Death of a Scriptwriter (Hamish Macbeth Series #14)by M. C. Beaton
With the lovely Priscilla Halburton-Smythe away in London, Lochdubh Constable Hamish Macbeth pines for company during the long Scottish winter. He gets his wish -- and more -- when a troupe of flashy, urbane filmmakers/b>/i>
From the author of the Agatha Raisin television series...DEATH OF A SCRIPTWRITER: A Hamish Macbeth Mystery HOLLYWOOD IN THE HIGHLANDS
With the lovely Priscilla Halburton-Smythe away in London, Lochdubh Constable Hamish Macbeth pines for company during the long Scottish winter. He gets his wish -- and more -- when a troupe of flashy, urbane filmmakers clamors into the nearby town of Drim. Before long bedlam erupts around their make-believe mystery ...and culminates in the sudden appearance of one very real corpse.
The initial suspect in the killing is one Patricia Martyn-Broyd, the aging mystery writer furious that her musty old cozies are getting a risque face-lift in their TV reincarnation. Yet, going behind the scenes, Hamish soon finds a town full of locals bitten by the movie bug and a cast of quarreling show business types, all harboring their own secrets, lies, and hidden agendas. And as the culprit strikes again, Hamish must quickly find the right killer -- or script the wrong finale to a show gone murderously awry.
Read an Excerpt
Alas, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth's sweet-scented Manuscript should close!
Patricia Martyn-Broyd had not written a detective story in years. In her early seventies she had retired to the Highlands of Sutherland on the east side of the village of Cnothan, to a trim, low, whitewashed croft house. She had now been living in the outskirts of Cnothan for five years. She had hoped that the wild isolation of her surroundings would inspire her to write again, but every time she sat down in front of her battered old Remington typewriter, she would feel a great weight of failure settling on her shoulders and the words would not come. For the past fifteen years her books had been out of print. Yet her last detective story, published in 1965, The Case of the Rising Tides, featuring her Scottish aristocrat detective, Lady Harriet Vere, had been a modest success.
Patricia looked remarkable for her age. She had a head of plentiful snow white hair, a thin, muscular, upright figure and square "hunting shoulders." Her nose was thin and curved like a beak, her pale blue eyes hooded by heavy lids. She was the daughter of a land agent, dead many years now, as was her mother. Patricia had been head girl in her youth at a school more famed for the titles of its pupils than for educational standards. A crush on her English teacher had introduced her to reading detective stories, and then, after an unsuccessful spell on the London scene as a debutante, she had decided to write.
She had never forgotten the thrill of havingher first book published. Her plots were complicated and thoroughly researched. She was fond of plots involving railway timetables, the times of high and low tides and London bus routes. Her main character, Lady Harriet Vere, had grown up, as Patricia herself had grown up, in a world where everyone knew their place in society and what was due to their betters. Light relief was provided by a cast of humorous servants or sinister butlers and gardeners and clod-hopping policemen who were always left openmouthed by the expertise of Lady Harriet.
But as the world changed, Patricia stayed the same, as did her characters. Sales of her books dwindled. She had a private income from a family trust and did not need to find other work. She had at last persuaded herself that a move to the far north of Scotland would inspire her. Although her character, Lady Harriet, was Scottish, Patricia had never been to Scotland before her move north. There was a stubborn streak in Patricia which would not let her admit to herself that she had made a terrible mistake and added the burden of loneliness to the burden of failure.
She had recently returned from a holiday in Athens. The weather in Greece had been bright and sunny, and in the evenings, the streets of Athens were well lit and bustling with people. But all too soon it was back to London, to catch the plane to Inverness. The plane had descended through banks of cloud into Heathrow. How dark and dismal everything had seemed. How cold and rainy. How grim and sour the people. Then the flight to Inverness and down into more rain and darkness, and then the long drive home.
The county of Sutherland is the largest, most underpopulated area in western Europe, with its lochs and mountains and vast expanses of bleak moorland. As she had unlocked the door of her cottage, the wind had been howling around the low building with a mad, keening sound. A brief thought of suicide flicked through Patricia's weary brain, to be quickly dismissed. Such as the Martyn-Broyds did not commit suicide.
