By M. C. Beaton
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When Police Sergeant Hamish Macbeth hears reports of a haunted castle near Drim, he assumes the eerie noises and lights reported by the villagers are just local teenagers going there to smoke pot or, worse, inject themselves with drugs. Still, Hamish decides that he and his policeman, Charlie “Clumsy” Carson, will spend the night at the ruined castle to get to the bottom of the rumors once and for all.
There’s no sign of any ghost…but then Charlie disappears through the floor. It turns out he’s fallen into the cellar. And what Hamish and Charlie find there is worse than a ghost: a dead body propped against the wall. Waiting for help to arrive, Hamish and Charlie leave the castle just for a moment–to eat bacon baps–but when they return, the body is nowhere to be seen.
It’s clear something strange–and deadly–is going on at the castle, and Hamish must get to the bottom of it before the “ghost” can strike again…
The murmur of the mourning ghost
—Sydney Thompson Dobell
Police Sergeant Hamish Macbeth was feeling trapped. He had started an affair with the head of the Strathbane forensic department, Christine Dalray, and had begun to feel as if he had been arrested. His police station home in the village of Lochdubh in Sutherland was no longer a refuge. He often thought wearily that he should have known that a woman who could head and command a department of boozy male chauvinists would be a control freak.
Christine was attractive to look at, with long legs and curly hair. But she managed his meals, his dress, and how they performed in bed. Hamish was afraid to ditch her in case she told the authorities that his sidekick, Police Constable Charlie Carter, was staying at a basement flat in the Tommel Castle Hotel. Charlie was too clumsy to have in the police station, but he was kind, hardworking, and amiable, which is why Hamish found himself one morning whistling for his dogs and fleeing the station to join Charlie for breakfast before Christine woke.
So far, he had kept his worries about life with Christine to himself, but as he relaxed in Charlie’s cosy little flat in front of the peat fire while Charlie fried sausages, he was overcome with a desire to share his troubles. So when breakfast was over, Hamish said awkwardly, “I want rid of Christine.”
Charlie was a giant of a man, with child-like blue eyes and fair hair. “I saw that coming,” he said. “They call her Attila the Hun over at the lab, except the H in Hun is replaced with a C and the T—”
“I get the picture,” said Hamish hurriedly. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I thought you were all set for the altar,” said Charlie. “What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. Think of something!”
“Have you asked the fairies?”
“For the umpteenth time, Charlie, there are no such things.”
Charlie sat with his head bowed. Now I know what away with the fairies really means, thought Hamish bitterly.
But Charlie suddenly looked up and grinned. “I’ve got it!”
“Out with it.”
“Blair hates your guts, right?” Detective Chief Inspector Blair was the bane of Hamish’s life.
“What’s that got to do with anything?” asked Hamish.
“It’s like this. I’ll go down to Strathbane and gossip about how you are so mad about Christine that if she left you it would break your heart. Blair would move mountains to bring that about.”
“Och,” said Hamish, “he’ll tell her awful things about me and as she knows how much the scunner hates me, she won’t listen.”
“He’s not that daft. Worth a try.”
* * *
Perhaps the fairies had taken against Hamish Macbeth because Charlie’s plan worked in the worst way possible. Two days later, he was summoned to police headquarters to face Superintendent Daviot.
Daviot was in a foul mood. Eight Scottish police departments had been merged into one called Police Scotland, which seemed to mean it had become a sort of state within a state with enough form-filling, paperwork, and bureaucracy to make a French bureaucrat weep with envy. He gazed over the pile of paperwork on his desk as Hamish was ushered in.
“Sit down,” he said. “It’s time we had a man-to-man talk.”
Hamish sat down and put his cap at his feet. Daviot was a grey man: grey hair, grey eyes, and grey suit. He considered Macbeth a maverick. Surely his flaming-red hair couldn’t be natural.
“It has come to my ears,” said Daviot, “that you are cohabiting with a member of the force.”
“I am not having an affair with a policewoman,” said Hamish.
“No, but the forensic department is part of Police Scotland and there are people always on the lookout for some…well, let us call it breaches of police etiquette.”
“You are quite right, sir,” said Hamish meekly. “I shall end the affair today.”
Daviot suddenly smiled indulgently, remembering that any breakup would upset Hamish dreadfully.
“Now, now, Hamish. Just marry the lady and I will be your best man. There! Never say we are hardhearted.”
Stunned, Hamish thanked him and walked from the room. Daviot’s secretary, Helen, who had been listening at the door, smiled maliciously. “He’ll make a decent man of you yet,” she jeered.
