Death of a Kingfisher (Hamish Macbeth Series #27)by M. C. Beaton
When Scotland is hit by the recession, Police Constable Hamish Macbeth notices that the Highland people are forced to come up with inventive ways to lure tourists to their sleepy towns. The quaint village of Braikie doesn't have much to offer, other than a place of rare beauty called Buchan's Wood, which was bequeathed to the town. The savvy local tourist director
When Scotland is hit by the recession, Police Constable Hamish Macbeth notices that the Highland people are forced to come up with inventive ways to lure tourists to their sleepy towns. The quaint village of Braikie doesn't have much to offer, other than a place of rare beauty called Buchan's Wood, which was bequeathed to the town. The savvy local tourist director renames the woods "The Fairy Glen," and has brochures printed with a beautiful photograph of a kingfisher rising from a pond on the cover.
It isn't long before coach tours begin to arrive. But just as the town's luck starts to turn, a kingfisher is found hanging from a branch in the woods with a noose around its neck. As a wave of vandalism threatens to ruin Braikie forever, the town turns to Hamish Macbeth. And when violence strikes again,the lawman's investigation quickly turns from animal cruelty to murder.
Read an Excerpt
Death of a Kingfisher
By Beaton, M. C.
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2012 Beaton, M. C.
All right reserved.
Where’er you walk cool gales shall fan the glade;
Trees, where you sit, shall crowd into a shade;
Where’er you tread, the blushing flow’rs shall rise,
And all things flourish where’er you turn your eyes.
It is a well-known fact that just when a man reaches his early thirties and thinks he is past love, that is when love turns the corner and knocks the feet from under him.
That was what was about to happen to Police Sergeant Hamish Macbeth. But on a particularly fine sunny day when the mountains of Sutherland in the northwest of Scotland stood up blue against the even bluer sky and not a ripple moved on the surface of the sea loch in front of the village of Lochdubh, he was blissfully unaware of what the fates had in store for him.
The only irritation in his life was the appointment of a constable to assist him, police headquarters in Strathbane having discovered that the small police station in Lochdubh was an excellent way of getting rid of the deadbeats. Constable Dick Fraser was marking time until his retirement. He was a lazy grey-haired man, but he had an amiable disposition, and since he’d arrived in Lochdubh a month ago there had been no crime at all, which suited him very well.
Hamish learned that there was a relative newcomer, an elderly widow called Mrs. Colchester, who had bought an old hunting box some miles outside Braikie. During the winter, he had meant to call on her, but somehow the days and months had slipped past.
Dick was asleep in a deck chair in the front garden, his breath causing his grey moustache to rise and fall.
“Get up!” snapped Hamish.
Dick’s pale blue eyes slowly opened. He struggled out of the chair and stood up. Most of his weight was concentrated on a beer belly. He was quite short for a policeman, dwarfed by Hamish who was over six feet tall.
“What’s up?” he asked sleepily.
“We’re going to call on a newcomer, a Mrs. Colchester.”
“Someone killed the old bitch?” asked Dick.
“Why do you say that?”
“I heard gossip she’s considered poison. Bad, nasty mouth on her and she’s got two grandchildren from hell living with her. Also, she’s right fed up because Lord Growther, who used to own the place, left Buchan’s Wood, the prettiest part of the estate, to the town of Braikie. Now some lass on Braikie council has been appointed the council director of tourism and the environment and she’s been running tours to the wood. She’s renamed it the Fairy Glen.”
“Where on earth did you pick up all this gossip?” marvelled Hamish. “You hardly move.”
“When you’re out, people stop by the hedge for a wee chat. It does not, surely, take the two of us to go there.”
“Oh, yes it does, you lazy moron. Brush down your uniform. It’s covered in biscuit crumbs. Let’s get moving.”
The house which Mrs. Colchester had bought lay six miles to the north of Braikie. It was an unprepossessing place at the end of a long drive, being built of grey granite without any creepers to soften its harsh square structure.
The doorbell was an old-fashioned one set into the stone. Hamish rang it. They waited a long time until they heard shuffling footsteps approach from the other side of the door. The woman who answered it was squat and bent, leaning on two sticks and peering up at them out of sharp black eyes from under a heavy fringe of wiry grey hair.
“Mrs. Colchester?” asked Hamish.
“Yes, what is it? Is it those grandchildren of mine again?”
“No, no,” said Hamish soothingly, removing his peaked cap and nudging Dick to do the same. “Just a wee social call.”
“You may as well come in. But make it short.” Her accent had been anglicised but still held some lilting traces of the Highlands. Somewhere in the Hebrides, guessed Hamish.