Patricia attended the local Church of Scotland, although she was an Anglican, for the nearest Episcopal church involved too long and weary a drive. She could have made friends, but the ones she considered of her own caste did not want to know her, and the ones who did, she considered beneath her. She was not particularly cold or snobbish, and she was lonely, but it was the way she had been brought up. She did have acquaintances in the village, the local people she stopped to chat to, but no close friends at all.
A week after her return from Athens, she still felt restless and so decided to treat herself to dinner at the Tommel Castle Hotel. The hotel had been the home of Colonel Halburton-Smythe, who had turned it into a successful hotel after he had fallen on hard times. Although a hotel, it still had all the air of a comfortable Highland country house, and Patricia felt at home there.
She began to feel better as she sat down in the dining room and looked around. The month was June, and after a grim winter and icy spring, when Siberian winds had blown from the east, bringing blizzards and chilblains, the wind had suddenly shifted to the west, carrying the foretaste of better weather to come.
The dining room was quite full. A noisy fishing party dominated the main table in the centre of the room, Patricia's kind of people but oblivious to one lonely spinster in the corner.
Then waitresses came in and began to bustle about, putting the remaining tables together to form one large one. A coach party entered, noisy and flushed, and took places round this table. Patricia frowned. Who would have thought that the Tommel Castle Hotel would allow a coach party?
The fact was that the colonel was away with his wife visiting friends, his daughter was in London and the manager, Mr. Johnson, had decided that a party of middle-aged tourists could do no harm.
Patricia had just finished her soup and was wishing she had the courage to cancel the rest of her order when a tall, lanky man came into the dining room and stood looking around. He had flaming red hair and intelligent hazel eyes. His suit was well cut and he wore a snowy white shirt and silk tie. But with it, he was wearing a large pair of ugly boots.
The maître d' went up to him and Patricia heard him say sourly, "We have no tables left, Macbeth."
"Mr. Macbeth to you, Jenkins," she heard the man with the red hair say in a light, amused voice. "I'm sure you'll have a table soon."
They had both moved into the dining room and were standing beside Patricia's table.
"No, not for a long time," said the maître d'.
The man called Macbeth suddenly saw Patricia watching him and gave her a smile.
Patricia could not quite believe the sound of her own voice, but she heard herself saying stiffly, "The gentleman can share my table if he wishes."
"That will not be necessary ... ," began Jenkins, but the red-haired man promptly sat down opposite her.
"Run along, Jenkins," he said, "and glare at someone else."
Hamish Macbeth turned to Patricia. "This is verra kind of you."
She regretted her invitation and wished she had brought a book with her.
"I am Hamish Macbeth," he said with another of those charming smiles. "I am the village policeman in Lochdubh, and you are Miss Patricia Martyn-Broyd and you live over by Cnothan."
"I did not think we had met," said Patricia.
"We haven't," said Hamish. "But you know what the Highlands are like. Everyone knows everyone else. I heard you had been away." He took the menu from a hovering waitress as he spoke. He scanned it quickly. "I'll have the soup and the trout," he said.
"I have just come back from Greece," said Patricia. "Do you know Greece?"
"I don't know much of anywhere except the Highlands of Scotland," said Hamish ruefully. "I'm an armchair traveller. I am surprised you stayed up here so long."
"Why?" asked Patricia.
"It can be a lonely place. Usually the English we get are drunks or romantics, and I would say you do not fall into either category."
"Hardly," said Patricia with a fluting, humorless laugh. "I am a writer."
"I read a lot o' those," said Hamish. "You must write under another name."
"I regret to say my books have been out of print for some time."
"Ah, well," said Hamish awkwardly. "I am sure you will find the inspiration up here."
"I hardly think the county of Sutherland is overrun with criminals."
"I meant, it's a funny landscape which can produce the weird fancies."
"My last detective story was set in Scotland, but the others, mainly in the south, were village mysteries."
"Like Agatha Christie?"
"A little better crafted, if I may say so," said Patricia, again with that irritating laugh of hers.
"Then it iss the miracle that yours are out o' print," said Hamish maliciously.
