slag of a wife and a drip of a daughter. Came here about two years ago. Somat Enterprises seem to have given him a free hand. It’s run by some Scottish Greek. Got lots of sleazy restaurants and dreary hotels. As far as I can gather, as long as The Scotsman showed a profit, he didn’t interfere. Macbean may have been creaming some of the profits, but he’d need to be smarter than I think he is, because Somat has a team of ferocious auditors who regularly check the books. Macbean thought up the bingo night and it’s been a big success. Do you know the colonel even had the stupidity to suggest we do the same thing? People come here for the fishing and shooting and the country house life, they don’t want a lot of peasants cluttering up the place.’
‘What about the staff?’
‘Don’t know. You know what it’s like trying to get staff up here, Hamish. No one’s anxious to check out references too closely.’
- On Sale
- Jul 1, 1998
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Grand Central Publishing