The suddenly vague look in Hamish’s eyes should have warned her that the policeman was thinking of some nasty way he could get back at her. Then he pushed open the superintendent’s door and went back in.
“Sir,” said Hamish, “I could not help noticing you have a great deal of paperwork. Can’t you delegate some of it?”
“No. A lot of these are marked ‘For Your Eyes Only.’”
“But your trusted secretary is in fact your eyes, sir, and she has dealt with all the paperwork in the past and so would know better than any of us what to do.”
Daviot beamed. “I am most grateful to you, and Helen will be honoured. Don’t forget to send me a wedding invitation.”
Helen backed away from the door as Hamish came out. She opened her mouth to speak but the buzzer on Daviot’s desk summoned her. Hamish went off, whistling, until he realised he would now have to cope with Christine.
He drove slowly back to Lochdubh. He stopped on the road and let his two dogs, Sally, a poodle, and Lugs, a mixed breed with odd blue eyes, out to play in the heather. He missed his wild cat that he had let loose in the wild cat sanctuary at Ardnamurchan. He was just whistling to them to get back in the Land Rover when he saw Christine’s car speeding up the road towards where he was parked. She screeched to a halt and got out.
“So you’re just another of these bastards who thinks that women belong in the kitchen,” she raged. “Daviot informs me that once we are married, I have to quit my job. He told me it was all your idea. So, get this. I have phoned Glasgow and they’re glad to have me back. Keep out of my way, you bastard, until I get my stuff packed and out of this peasanthole of a dump.”
Hamish opened his mouth to protest but a sudden vision of having his station back all to himself rose in his brain and he said, “But you’d make the grand wee wifie.”
He then stood with his head bowed as she let loose a raging tirade, ending up telling him he could take his male chauvinist ideas and shove them up his scrawny arse.
He decided to go to the pub in Lochdubh to allow time for Christine to get clear.
When he walked into the pub, four forestry workers hurried out, frightened that Hamish would take away their car keys. Hamish saw Archie Maclean seated at a table by the window, ordered a double tonic water, and went to join the fisherman.
“I hear she’s leaving you,” said Archie.
“It’s a right gossipy place,” said Hamish sourly, “except when I’m trying to solve a crime. Then everyone’s seen nothing, don’t know nothing.”
“It’s the idleness,” said Archie sententiously. “See, at the moment, there arenae the tourist folk.” Archie augmented his fishing with taking tourists round the loch in the summer. “Now, right now I’m hiding out from the wifie. Women get ower-bossy, Hamish, when they think you might be enjoying a bit of a lazy time.”
“You mean I need a murder?”
“That would have helped.”
“I don’t like bullies,” said Hamish. “And talking of bullies, when are you going to tell that wife of yours to stop boiling your clothes? I mean, whoever heard of a woman boiling tweed. That jacket of yours would fit a bairn. You stood up to her once.”
Hamish heard a voice from outside calling, “Has anyone seen Archie?”
Archie darted across the pub and crouched down behind the bar. Mrs. Maclean came in, eyes darting to right and left. She was a short, thin woman who smelled of bleach.
“Have you seen Archie?” she demanded, stopping by Hamish’s table.
“Saw him outside,” said Hamish. “The poor wee man was off to the doctor.”
“What’s up wi’ him?”
“He’s got strangulitis.”
“It’s a soreness in the balls caused by constriction.”
She let out a squawk of dismay and hurried off. Hamish went to the bar and leaned over. “Get yourself to Dr. Brodie and I’ll warn him. Out the back way and with any luck you’ll get there before her.”
Archie said, “She’ll have gone hame for her best bonnet.”
Hamish returned to his table and phoned the doctor and explained Archie’s soon-to-arrive visit. “He’s got to get into comfortable clothes or his arteries will close up wi’ the constriction,” said Hamish.
“I’ll do my best,” said Dr. Brodie, sounding amused.
* * *
“How did you get the news so quickly?” he called after Archie.
“Herself was in Patel’s buying fags and she told the whole shop. She called you—”
“Okay, Archie. I’d rather imagine it. I think it’s damn odd that she smokes, her and her tofu and salads.”
“I think maybe you should get along there. Mr. Patel has a cheap line in red paint and she bought a can.”
“I don’t care,” said Hamish uneasily. “I am not having another confrontation.”
“When you get back, I’d throw out all your food,” said Archie. “I saw this documentary and there are all these wee sneaky poisons.”