She led them into a large square hall patterned with black-and-white tiles. It was wood-panelled. There was a hard chair by the door and a side table against one wall. Apart from those items, there wasn’t any other furniture, and no paintings decorated the walls.
“Drawing room’s on the first floor,” said Mrs. Colchester. She waddled across the hall to where a stair lift had been built. She climbed in, fastened a seat belt, and said, “Follow me.”
The stair lift went on and up, smoothly and efficiently, stopping on the first floor landing. Light flooded down from a blue glass cupola up on the roof. She extricated herself from the lift and led them into a large drawing room.
Hamish looked around, wondering if she had bought the furnishings along with the house. There were several grimy landscapes of Scottish scenes decorating the walls. The furniture was Victorian, heavy, solid, and intricately carved. A large silver-framed mirror dominated the marble mantelpiece. There were several round tables, dotted here and there, small islands on a sea of rose-patterned carpet, bleached pale by the sunlight.
From the window, Hamish could see Buchan’s Wood. A tour bus drove up to a newly built clearing which served as a car park and began to dislodge passengers. He swung round.
“I believe you are upset that Buchan’s Wood, or the Fairy Glen as I understand it has been renamed, is not a part of your estate.”
“Oh, sit down and stop poking about,” said Mrs. Colchester. “Do you dye your hair?”
Hamish’s hair was flaming red in a patch of sunlight. “No,” he said crossly.
“Well, as to your question, I was upset at first but then that Mary Leinster called on me. She persuaded me that the beauty of the place should be shown to as many people as possible. She has the second sight, you know.”
“A lot of people claim to have that gift,” said Hamish cautiously.
“Oh, but she is the real thing. I have my two grandchildren staying with me for the school holidays. Charles is twelve and Olivia sixteen. Mary called on me last week and said Charles was in peril because he was going to fall into the pool below the falls. I know he can’t swim. I didn’t believe her but two days later Charles did fall in and, if it hadn’t been for one of the tourists who dived in and rescued him, he would have been drowned.”
“I think we’ll take a look at the place,” said Hamish.
“Go ahead. Are you as stupid as you look?”
Hamish blinked. Then he rallied and said, “Are you as rude and nasty as you appear?”
“Get out of here,” she snapped, “and take that fat fool with you. And don’t come back.”
“After such a warm welcome,” said Hamish sweetly, “it will be right hard for me to stay away. Come along, Dick.”
As they walked down the stairs to the hall, they found two children at the bottom of the stairs surveying them.
“I gather you must be Charles and Olivia,” said Hamish.
“Cut the crap,” said Charles. “Is the old bat dead yet?”
“She is very much alive,” said Hamish coldly.
“Christ, she’ll live forever,” said Olivia gloomily.
Hamish sat down on the bottom step and surveyed them curiously. Charles was small and thin with a shock of fair, almost white hair and flat grey eyes. His sister was a slightly taller version with the same colour of hair and eyes. Both had very white skin and thin pale lips and long thin noses.
“Why do you want your grandmother dead?” he asked.
“Because our parents say our school fees are too much and they are threatening to send us to the local comprehensive where we’ll be stuck with morons and chavs. If Granny dies, they get the money.”
“Yeah, from London,” said Olivia. “You know, where real people live, instead of, like, moronsville up here.”
The floorboards above them creaked. “Here she comes,” said Charles. Both children scampered out the open door and disappeared down the drive.
“Let’s go,” urged Hamish. “A little o’ Granny Colchester goes a long way.”
“I’m hungry,” complained Dick. “She could at least have offered us something.”
“That old cow? Forget it. Let’s have a look at this wood.”
Groaning, Dick heaved his bulk into the passenger seat of the police Land Rover. “You’ll need to feed your beasties anyway,” said Dick. Hamish had two pets, a mongrel called Lugs and a wild cat called Sonsie. He had left them behind at the police station. To Hamish’s relief, both animals seemed fond of Dick.
“Just a quick look,” said Hamish, “and then I’d like to visit this Mary Leinster. I mean, think how easy it would be to get someone to shove that child in the pool and then get a friend on hand to save the boy. Second sight confirmed. No more arguments about the use of the wood from Granny.”
They parked beside the tour bus. Hamish noticed that what looked like a gift shop was under construction. Mrs. Timoty, an old-age pensioner from Braikie, stood at the entrance to the wood beside a turnstile. “That’ll be three pounds each,” she said, “and five pounds for the car.”
“This is police business,” said Hamish, walking past her. They followed a pokerwork sign with the legend Fairy Glen.
Sutherland’s frequent Atlantic gales leave the landscape dotted with poor bent-over apologies for trees, like men with their jackets blown up about their ears. But there are a few beautiful glens and waterfalls, sheltered from the brutality of the wind.