"It is not my fault. I had a useless publisher, who would not promote them properly, and a worse agent," snapped Patricia, and then, to her horror, she began to cry.
"There, now," said Hamish. "Don't greet. You havenae settled down after all the travel, and it's been a grim winter. I would like to read one o' your books."
Patricia produced a small, white, starched handkerchief from her handbag and wiped her eyes and blew her nose.
"I think I am too out of touch with the modern world to write a detective story again," she said, all the time wondering why she was confiding in a village policeman.
"I could help you wi' a wee bit o' information, if you like."
"That's very kind of you. But I do not think it would do much good. I've tried to write another one with a Highland background, but my mind seems set in England."
"Perhaps you should get to know a few of us better," said Hamish, "and then it might come easier."
"Perhaps," she echoed sadly.
"Although, if I may point out," said Hamish cautiously, "Cnothan is not the friendliest village in the place. In fact, I would say it's a sour little dump."
She gave him a watery smile. "Not like Lochdubh?"
"There's nowhere like Lochdubh," said Hamish stoutly. "Maybe if you stopped writing for a bit, it would all come back. Do you fish?"
"I still have my rods, but I haven't done any fishing for a long time."
Somewhere in Hamish's head a warning bell was beginning to clang, telling him to stay away from lame ducks in general and this woman in particular, who had been locally damned as an "awfy auld snob." But he said, "I hae the day off tomorrow. I'll take ye out on the Anstey if ye want."
This met with Patricia's ideas of what was right and fitting. Fishing on a Scottish river with a policeman as ghillie was socially acceptable to her mind.
"Thank you," she said. "I will need a permit."
Hamish shifted uneasily. "Oh, I'll see to that. Pick you up at nine in the morning."
They chatted pleasantly through the rest of the meal, Hamish amiably but Patricia betraying with each further sentence the awful rigidity of her attitudes.
They separated at the end of the meal, each with different thoughts, Hamish regretting his generous gesture and Patricia feeling quite elated. Hamish Macbeth was really quite intelligent, she thought. It was a shame he was only a village policeman. Perhaps with her help he could make something of himself. And so Patricia drove happily homewards, not knowing she had joined the long list of women who thought they could change one contented, unambitious Highland constable.
* * *
She felt the glorious blustery morning that dawned was a good omen. But nine o'clock came and went and she began to feel panicky. If Hamish did not come, then it meant slipping back into that depressing isolation which had become her way of life.
And then at half past nine, she saw to her relief a police Land Rover lurching over the potholes in the road, a fishing rod sticking out of the window.
She went out to meet him. "Sorry I'm late," said Hamish. "Have you got waders? I forgot to ask."
"Yes, although I haven't used them for some time. I hope they're still waterproof," said Patricia.
"We'll take your car if you don't mind," said Hamish. "I'm not really supposed to drive people around in a police car unless I'm arresting them."
Soon they were fishing on the river Anstey. The mountaintops were clear against a blue sky for the first time in months. Patricia found to her delight that she had lost none of her old skill. She was just about to suggest a break for lunch when the enterprising constable said he had brought along a picnic. Patricia had caught two trout and Hamish one.
"Afore we have our food, I would suggest we pack everything up and put it in the boot o' your car," said Hamish.
"But why?" She felt sharply disappointed. "I hoped we would have some more fishing."
Hamish looked around, scanning the riverbanks and the surrounding hillsides. "Aye, well, we'll do that, but chust let's put the stuff away."
They stripped off their waders and dismantled their rods and put all the fishing impedimenta in the boot of Patricia's car.
Hamish produced a picnic basket from which he removed thick chicken sandwiches and a flask of coffee.
They were sitting on a flat rock beside the river when a truculent voice behind them said, "I hope ye havenae been fishing this river, Macbeth."
"Oh, it iss yourself, Willie," said Hamish without turning around. "No, no, Miss Martyn-Broyd and myself was chust having the picnic."
Patricia swung round, her mouth full of sandwich.
"Willie MacPhee, the water bailiff," said Hamish, his eyes signalling a warning.