“What I need,” said Hamish, “is a nice crime.”
“Aye. Well, you may be having it. I’ve just seen Charlie walk past the window. I’d best be off before the wife gets to the surgery.”
The door opened and Charlie walked in, banged his head on a beam, tripped over a chair, and landed all of his over-six-foot length on the pub floor.
He got to his feet, rubbed his blonde hair, and looked sheepishly at Hamish.
“We’ve got an odd report from Drim,” said Charlie.
“Sit down and join us,” said Hamish. “You’re looming.”
Charlie sat down and winced as the chair gave a sinister creaking sound. “It’s a ghost,” he said.
“So who’s the potty one ower in Drim who thinks they’ve seen a ghost? Saturday night when the pubs scale, I get reports of ghosts and fairies and things that go bump in the night.”
“Aye, but this is from Hanover Ebrington at the castle.”
“Is that the new owner? But the place is half a ruin.”
“He’s a retired police superintendent from Glasgow so we’d better jump to it,” said Charlie.
“Oh, michty. The man’s probably a drunk. Let’s go.”
* * *
There are many castles in the Highlands, a lot of them mere ruins. Castle Drim had once been habitable, but it was up on a bluff overlooking Loch Drim and the gales of Sutherland had done a lot to destroy a part of it.
“He must be a drunk,” complained Hamish as they took the one-track road to Drim. “The Highlands are crammed wi’ folk who’ve sozzled their brains into romantic dreams of Bonnie Prince Charlie and all that.”
“Disnae matter,” said Charlie gloomily. “He was a police super, right? So he’ll throw his weight around. You shouldnae hae brought your dogs along.”
As they approached the castle, Hamish noticed scaffolding at the front. The short drive had recently been cleared of weeds, and gravel had been put down. He remembered that the eighteenth-century bit at the front was habitable, but the fifteenth-century bit to the left of the main entrance was in ruins.
He wondered if his arch enemy, Detective Chief Inspector Blair, had already arrived.
He imagined the retired super would be pugnacious and rude like Blair. The door was opened by a grey-haired man with a pleasant weather-beaten face. He held out a hand in welcome. “I am Hanover. Stupid name. I am usually called Handy. And you are…?”
“Sergeant Hamish Macbeth of Lochdubh, sir, and Constable Carter.”
“Come in and we’ll have some coffee and I’ll tell you all about it.”
They found themselves in a small square hall. Hamish remembered it as being vast.
“Yes, I divided the hall up,” said Handy, answering the unspoken question. “We’ll use my study.”
He opened a door and led them into a comfortable room. A coal fire was blazing. Two high-backed leather armchairs were on either side of the fire with a sofa and coffee table placed in front of the hearth. A flat-screen television was mounted on the wall. There were two landscapes of highland scenes. A tall bookcase filled up one wall, the bottom shelves full of leather-bound books and the upper shelves crammed with brightly covered paperbacks. A worn Persian carpet covered the floor. An old console table held an array of bottles.
Handy sat in one of the armchairs and Hamish sat opposite him. Charlie lowered himself carefully onto the sofa, a smile on his face as he realised he had managed to enter the room without breaking anything.
The door opened and a woman came in carrying a tray laden with coffee and biscuits. “Help yourselves,” she said curtly and shuffled out on a pair of old carpet slippers.
“That’s my sister, Freda,” said Handy. “Sour-faced old besom. Who’s going to be mother?”
“I’ll pour,” said Hamish.
“Black for me,” said Handy.
Handy had a pleasant Glasgow accent. Because of Blair’s harsh guttural tones, Hamish had forgotten there was such a thing. “I suppose you think I’ve been drinking whisky,” he said, “but it’s really scary. It comes from the old ruined end of the place. I’ll take you there when you’ve had your coffee. Always at night. It starts up just after midnight, moaning and groaning. Of course I’ve gone to investigate, but there’s nothing there and the sound comes from all around. I can’t get any of the folk up from the village. They say they’re scared to death.”
“And it’s always at night?” asked Hamish.
“Charlie and I will bring our sleeping bags along this evening and we’ll see if we can find out anything.”
“Maybe,” said Charlie, “two people would frighten away the ghostie.”
Hamish realised his highly superstitious sidekick was beginning to believe in the existence of ghosts. Well, it was time he learned there just weren’t any such things.
“As I said, we’ll both be here tonight.”
“Right,” said Handy. “I’ll show you where it is.”