Because of the proximity of the Gulf Stream, former Scottish gardeners had been able to plant rare varieties of trees and shrubs. A gravelled path twisted its way among the beauty of overhanging trees and great bushes of fuchsia. They stood aside to let the tourists make their way back to their bus.
Hamish, followed by Dick, came to a rustic bridge spanning the pool. The roar of the waterfall, which descended into the pool, filled their ears, and little rainbows danced in shafts of sunlight.
“My, but it’s rare bonnie,” said Dick.
“Shh!” said Hamish. “Look at that!”
A kingfisher dived into the pool and rose again, a fish in its beak, its sapphire-blue wings flashing. It flew under the trailing branches of a weeping willow and disappeared.
Large flat grey stones surrounded the pool. Hamish guessed the boy must have been playing on one of them when he was pushed in. If he had been on the bridge with the sightseers, then someone would have noticed. The boy would need to have been lifted bodily over the railing.
Hamish had a longing just to stay there, drinking in the peace of the place. But he was becoming curious about this Mary Leinster.
“I think we should go to the town hall in Braikie and visit Miss Leinster,” he said. “Did the gossips tell you how Mrs. Colchester got her money?”
“Herself was married to a merchant banker. Before his death, he sold the place to an American bank and she copped the lot on his death. So the daughter and son-in-law, that would be a Mr. and Mrs. Palfour, are right cheesed off because they’re finding it hard to make ends meet. He’s a landscape gardener and owns a nursery, but it’s this recession. No one seems to want their gardens landscaped. The kids go to a progressive private school, you know, the kind where they’re allowed to express themselves, which translates into a lot of four-letter words and no work.”
Hamish looked at his sidekick with new respect. He knew how valuable gossip was in any investigation. He laughed. “Maybe you’re like Poirot, Dick, and sit in your deck chair and exercise your little grey cells. How did you hear this?”
“Mrs. McColl, her what is married to that crofter up the brae at Lochdubh, goes out cleaning, and twice a week she and Bertha Dunglass goes up to the house. When Granny gets a letter from her daughter, she reads it aloud and laughs her nasty auld head off.”
A cloud passed over the sun. The pool below them grew dark, mirroring the flying clouds overheard. Although it was a windy day, the glen was sheltered.
“Let’s go,” said Hamish.
Braikie was not very large and would have been considered a fair-size village in England. The locals did refer to it as “the village,” feeling that sounded, well, classier.
The town hall was a massive red sandstone building. Mary Leinster had secured an office on the ground floor. They were told she was out but was expected back at any moment. They took seats in the reception area and settled down to wait.
Dick promptly fell asleep. The rumblings of his stomach and his gentle snores sounded out a little symphony.
A small woman walked into the reception area and spoke to the receptionist at the desk and then swung round. “Mr. Macbeth? You wanted to see me?”
Hamish nudged Dick awake and got to his feet. The sun pouring in the open doorway was in his eyes and he could not see her clearly.
“Come through to my office,” she said. Her voice had a gentle highland lilt.
She entered a room to the left of the hall and ushered them in. Mary Leinster took her place behind a desk and waved them into two chairs in front of it.
Hamish looked at her in wonderment. She had a heart-shaped face and wide blue eyes fringed by heavy lashes. Her hair was long and curly, strawberry blonde, and rioted down to her shoulders. She was wearing a low-cut green blouse of some silky material which showed the tops of two round white breasts.
Mary looked at Hamish and gave a slow smile. She had pink curved lips.
Hamish experienced a sudden breathlessness.
“What has brought Sutherland’s famous police officer to see me?” she asked.
Hamish pulled himself together. Dick was gaping at Mary, his mouth open. Hamish leaned across, shut Dick’s mouth, and glared at him.
“It is about the boy, Charles Palfour,” he said. “I believe you haff the second sight.” Hamish’s accent always became more sibilant when he was excited or upset.
“I don’t know if I have or not,” said Mary. “I just had this premonition. It came and went in a flash. I saw the boy struggling in the water. I have often seen him playing down on those stones by the pool. So I warned Mrs. Colchester that the boy was not to play there. She didn’t believe me. So it happened, ten days ago, just as I had envisaged. Do you believe in the second sight, Mr. Macbeth?”
“Hamish then. I feel we are going to be friends.”
“We have a seer in the village of Lochdubh, Angus Macdonald, who claims to have the second sight. You must forgive me, Mary. You see, before I met you I thought it might be a stunt to promote the Fairy Glen.”