Willie was a thick-set man with beetling brows in a red weatherbeaten face. He had a heavy round chin, but his head tapered to a narrow crown, giving the appearance of a face seen reflected in a shiny balloon.
He lumbered up to Patricia's car and peered in the windows. Patricia's heart beat hard. All at once she knew Hamish's reason for shutting all the fishing stuff up in the boot. He did not have a fishing permit!
Willie came back and stood over them. "I hope ye know, missus," he said, addressing Patricia, "that ye cannae fish the Anstey without a permit."
The daughter of the land agent felt quite queasy. She wondered why she had never stopped to consider how a Highland policeman could even afford the probably horrendous price of a fishing permit. But she did not like being loomed over.
Miss Patricia Martyn-Broyd got to her feet.
"Are you accusing me of poaching, my good man?" she demanded in glacial tones.
Willie gave an odd, ducking movement of his head, like a dog backing down before a more powerful adversary.
"Just making sure," he said sulkily. "Macbeth here has no respect for the law."
With that, he lumbered off.
Patricia waited until she was sure he was out of earshot and then rounded on Hamish. "How could you? And you a policeman."
"Well, I'm a Highlander as well, and it iss considered no crime up here to take a fish from the river."
"If it is no crime, then why do they have game laws and why do they have water bailiffs?"
"That," said Hamish, unrepentant, "is to add a spice o' danger to the sport. We'll just enjoy our meal and try the river again."
"Are you mad? I, for one, do not want to appear in a Scottish sheriff's court."
"He won't be back," said Hamish cheerfully. "He's lazy. He only picks on easy targets."
Patricia was about to suggest sternly that she return home immediately, but in that moment a picture of her windswept cottage arose in her mind's eye. Having broken out of her long isolation, she was reluctant to go back to it.
She gave a weak smile. "You are a terrible man. You must be in your thirties and yet you are still only a policeman. Is that because you have little respect for the law?"
"Except for the fishing, I haff the great respect for the law," said Hamish. "But I like Lochdubh and I hate Strathbane, which is where I would have to go if I got promoted."
"But everyone is ambitious."
"And not everyone is happy. You are looking at the exception to the rule."
They fished all afternoon in the warm sunlight without catching anything else, but Patricia enjoyed herself immensely. At the end of the day, she invited Hamish to join her for dinner, but he said he had reports to type up. Patricia wanted to ask if she could see him again but felt as shy and tongue-tied as a teenager and just as frightened of rejection.
Hamish, with that almost telepathic ability of the Highlander, was well aware of what was going through her mind. She hadn't been bad company, he thought. Maybe she would now branch out a bit. Don't get involved, screamed his mind. She's all right, but she's a bit rigid and pompous, and if she's lonely, it is all her own damned fault. But he found himself saying weakly as he climbed out of her car, "Perhaps I could help ye with some ideas for a detective story? Maybe we could hae a bit o' dinner tomorrow night."
Her face glowed. "That is very kind of you, but let it be my treat. Where would you like to go?"
"The Napoli, that Italian restaurant in Lochdubh."
"Very well," said Patricia happily. "I will see you at eight o'clock."
She turned and went indoors. She scooped the post up from the doormat. The postman had delivered her mail that day after she had left. She carried the letters in and dropped them on the table in the living room. She never received anything interesting through the post. It was usually bank statements and junk mail.
She hummed to herself as she made a cup of tea. She carried it through to her little living room cum dining room and sat down at the table.
Then she found there was a letter with the legend "Strathclyde Television" on the envelope. She slowly opened it.
"Dear Ms. Martyn-Broyd," she read. "We have had the delight of reading some of your detective stories and are interested in making some of them into a series, possibly starting with The Case of the Rising Tides. We would be happy to deal with you through your agent if you could supply us with a name, address and telephone number. In any case, please telephone so that I can arrange to meet you to discuss this project. Yours sincerely, Harry Frame, Executive Producer, Strathclyde Television."
Patricia read the letter several times and then slowly put it down with a shaking hand. After all these long years, recognition at last!
* * *
She passed a night of broken sleep and was awake by dawn, waiting and waiting until such time as offices opened and she could begin to make telephone calls.
