by Sharon Tucker
You have no idea how hard it is to live out a great romance. —Wallis Simpson
I have been saddened at the passing of Marion Chesney Gibbon. I have only begun to process these feelings by actually writing an article about her and the last Hamish Macbeth books written as M.C. Beaton. Surely it is because Hamish is my favorite of her characters in her more than 160 books although there have been many characters and books from which to choose. It is consoling to think about and appreciate just how prolific an author she was, writing in several genres under various pseudonyms. However, the fact of her death is especially jarring for me because I will sorely miss seeing what she can come up with next for Hamish. Death of a Love (2020), the soon to be published and last Macbeth novel, concludes his adventures—unless the mantle settles on another writer.
Best forget the three season televised series Hamish Macbeth except to see the Highlands and hear the accents. The characters and plots are unrecognizable as Beaton creations. In addition, while Robert Carlyle is an admirable actor in many ways, he could not counterfeit Hamish’s hapless feyness and chronic lack of ambition. He was so very not Hamish: too much hard-bitten Glaswegian energy for one thing, which is rather more like Inspector Blair really. Not a romantic bone in his body for another and Hamish was so wistful about his romantic failings. Never mind that he went by appearance primarily when drawn to any of his women since this is a common romantic blunder. Too often, what we see is not what we get.
A case in point is Death of a Nurse (2016). Hamish, dazzled by the “sexy nurse” persona of Gloria Dainty does not stop to consider she is too naughty/nice to be true. She is the private nurse to a new resident in the Lochdubh area, James Harrison, a cantankerous, manipulative invalid. That Gloria is stereotypical of a honey trap never occurs to Hamish or to any of the other local men charmed by what she seems to be. As the plot develops, who Gloria is and what she intends becomes increasingly clear and the consequences of these intentions are dire indeed.
The plot of Death of a Ghost (2017) begins with Hamish trying to untangle himself from a romantic involvement with a Police forensics expert—she was much too aggressive in her wish to rehabilitate him into a more ambitious, status hungry officer. He does extricate himself, of course, with ill feelings all around. His current constable is the appallingly clumsy Charlie Carter—death to the movables and comestibles at the police station, Hamish’s home. With Charlie safely ensconced in a tiny basement apartment at the Haliburton’s Tommel Castle, Hamish and Charlie can begin an investigation into the ghostly voices heard at another small castle currently undergoing refurbishment. The castle belongs to a retired Superintendent of Police Hanover, but “Handy,” as he likes to be called, is not your typical blustering bureaucrat and even Hamish and Charlie hear the ghostly voices. They suspect smuggling is at the root of it all but there is much more…
The Highlands of Scotland have a romantic appeal to prospective retirees, but Hamish asserts that one Highland winter usually sends them scurrying back down South. In Death of an Honest Man (2018), Paul English, a retired banker comes to Lochdubh to escape the world of commerce and might have done had he not been a verbally abusive and thoroughly unpleasant man. Under the guise of “honesty,” English felt entitled to hurl the most hurtful insults to everyone in his path. Therefore, it comes as no surprise when he is murdered. The problem may not be solving the murder of Paul English; it is singling out of the guilty among the most likely of many, many suspects, all without the help of his constable Charlie Carter who has left him.
As the series has ended, the romantics among us wished that Hamish would come to his senses about Priscilla Halburton-Smythe and that she would thaw toward Hamish. She still appears in every novel, always out of reach and tormenting Hamish by her coldness. Alternatively, perhaps Elspeth Grant would tire of her career as a television presenter since their chemistry was always hot. So far, Hamish has not evolved beyond falling in love with a woman’s appearance and is totally inept at navigating the reality of the plusses and minuses we all have even though his romantic illusions seldom faltered. We shall see if he is doomed to wander off living the single life or if he chooses among his past loves to settle down. Maybe someone new will appear. We shall see when Death of a Love comes out this year. After all, we were always as delighted by Hamish’s romantic fumbling as we were his crime-solving ability. He will be missed as will M.C. Beaton.
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