On the other side of the hall was a massive oak door. He unlocked it to reveal a large round room, probably the remains of a tower. A lot of Scottish castles are simply tall buildings of about six storeys, sometimes with a tower at one corner and crowstep gables. Only the tower bit remained, or what was left of it. The roof was open to the sky in places, and the wind howled through old arrow slits. Charlie clutched Hamish.
“Get off!” said Hamish. “It’s only the wind.”
“Aye, it was more than that, Hamish,” said Handy. “Like screams from hell.”
Hamish felt a little jolt of pleasure at being on first-name terms with a chief superintendent even though the man was retired.
“We won’t disturb you any more,” said Hamish. “We’ll be back at midnight.”
“Come before then and have a dram and something to eat, lads, say about eight.”
“Thank you,” said Hamish. He grinned. “I think our Charlie will need a bit o’ Dutch courage.”
* * *
“What is it, Mr. Blair?” Chief Superintendent Daviot was demanding, just as Hamish and Charlie were climbing into the Land Rover.
“You know, sir,” said Blair, his pudgy hands folded and an oily expression on his groggy face, “that we like to treat folk equal, rich and poor alike. I ’member a speech o’ yours and—”
“Get to the point,” snapped Daviot.
“It’s just that Macbeth has had a report from some new owner of Castle Drim that it’s haunted. I heard a report that he and Carter had gone to investigate. There was this shoplifting ower at Cnothan but they werenae available.”
“This is disgraceful. Tell Macbeth to get over to Cnothan. I will tell this new owner personally that we cannot be wasting police time. What is his name?”
Blair sniggered and then said, “Hanover Ebrington.”
“Bound to be some jumped-up southerner,” said Daviot, “hoping to give himself a bit of class by buying a ruin. Ask Helen on your road out to get his phone number.”
* * *
Blair could not rouse Hamish and was made furious when a call came in that the shoplifting culprit had been discovered and it was only some “poor old biddie” with dementia.
Meanwhile, Daviot, having secured the number, dialled it, looking forward to giving this upstart a putting-down.
“This is Chief Superintendent Daviot of the Strathbane police.”
“Do you still call it that?” asked Handy. “I thought it was all Police Scotland now.”
“Never mind that,” snapped Daviot. “I would have you know, Mr. Ebrington, that my staff have more to do with their time than play at ghost busters.”
“Don’t patronise me,” said Handy in a quiet voice, somehow more menacing than if he had shouted. “I’ve had more years of experience and commendations than you’ve had hot dinners. Someone is deliberately frightening the people of the village and I want to find out who it is.”
“You were in the force yourself?” asked Daviot.
“Chief super. Retired as soon as Police stupid Scotland came along.”
“Mr. Ebrington. I assure you, sir, the situation was badly described to me. Is Macbeth looking into it?”
“Yes, he is. Courteous chap. You lot could learn from him.”
The phone was slammed down.
Daviot pressed the button on his desk. “Helen,” he said, “I am in need of a Tunnock’s tea cake, and send Blair to me.”
* * *
“Let’s go down to the village,” said Hamish. “I remember when there was a murder here and then the minister’s wife made a film. A lot of tourists came. Just want to make sure they’re not trying to drum up trade.”
It was a windy spring day with great clouds sending shadows racing across the loch and surrounding mountains. The village lay at the end of a long sea loch on a flat piece of land. The loch was black as it was a thin sort of corridor between the walls of the mountains on either side: black mountains nearly devoid of any softening greenery at all, where little grew among the rock and scree but stunted bushes. The village of Drim consisted of a huddle of houses with the general store at one end and the church at the other, a round church, because everyone knew that evil spirits could only live in corners.
“There’s a new minister here,” said Hamish. “Let’s call on him first.”
“Didn’t think the kirk could afford to put a minister in this wee place,” said Charlie.
“It’s a good manse, and the poor soul is expected to preach at four other villages on the Sabbath.”
“Haven’t you called on him afore this?” asked Charlie curiously. “You aye call on newcomers.”
“Not all,” said Hamish. “They’ve been three of them afore this one. I’m surprised he lasted the winter.”
“What’s his name?”
“I’ll bet he gets teased about his name.”
“You forget, Charlie. Ministers are treated with respect. He’s not married.”
Hamish rang the brass bell let into the sandstone wall of the manse beside the door.
The door was opened by a thin, angry-looking woman. Hamish guessed her to be in her forties. She had dusty-black hair pulled up into a knot on the top of her head. Her sallow face had deep lines on either side of her full-lipped mouth. Her eyes were large and quite beautiful, brown with flecks of gold, like a peat stream with the sunlight glinting on it.