She gave a charming giggle. “Hamish, the place is extremely popular already.” Then she grew serious and leaned her arms on her desk. “With the recession, you know, there’s not enough work up here. Because of the popularity of the glen, we have been able to give work to wardens, build a gift shop, and bring money into the economy of the region. Now you must excuse me. I have a meeting.”
Hamish stood up. Dick had fallen asleep. Hamish surreptitiously kicked him on the leg, and he awoke with a jerk.
“Here is one of our brochures.” Mary handed one to Hamish. On the cover was a very good colour photograph of the kingfisher, rising from the pool, sunlight flashing from the spray on its wings.
Hamish desperately wanted to see her again but she was now holding the door open. He said goodbye and walked sadly out to the police Land Rover. He didn’t know anything about her. Had she been wearing a wedding ring? He could not remember.
As he moved off, he said, “I wonder if she’s married.”
The sleepy source of gossip next to him said, “Yes, she is.”
“How do you know that?”
“Oh, a wee bittie talk here and there. Her husband is Tim Leinster. He and Mary’s two brothers are builders. Not much work around these days but I suppose they got the contract to build the gift shop.”
“Now, that would be right illegal if she’s giving contracts out to the nearest and dearest.”
“No, it was passed by the council. They’re the only builders in Braikie.”
“Then why haven’t I heard of them?” howled Hamish.
“They only moved up here from Perth last year.”
“I suppose they followed Mary when she got the job. Also, they’ve done a bit of work here and there since they arrived and everyone says they’re reasonable and honest.”
That’s life, thought Hamish gloomily. Romance walks in one minute and walks out the next. Why am I such a failure with women? He thought of how he had nearly proposed marriage to television presenter Elspeth Grant; how he had once been deeply in love with Priscilla Halburton-Smythe, daughter of the colonel who ran the Tommel Castle Hotel, and how he had been forced to end the engagement because of Priscilla’s sexual coldness.
Was he turning out to be one of those sad sacks, always doomed to fall in love with the unattainable?
He mentally pulled himself together. He probably wouldn’t see her again.
When he got back to the police station, it was to find an angry message from police headquarters telling him to go directly to Cnothan where two stolen cars had been reported.
Hamish loaded the cat and dog into the back of the Land Rover. Dick was wide awake now and complaining bitterly of hunger.
On the road, they passed a tour bus with the legend Fairy Glen on the front. It seemed to be full of people. He reflected that Mary seemed to be a dab hand at publicity.
Hamish considered Cnothan a sour, unfriendly place, and although it was on his beat, he visited it as little as possible. One bleak main street led down to a man-made loch. The locals prided themselves on “keeping themselves to themselves.”
He knew there was a caravan park and camping area outside the village and headed there. The missing cars were a blue Ford Fiesta and a Peugeot. He checked with the slatternly woman who ran the campsite to check for recent arrivals. She said there were just two, brothers, Angus and Harry McAndrews. Their tent was pitched out at the edge of the campsite.
The two men were seated outside their tent, cooking sausages on a frying pan over a camp stove. They were both skinheads, covered in prison tattoos.
“Whit does the filth want wi’ us?” demanded one of them.
“I’m looking for two stolen cars,” said Hamish.
“Whit’s that got tae dae wi’ us?”
Hamish looked around. Next to the brothers’ tent was a large bell tent with the front flap tightly closed.
“What’s in there?” he asked.
“Naethin’ tae dae wi’ us,” said the one who seemed to be the elder.
“Then you won’t mind if I have a look.”
They both stood up. One reached down and picked up a tyre iron. “Get lost, copper,” he snarled.
Hamish reached out, seized the arm holding the tyre iron, and twisted it hard. The man let out a yelp of pain and dropped it. His brother tried to run but Dick stuck out a foot and tripped him up. They cuffed both of them. Hamish then looked in the bell tent and found the cars. He charged both of them with theft. He phoned headquarters in Strathbane and was told to stay on guard until a police van arrived to take them away. To make sure the brothers did not try to escape, even though they were handcuffed, Hamish forced them down on the ground and dragged their trousers around their ankles.
He turned round to tell Dick to put the stove out only to find that Dick had served himself sausages on a paper plate and was busily eating them.
“You’re a disgrace,” complained Hamish.
“It’s not as if they’re evidence,” said Dick through a mouthful of sausages. “These are rare good. I wonder if they got them locally?”
Back at the police station after what seemed like a long day and having completed all the necessary paperwork, Hamish retreated to the kitchen. From the living room came the noisy sounds of a television game show. He put his head around the living room door and shouted, “Mince and tatties for supper?”
Dick reluctantly lowered the sound, the remote control clutched firmly in one chubby hand. “What’s that?”
“I asked you if you wanted mince and tatties for your supper?”