She had to wait until ten o'clock before she was finally able to talk to Harry Frame.
"This is a pleasure," he boomed. "May I call you Patricia?"
"Please do ... Harry." Patricia felt she had just made an exciting leap into an exciting, modern world.
"Would you have any objection to us dramatising your books?"
"I am very flattered," fluted Patricia. "Who will play Lady Harriet?"
"Early days, early days. Perhaps you could visit us in Glasgow so we may discuss the terms of the contract? Or perhaps you would like me to contact your agent?"
Patricia felt a sudden burst of hatred for her ex-agent, who had done nothing to stop her precious books going out of print.
"No," she said firmly, "I will handle the negotiations myself."
And so the arrangements were made. The day was Wednesday. On Friday Patricia would take the early train from Inverness to Perth and then train from Perth to Glasgow, where a taxi would be waiting to bear her to Strathclyde Television.
By the time she put down the phone, her face was flushed and her heart beating hard.
Then, after another restorative cup of coffee, she dialled her old publishers and asked to speak to her former editor, Brian Jones, only to find that Mr. Jones was dead. She explained the reason for her call and was put through to a woman editor, Jessica Durnham. Patricia explained about the television series. To her disappointment, her news was not met with an offer of thousands for the reissue of all her books. The editor said cautiously that she would discuss it at conference and get back to her, or perhaps phone her agent? "No, you will deal with me," said Patricia firmly.
She spent the rest of the day in rosy dreams, and it was only as evening approached that she remembered her date with the village constable.
She frowned. She should not have gone slumming with a policeman. Good heavens! What if that water bailiff had caught her and she had ended up in court? A celebrity such as Patricia Martyn-Broyd must be very careful of her reputation. She telephoned the police station and left a curt message on the answering machine.
* * *
Hamish had been visiting his parents in Rogart and had then gone straight to the restaurant on his return and so did not receive the message until after he had eaten a solitary meal.
The voice on his answering machine was almost offensively curt. He shrugged. He probably wouldn't see her again, and that was no great loss.
* * *
Half an hour before Patricia was due to arrive at Strathclyde Television, Harry Frame was chairing a conference. Several people sat around the table, each clutching a copy of The Case of the Rising Tides. They had been able to get only one of the books and had run off copies.
"You want me to produce this?" demanded Fiona King, a rawboned, chain- smoking woman dressed in the height of lesbian chic: bone-short haircut, short jersey exposing an area of yellow skin at the midriff, jeans and large combat boots. "It will be an interesting challenge." Privately she thought it the most boring load of crap she had ever been forced to read, but surely something could be done with it.
"The thing about it is this," said Harry wearily. "She's been out of print for ages, so she won't cost much. We set it in the sixties, flares and white boots and miniskirts."
"Is this going to be Sunday night family viewing?" demanded Fiona, lighting another cigarette despite the NO SMOKING sign above her head. "You know, the sort of pap the cocoa-slurping morons of middle Britain enjoy?"
"Yes," said Harry. "But we're still going in for shock here. Lots of bonking."
"But this bitch, Lady Harriet, definitely keeps her Harris tweed knickers on right through the book."
"We'll get 'em off, give her a bit of rough stuff to roll in the heather with."
"What setting will you have?" asked a researcher.
"Plenty of places in the Highlands."
"And who'll play Lady Harriet?"
"Jesus," said Fiona. "That foul-mouthed little keelie."
"She's got great tits, and she's prepared to open her legs on television."
"And off television," remarked Fiona sourly. "What on earth is this old frump Martyn-Broyd going to say?"
"We just get her to sign. After that, she'll just need to lump it. In fact, she'll enjoy it. Everyone these days wants to have something to do with television. Have you seen those schlock TV shows from the States? They'll divorce their hubby on screen if it gets them a few moments of fame. I don't like your tone, Fiona. Don't you want to do this?"
"I consider it a privilege to be chosen by you, Harry," said Fiona quickly.
A secretary popped her head round the door and said primly, "Miss Martyn-Broyd is here."
Patricia entered, looking flustered. There had been no taxi to meet her at the station. Every television company was notorious for failing to meet people at airports and stations, but Patricia did not know this and took the absence of a waiting taxi to be a sort of snub.