Hamish introduced them, explained the reason for his call, and asked to see the minister.
“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” she said.
“Why is that and who are you?” demanded Hamish.
“I’m his sister, Sheila.”
“Sheila!” The minister appeared behind his sister. “Why must you always leave people standing on the step? Come ben, gentlemen. How can I assist you?”
He was a small man with thick grey hair, a sensuous mouth, and small blue eyes.
Hamish and Charlie, with their caps tucked under their arms, followed him into what was obviously his study. It was lined with ancient dusty tomes. Hamish suddenly remembered being in this room before and the books looked the same, the historical leavings of previous ministers, no doubt stretching back to John Knox. Were they printing books in the time of Mary, Queen of Scots?
The Reverend Peter Haggis stared impatiently at the tall policeman with the flaming-red hair, who was standing with his mouth a little open, his hazel eyes vague.
“Why are you here?” demanded Peter sharply.
“It iss about the haunting at Drim castle,” said Charlie.
“Oh, forget that,” said Peter briskly. “Nothing but the wind. Take my advice and leave well alone. The locals are too superstitious as it is. Oh, what now, Sheila?” His sister was just backing into the room, holding a tray laden with coffee cups, a coffeepot, and biscuits. “No, they’re leaving,” he shouted. “Take that muck away!”
Hamish and Charlie followed Sheila out into the small dark hall. “You brother is very frightened,” said Hamish.
She swung the front door open. “Sod off!” she yelled. “And don’t come back!”
Hamish’s mobile phone rang. “It’s Daviot,” he muttered. “Yes, sir?”
“You are to give all your time to finding out where these ghostly noises are coming from. Do I make myself clear?”
“I haven’t stopped working on it,” said Hamish, puzzled.
“Good, good. Keep at it.”
“Has everyone gone daft?” said Hamish, after he had told Charlie about Daviot’s call.
“I waud think that our friend Blair found out and told Daviot you were wasting police time. Daviot then finds out about Handy having been a chief superintendent and starts to grovel. And talking about daft, some o’ the cottages have crossed rowan branches on the door.”
“Could be playacting. Let’s try the shop and see what Jock Kennedy has to say about all this. If you get the dogs out, I’ll get us a couple of mutton pies and beer. Jock does the best mutton pies in Scotland, and my pampered pets can have tinned dog meat and like it!”
Jock Kennedy was a giant of a man. Hamish was equally tall but thin and lanky whereas Jock was broad-shouldered with a great bull-like head.
As he heated the pies and pulled out cans of beer and cans of dog food, Jock said in reply to Hamish’s questions, “We don’t talk about them.”
- "Longing for escape? Tired of waiting for Brigadoon to materialize? Time for a trip to Lochdubh, the scenic, if somnolent, village in the Scottish Highlands where M. C. Beaton sets her beguiling whodunits featuring Constable Hamish Macbeth."—New York Times Book Review
- "Hamish Macbeth is that most unusual character, one to whom the reader returns because of his charming flaws. May he never get promoted."—New York Journal of Books
- "Macbeth is the sort of character who slyly grows on you."—Chicago Sun-Times
"Fabulous...as usual, a real gem... a fast-paced story that includes tricks and plotlines galore. From murder to drugs to romance, Beaton provides many new characters while also bringing back some old favorites. Hamish, as always, is a riveting character that sees many things the others cannot, and when the bodies start piling up, Hamish's talents bring everything to a shocking, thrilling close."
- "With residents and a constable so authentic, it won't be long before tourists will be seeking Lochdubh and believing in the reality of Hamish Macbeth as surely as they believed in Sherlock Holmes."—Denver Rocky Mountain News
- "Atmospheric...Few fictional detectives are more appealing than fey, redheaded Hamish with his taste for unsuitable women and no desire to leave his peaceful Scottish Highland home. Series fans and newcomers alike will enjoy spending time with Hamish and the beguiling inhabitants of Lochdubh."—Publishers Weekly
- "Fans of the handsome Highlander will delight in his continuing penchant for the wrong women and his utter lack of ambition despite his superior detecting skills, which this complex case puts on handsome display."—Kirkus Reviews
- "As entertaining as ever...a page turner...[MC Beaton] is a treasure."—Dreams & Nightmares
- On Sale
- Feb 27, 2018
- Page Count
- 320 pages
- Grand Central Publishing