“Oh, aye, grand,” said Dick.
“I’ll call you when it’s ready.”
Dick threw him a pleading look. “Could I no’ just eat my meal in here in front o’ the telly? Just the once?”
Hamish thought wryly that Dick looked like a child pleading with a stern parent. “Oh, all right. But don’t you start dropping food on the floor!”
Dick smiled and blasted up the sound again.
It wasn’t as if the man was deaf, grumbled Hamish to himself. It was almost as if by jacking up the sound, he could be part of the show itself. “I’ve spoiled him,” said Hamish to Lugs and Sonsie. “I’ve been happy just to go on as if I’m still on my own. But tomorrow, no more deck chair for Dick. He can come out on the rounds with me. Also, he’d better begin to do his share of the cooking.”
He knew Dick was a widower whose wife had died ten years ago. He seemed to have no idea at all of household work and had even on one occasion plaintively asked Hamish to show him how the vacuum cleaner worked.
But the man was pleasant enough, and it didn’t look as if any major crime was ever going to happen again.
The morning would prove Hamish wrong.
He was frying up bacon and eggs while Dick watched a breakfast show on television when the phone in the office rang.
When he answered it, Mary Leinster gasped out, “It’s me. Mary. Come quickly. They’ve hanged him! In the glen,” and rang off.
Hamish erupted into the living room and yelled, “Turn that damn thing off. We’ve got a murder!”
Bonnie wee thing, cannie wee thing,
Lovely wee thing, wert thou mine,
I wad wear thee in my bosom,
Lest my jewel it should tine.
An hour later, Hamish Macbeth stood in the beauty of the Fairy Glen while the bane of his life, Detective Chief Inspector Blair, lambasted him.
“You daft gowk!” he roared. “You drag the whole works out here for that?” His boozer’s face and bulging eyes swung round at the phalanx of police, detectives, scene of crimes operatives, press, and local television.
“That” was the dead body of the kingfisher. It had been hanged. Its limp dead body fluttered in the breeze. A thin cord was around its neck and then tied to a branch of the weeping willow.
“Sir,” said Hamish, “Mrs. Leinster reported there had been a murder in the glen. She did not say a bird had been killed. It was my duty to phone it in and come here directly. I tried to call you.”
Blair scowled. His police radio in his car had been switched off because he had been listening to a CD of Dolly Parton. He was a fat Glaswegian, thickset, with thinning hair and a fat face crisscrossed with little red broken veins. He detested all highlanders in general and Hamish Macbeth in particular. He was delighted with the fact that Strathbane Television was filming his rant at Hamish.
Mary Leinster pushed forward. “It is all my fault,” she said. “But this is a dreadful act.” Tears like crystal ran down her face. “I phoned Mr. Macbeth because in these miserable days of police brutality, I knew he would be kind and I knew he would listen.”
“You’re that environment wumman,” snarled Blair. “Well, I’m not going to waste time on a tree hugger. Piss off!”
He stomped off, watched by a busload of tourists on the bridge. Detective Jimmy Anderson threw Hamish a sympathetic look before following his boss.
After he had gone, Hamish made his way down to the willow tree, calling over his shoulder, “Come along, Dick.”
“Right, boss,” said Dick. “We’ll get this perp.”
Watching Law & Order again, thought Hamish gloomily. He sat down on a flat rock, took off his boots and socks, and rolled up his trousers. The water at the side of the pool under the willow tree where the dead bird hung was shallow and cold. He took out a knife and cut the bird down, then scrutinised the knot on the branch. His long sensitive fingers probed the bird’s neck. How had the darting kingfisher been caught in the first place? Did it have a mate or chicks? Was it a male bird? Where was the nest? Even in death, the colours of the bird were beautiful: cobalt blue and orange chestnut and red-sealing-wax-coloured legs.
There was a great splash from behind him. Dick had slipped into the water.
Hamish turned his head and snapped, “Get back up the brae and dry yourself.”
“Can I help?” asked a quiet voice from behind him. “I’m an ornithologist. Frank Shepherd. You may have read my book on the birds of Sutherland.”
“Yes, I’d be right glad of it. Is this bird the male?” He handed Frank the bird’s body.
“The male and female are very alike,” said Frank. “But I am sure it’s the male. I would like to take the dead bird away with me for a closer look. I would guess that it may have been poisoned first.”
“Can you find the nest?” asked Hamish.
“If you let me past, I’ll do my best.”
Hamish gratefully climbed back up the brae, wondering as he went which rock the boy had fallen from. The ones nearer the bridge sloped down into deep water, so it was probably from there that he had been pushed in. He frowned. Why had no one sent in a report to the police?