Furthermore, she had expected something glossier, not this concrete slab of a building situated under a motorway, which seemed to be furnished with stained carpet and plastic plants.
She had been handed a plastic nametag at the reception desk to pin on her tweed suit, but she had angrily stuffed it into her handbag on her way up. It had reminded her of a dreadful American party she had gone to years before, where she had been given a nametag to pin on her dress with the legend "Hi! My name is Patricia," and she still shuddered at the memory.
Sheila Burford, a research assistant, looked up curiously at Patricia. That's a medieval face, she thought, looking at the hooded pale eyes in the white face and the curved nose.
Harry Frame greeted Patricia by kissing her on the cheek, an embrace from which Patricia visibly winced.
Patricia was as disappointed in Harry Frame as she was in the building. He was a big man with a mane of brown hair and a puffy face. He was wearing a checked workman's shirt open nearly to the waist, and he had a great mat of chest hair.
"Sit yourself down, Patricia," he boomed. "Tea? Coffee? Drink?"
"No, I thank you," said Patricia. "I would like to get down to business."
"I like a businesswoman," said Harry expansively. He introduced her all round, ending up with, "And this is Fiona King, who will be our producer."
Patricia concealed her dismay. "I am not familiar with your television company, Mr. Frame. What successes have you had?"
"I have them written down for you," said Harry, handing her a list.
Patricia looked down at the list in bewilderment. They seemed to be mostly documentaries with titles like Whither Scotland?, Are the English Bastards?, The Arguments for Home Rule, The Highland Clearances, Folk Songs from the Gorbals. She had not seen or heard of any of them.
"I do not see any detective stories here," said Patricia.
Harry ignored that. "Because of this your books will be back in print," he said. "We suggest a publicity tie-up with Pheasant Books. We plan to start serialising The Case of the Rising Tides."
Patricia stared at him unnervingly. Then she suddenly smiled. From being a rather tatty building inhabited with people who were definitely not ladies and gentlemen, Strathclyde Television and all in it became suffused with a golden glow. She barely heard anything of the further discussion. She did, however, agree to signing an option contract for a thousand pounds and accepting an agreement that if the series were sold to BBC or ITV or anyone else, she would receive two thousand pounds per episode. Money was not important to Patricia, who was comfortably off, but the thought of getting her precious books back into print made her pretty much deaf to other concerns.
Business being done, Fiona and Harry said they would take Patricia out for lunch. As they ushered her towards the door, Harry glanced down the table to where Sheila Burford was making notes. Sheila had cropped blond hair, large blue eyes and a splendid figure which her outfit of bomber jacket and jeans could not quite hide. "You'd best come along as well, Sheila," said Harry.
They took her to a restaurant across from the television centre. It was called Tatty Tommy's Tartan Howf and was scented with the aroma of old cooking fat. They were served by Tatty Tommy himself, a large bruiser with a shaved head, an earring and blue eye shadow.
Patricia was disappointed. She had thought that a television company would have taken her to some Glaswegian equivalent of the Ritz. She bleakly ordered Tatty Tommy's Tumshies, Tatties and Haggis, thinking that an ethnic dish of haggis, turnips and potatoes might be safer than some of the more exotic offerings on the menu; but it transpired that the haggis was as dry as bone, the turnips watery and the potatoes had that chemical flavour of the reconstituted packet kind.
"In my book," said Patricia, "the setting is a fictitious village called Duncraggie."
"Oh, we'll be setting it in the Highlands," said Fiona brightly. "Pretty setting and lots of good Scottish actors."
"But the characters are English!" protested Patricia. "It is a house party in the Highlands. Lady Harriet is Scottish, yes, but educated in England."
Harry waved an expansive arm. "English, Scottish, we're all British."
Sheila repressed a smile. Harry was a vehement campaigner for Scotland's independence.
"I suppose," began Patricia again, but Harry put a bearlike arm about her shoulders.
"Now, don't you be worrying your head about the television side. Just think how grand it will be to see your books on the shelves again."
He had shrewdly guessed that, at that moment in time, Patricia would agree to anything just so long as she got her books published.
"Who will play the lead?" asked Patricia. "I thought of Diana Rigg."
"Bit old now," said Fiona. "We thought of Penelope Gates."
"I have never heard of her," said Patricia, pushing her plate away with most of the food on it uneaten.
"Oh, she's up and coming," said Fiona.
And cheap, reflected Sheila cynically.
"Have I seen her in anything?"
Fiona and Harry exchanged quick glances. "Do you watch television much?" asked Fiona.
"Hardly at all."
"Oh, if you had," said Fiona, "you would have seen a lot of her."
And most of it naked, thought Sheila. Scotland's answer to Sharon Stone.
Sheila did not like Patricia much but was beginning to feel sorry for this old lady. She had asked Harry why on earth choose some old bat's out-of-print books when they meant to pay scant attention to characters or plot, and Harry had replied that respectability spiced up with sex was a winner. Besides, the book they meant to serialise was set in the sixties, and he planned to have lots of flared trousers, wide lapels, Mary Quant dresses and espresso bars, despite the fact that the fashions of the sixties had passed Patricia by.
Patricia's head was beginning to ache. She wanted to escape from this bad and smelly restaurant and these odd people. All would be well when she was back home and could savour in privacy all the delights of the prospect of being back in print.
They asked the usual polite questions that writers get asked: How do you think of your plots? Do you have a writing schedule? Patricia answered, all the time trying to remember what it had really been like to sit down each morning and get to work.
At last, when the lunch was over, Patricia consulted her timetable and said there was a train in half an hour. "Sheila here will get you a cab and take you to the station," said Harry.
Patricia shook hands all round. Sheila had run out and hailed a cab while Patricia was making her farewells.
"It must all seem a bit bewildering," said Sheila as they headed for the station.
"Yes, it is rather," drawled Patricia, leaning back in the cab and feeling very important now that freedom was at hand. "When will I hear from you again?"
"It takes time," said Sheila. "First we have to find the main scriptwriter, choose the location, the actors, and then we sell it to either the BBC or ITV."
"The BBC would be wonderful," said Patricia. "Don't like the other channel. All those nasty advertisements. So vulgar."
"In any case, it will take a few months," said Sheila.
"Did you read The Case of the Rising Tides?" asked Patricia.
"Yes, it was part of my job as researcher. I enjoyed it very much," said Sheila, who had found it boring in the extreme.
"I pay great attention to detail," said Patricia importantly.
"I noticed that," said Sheila, remembering long paragraphs of detailed descriptions of high and low tides. "Didn't Dorothy Sayers use a bit about tides in Have His Carcase?"
Patricia gave a patronising little laugh. "I often found Miss Sayers's plots a trifle loose." And Dorothy Sayers is long dead and I am alive and my books are going to be on television, she thought with a sudden rush of elation.
She said goodbye to Sheila at the station, thinking that it was a pity such a pretty girl should wear such odd and dreary clothes.
Sheila walked thoughtfully away down the platform after having seen her charge ensconced in a corner seat. She scratched her short blond crop. Did Harry realise just how vain Patricia Martyn-Broyd was? But then he had endured fights with writers before. Writers were considered the scum of the earth.
* * *
At a conference a week later, Harry announced, "I'm waiting for Jamie Gallagher. He'll be main scriptwriter. I gave him the book. He'll be coming along to let us know what he can do with it."
"I wouldn't have thought he was at all suitable," suggested Sheila. "Not for a detective series."
"BBC Scotland likes his work, and if we want them to put up any money for this, we'd better give 'em what they want," said Harry.
The door opened and Jamie Gallagher came in. He was a tall man wearing a donkey jacket and a Greek fisherman's hat. He had a few days of stubble on his chin. He had greasy brown hair which he wore combed forward to hide his receding hairline. He was a heavy drinker, and his face was crisscrossed with broken veins. It looked like an ordnance survey map.
He threw a tattered copy of Patricia's book down on the table and demanded truculently, "What is this shite?"
"Well, shite, actually," said Harry cheerfully, "but we need you to bring all that genius of yours to it."