Dick was slumped in the Land Rover with the heater blasting. Hamish dried his feet with some paper towels he kept in the back and put his boots and socks on.
He went round and opened the passenger door. “Drive yourself back to the station,” he said, “and change your clothes. Then get back to Mrs. Colchester’s place and pick me up.”
Dick set off. Hamish waited until Frank climbed back up holding the bird. “I found the nest,” said Frank. “Dead female and dead chicks.” He pulled a plastic bag out of his pocket. “I found these bits of fish. I’m going to take them to a pharmacist friend and have them analysed. I think the fish might have been poisoned.”
“Give me your card,” said Hamish, “and I will keep in touch with you.”
“What’s happening?” asked Mary.
Hamish introduced Frank, and then blinked. He had an odd feeling of being drowned in Mary’s wide blue eyes. He pulled himself together and explained about the suspected poisoning.
“You’ve made a great success of this glen, Mary,” said Hamish. “Do you think this was just a nasty prank, or do you think someone was out to destroy your tourist business? The kingfisher seemed to have been a great attraction.”
“I would ask Charles Palfour,” said Mary. “He’s a horrible boy.”
“I’m going to see Mrs. Colchester now,” said Hamish. “When Charles was pushed in, why was it never reported?”
“But Mrs. Colchester said it was!”
“I’ll get back to you,” said Hamish.
“I’m relying on you,” said Mary. She put a little hand on his arm, and he smiled down at her.
Hamish said goodbye to Frank and Mary and set out to walk to the hunting lodge. He reflected that he needed new boots. His feet were hurting by the time he got there.
This time a woman in a flowered overall whom he recognised as Bertha Dunglass opened the door.
“Is Mrs. Colchester home?” he asked. “And I’d like to see the boy as well.”
“She disnae like to be bothered,” said Bertha. “Oh, well, I suppose as you’re the polis, I’d best let ye in. Herself is out on the terrace at the back. I’ll take you through.”
A stone-flagged terrace stretched along the back of the house, decorated at the front with a balustrade. On the terrace, seated at a table, was Mrs. Colchester. The children were playing an improvised game of cricket down on the lawn.
“What do you want?” demanded the old woman, scowling up at him.
Hamish sat down next to her. He could see his action infuriated her but he wanted to rest his feet. “It’s about the time the boy was pushed into the water. Why didn’t you report it to the police?”
“I did. I phoned Strathbane. Did they send anyone? No. All I got was a visit from the man who rescued him, no doubt looking for an award.”
“Can you remember his name?”
“Some doctor from Lairg, that’s all I can remember.”
“Do you know that someone has hanged the kingfisher from a branch and poisoned the rest of them?”
She put a trembling hand to her chest. “No,” she whispered. “Get out of here.”
“But I want a word with the boy.”
“Speak to him and then get out!”
Hamish rose and made his way down the lawn. The two children watched his approach with their peculiarly dead eyes.
“Charles,” said Hamish, “when you were pushed in, did you see who did it?”
“No,” he said. “I was playing on the rocks under the bridge when I got this almighty shove in the back. I screamed my head off. Some man dived in and pulled me out. I kept telling him and everyone else I was shoved, but no one would listen to me.”
“There’s another thing. The kingfisher and family have been murdered,” said Hamish.
Both children stared at him and then began to laugh. “What’s so damn funny?” demanded Hamish.
Olivia recovered first. “You police do see crime in the Highlands,” she said. “I am here to investigate the case of the dead bird. What a hoot!”
“I hope someone pushes you both in the pool next time,” said Hamish, “and makes a good job of it.”
Their cackles of laughter followed him into the house. Mrs. Colchester had disappeared. Bertha showed him out. “She seems to have had a funny turn,” said Bertha. “She’s off to her bed.”
Hamish sat on the step outside and tried to remember the name of the doctor in Lairg. He phoned Dr. Brodie in Lochdubh and asked him. “That would be Dr. Askew,” said Dr. Brodie. “Nice fellow.”
“Give me his number.”
“A moment. Right. Got a pen?”
“Yes.” Dr. Brodie gave him the number.
Hamish phoned and waited until Dr. Askew came on the line, then asked him about the rescue. “I went over to see this famous glen on my day off,” said Askew. “It would have been cheaper if I had taken the tour bus because they do charge motorists a lot. I wasn’t on the bridge. I was sitting down by the side of it, wishing all the tourists would go away so that I could enjoy the peace of the place. I looked up and saw them starting to move. Then I heard this splash and scream and saw the boy struggling in the water. I dived in and got him out. He was all right. To tell the truth, I think the child just slipped. I couldn’t see anyone around, but then I wasn’t looking.”
“Have you any idea how anyone could have got close enough, unseen?”
“Not a clue. Everyone was looking the one way to see if they could see the kingfisher, so I suppose someone on the other side with a pole or something could have shoved the little horror in. What a family. Granny Colchester called the police but no one showed up to interview me.”
Hamish thanked him and rang off just as the police Land Rover with Dick at the wheel rolled up the drive. Dick was steering with one hand and eating a large sandwich with the other.
He slid down the window and spoke. It sounded like, “ErrottagaeStrathbane.”
“Chew and swallow,” said Hamish testily. “What are you trying to say?”
Dick swallowed a mouthful of sandwich and then said, “We’ve got to gae to Strathbane. The big yin wants tae see you.”
The “big yin” was Superintendent Peter Daviot.
What now? wondered Hamish as the superintendent’s sour-faced secretary, Helen, ushered them into his office.
“Ah, come in,” said Daviot, smoothing the well-barbered wings of his silver hair. “This is a bad business. Strathbane Television asked me for a comment on the death of the kingfisher. I said we had more important things to do. They sent me round this DVD. Watch!”
He slotted it into a machine. It started with a presenter explaining about the death of the kingfisher and then focussed on Blair giving Hamish a dressing-down. Move to picture of beautiful Mary Leinster with tears running down her face and Blair calling her a tree hugger. After Blair had left, Mary Leinster made a speech, saying it was not Sergeant Macbeth’s fault. She was so shocked she had reported the death as a murder. But, she went on, something beautiful had been killed, not only the kingfisher but “his wife and the wee bairns.” Then she began to cry again.
Comments from the angry crowd followed calling Blair every kind of unsympathetic villain who had no respect for the public.
When it ended, Daviot looked grim. “This is a public relations disaster, Macbeth. I want you to concentrate all your energies on finding out who did this.”
“Yes, sir,” said Hamish, a picture of Mary in tears impressed on his mind’s eye. “An ornithologist, Frank Shepherd, has taken away the bird and some pieces of fish. He thinks the birds were poisoned.”
“Tell him he may avail himself of the services of our forensic lab. Now off with you.”
“If I might have a word, sir,” said Dick while Hamish looked at his constable in surprise.
“Go ahead, Fraser. What is it?”
“Would your good self have any objection to me appearing on a game show on the telly? It’s a quiz show, Get It Right.”
Daviot smiled indulgently as he looked at Dick. Perhaps if he had been as slow moving and stupid as Dick Fraser, he might not have risen to the dizzy height of his job. “I don’t see it will do any harm. In your own time, mind!”
“Think Blair’s been suspended?” asked Dick as they settled back into the Land Rover.
“No,” said Hamish. “That one could creep his way out of any situation.”
“Think it was those horrible kids?”
“Too planned for my liking. That bird was hanged there to cause the most distress. What’s all this about a quiz?”
“I didnae tell ye because I thought ye might laugh at me,” said Dick. “It’s the morrow night. The prize is a dishwasher. Just think. No more washing up.”
“You hardly wash a cup unless I shout at you,” said Hamish. “Oh, go ahead. Make a fool of yourself if you want.”
That evening, Ralph and Fern Palfour arrived at the hunting box. Fern’s mother was angry with her daughter. She said she did not want her peace disturbed and wished she had never invited the horrors that were her grandchildren. On the other hand, Fern had been born just before Mrs. Colchester’s menopause. She had been surprised to find that she was pregnant at the age of forty-four. But her late husband had doted on their daughter as Mr. Colchester had doted on her husband. It was only after his death that she began to find her daughter—with her politically correct ideas, her wimp of a husband, and her nasty children—unwelcome visitors. She knew that her son-in-law was in financial difficulties and took some bitter amusement from the compliments he heaped on her grey head.
She told them they could stay a week, but that was all. Mrs. Colchester had another reason for wanting them out of the house. She had fallen in love with the Fairy Glen. She liked to get out of the house at night in her motorised wheelchair and go down to the wood and sit there, drinking in the peace and silence.
Mrs. Colchester was from a remote island in the Hebrides and had a strong superstitious streak. She also believed in fairies. She thought the glen was really enchanted and resented the daily busloads of visitors. At least when the Scottish winter settled in, she thought, she would be able to have the place to herself during the day was well.
The following evening, most of the police and detectives who were not on duty switched on their television sets to watch that joke of a copper, Dick Fraser, make a fool of himself.
At first Hamish wondered if he could bear to watch the programme, but he decided he’d better see how badly Dick was faring and be on standby with a bottle of whisky to comfort the man when he arrived back at the police station.
At first, things looked very bad for Dick. Up against him were four other contestants: a professor from Strathbane University, a schoolteacher, a retired doctor, and a lawyer. How such respectable middle-class people could volunteer to appear on a television quiz show, and all to gain a dishwasher, was beyond Hamish. The one with the fewest correct answers was eliminated at each round.
To Hamish’s amazement, Dick steadily answered question after question, until only he and the professor were left. They were running neck and neck until the quizmaster asked, “What kind of medieval weapon was a destrier?”
There was a long silence, and then the professor said, “A siege catapult.”
“That is the wrong answer. Dick?”
Dick screwed up his face. Hamish found he was sitting on the edge of his chair.
Then Dick’s face cleared and he said, “A warhorse.”
“Correct. Mr. Dick Fraser, you are our new winner and the prize is a state-of-the-art Furnham’s dishwasher.” The voice went on praising the dishwasher while Hamish sat, stunned. How could a man such as Dick, with this fund of general knowledge, have remained a mere copper?
He got his answer two hours later when a triumphant Dick arrived back at the police station.
“It’s like this,” said Dick, cradling a glass of whisky on his round stomach. “I’ve got what they aye call a photographic memory. I’ve only to read the thing once and I remember it forever. I watch lots and lots of game shows. They’re coming next week to fit the thing up.”
“Where will it go?” asked Hamish.
“We’ll need to take out that bottom cupboard. It’s full o’ junk anyway. They said they’d do all the fixing and plumbing.”
“Man, how come you stayed a mere copper?”
Excerpted from Death of a Kingfisher by Beaton, M. C. Copyright © 2012 by Beaton, M. C.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
M. C. Beaton has won international acclaim for her New York Times bestselling Hamish Macbeth mysteries. The BBC has aired 24 episodes based on the series. Beaton is also the author of the bestselling Agatha Raisin series, which will air as an eight-episode dramatic series on Sky1, starring Ashley Jensen. She lives in the Cotswolds with her husband. For more information, you can visit MCBeaton.com.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I've been reading the books in this series for quite a long time & have loved everyone one of them including this new one. Hamish is quite the character & his most of the time quiet village is an interesting place. The people in this village are funny & really add alot to the plots. It's fun to follow Hamish as he patrols & protects his juristiction in the rugged hills of Notheren Scotland. His home is quite different - small, but room for his 2 wild cats. Even though he is considered the best detective in his area, he doesn't want a promotion because he does not want to leave his beloved town members. This is a cozy read with good characters & mysteries. Love these books & think you will too!
This is one of my favorite Macbeth mysteries. This time our Bobby Sherlock has a Watson partner named Dick. It added a lot of depth to the story. The book was 190 pages compared to the normal 120 pages in M. C. Beaton books. More story...more mystery...a Win win for the Macbeth Mystery fans. Good job!
As usual, MC Beaton has done it again. I love her way of portraying these people in their humanity. No one perfect. All with their own quirks. Enough mystery but also humor interwoven. Great fun read.
Enjoyed this mystery as much as all the others in the series. The characters are fun to read about and the quirks so human! Since I know the area that the writer describes it is easy to visualize the scenes as well as the weather.
Another great one. Hard to put down the farther I got into it. In the end I had to finish it even though it was after midnight when I was done. Great plot twists nnd I love all the characters.
M.C. Beaton has characters in her books that keep you coming back for more. Her Agatha Raisin series and the Hamish Macbeth series are always interesting, and the continuing characters make them even more appealing. So far, I have never been disappointed in any of her books, and I always look forward to the next book in either series.
Death of a Kingfisher is another delightful romp with Hamish Macbeth. These characters are as familiar as my nextdoor neighbors, and often more friendly. A well-thought-out mystery that holds ones interest to the last page. I highly recommend it to lovers of Hamish.
This was my first Hamish Macbeth book and it was the perfect example of a cozy mystery set in Scotland. I definitely want to read more. When the death of the Kingfisher sets into motion a sting of murders, Hamish conducts the investigation like a true police detective. The characters are extremely realistic and believable and well thought out, they could be real people involved in a real police investigation. Hamish and his side kick Dick are village bobbies who have both humorous and serious sides as they undertake the investigation of numerous murders. This was a great read that keeps you guessing about who did it. If you love mysteries I would highly recommend this series. Thanks to Grand Central Publishing and Net Galley for sending me this book.
Hamish and pets are adorable
This one has NONE of the charm of the earlier Hamish MacBeth stories. It appears to be just a jumble of loosely-related sentences thrown down almost at random on the page. Don't waste your money.
How can I write a review when the book is not in my nook yet? I doesn't come out until Feb. I'm sure it will be great as they all are in this series.