Jamie sat down and scowled all around. He was battling between the joys of exercising his monumental ego on the one hand and remembering that he was currently unemployed on the other.
"What you need to do is take the framework of the plot, all those tides and things," said Fiona, "and then add some spice."
After a long harangue about the English in general and Patricia's writing in particular, Jamie said, "But I could do it this way. You say we'll get Penelope Gates? Right. You want the sixties feel. Lots of sixties songs. In the books, Lady Harriet is middle-aged. I say, let's make her young and hip. I know, runs a commune in that castle of hers. Bit of pot. Love interest."
"In the book," said Sheila, "it's Major Derwent."
"Let's see," said Jamie, ignoring her, "we'll have a Highland police inspector, real chauvinist pig. And our Harriet seduces him and gets information about the case out of him. Lots of shagging in the heather."
"We won't get the family slot on Sunday night," said Fiona cautiously.
Jamie snorted. "We'll get it, all right. Who the hell is going to object to pot smoking these days? No full frontal, either, just a flash of thigh and a bit of boob."
Sheila let her mind drift off. Poor Patricia up in the Highlands, dreaming of glory. What on earth would she think when she saw the result? The air about Sheila was blue with four-letter words, but she had become accustomed to bleeping them out. Someone had once said that you could always tell what people were afraid of by the swear words they used.
* * *
After six months Patricia began to become anxious. What if nothing happened? Pheasant Books had not phoned her, and she was too proud and at the same time too afraid of rejection to phone them. She had not heard from her old publisher, either.
The Highlands were in the grip of deep midwinter. There was hardly any daylight, and she seemed to be living in a long tunnel of perpetual night.
She began to regret that she had not furthered her friendship with that policeman over in Lochdubh. It would have been someone to talk to. She had diligently tried to write again, but somehow the words would not come.
At last she phoned the police station in Lochdubh. When Hamish answered, she said, "This is Patricia Martyn-Broyd. Do you remember me?"
"Oh, yes, you stood me up," said Hamish cheerfully.
"I am sorry, but you see ..." She told Hamish all about the television deal, ending with a cautious, "Perhaps you might be free for dinner tomorrow night?"
"Aye, that would be grand," said Hamish. "That Italian restaurant?"
"I will see you there at eight," said Patricia.
* * *
But on the following day, the outside world burst in on Patricia's seclusion. Harry Frame phoned to tell her he had gotten funding for the series.
"From the BBC?" asked Patricia eagerly.
"Yes," said Harry, "BBC Scotland."
"Oh, it will go national all right," Harry gave his beefy laugh. "The fact that we're going to dramatise your books has already been in some of the papers. Haven't you seen anything?"
Patricia took The Times, but she only read the obituaries and did the crossword. She wondered, however, why no reporter had contacted her.
"We're sending you the contracts," said Harry. "You should get them tomorrow."
Then Pheasant Books phoned to say they would like to publish The Case of the Rising Tides to coincide with the start of the television series. They offered a dismal amount of money, but Patricia was too happy to care. She took a deep breath and said she would travel down to London immediately to sign the contract.
She packed quickly and drove down to Inverness to catch the London train.
Hamish Macbeth sat alone in the restaurant that evening. Crazy old bat, he thought.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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In ¿Death of a Scriptwriter,¿ M.C. Beaton brings us the fourteenth installment of the Hamish Macbeth series--and she is in her element! Set in the Scottish Highlands, in the village of Lochdubh, this series is a nice read--nothing too complicated, full of local Scottish color (with both its characters and its setting), lots of delightful red herrings, and logical solutions. This series, the titles of which always begin with ¿Death of a...,¿ is quite a successful one and one which takes little time to read. Macbeth, the local constable, is proud of the fact that he is not an ambitious soul. Despite the fact that he has solved thirteen previous murders, he is still a constable. He refuses to be promoted as he claims he is too happy in Lochdubh to want to advance to a larger city. He is filled with lots of common sense and while often the villagers give him a hard time (¿He¿s too lazy,¿ they claim.), they highly respet him and have come to his rescue more than once. He¿s not so lucky with his own love life, however, and seems to fall in love with any woman who shows interest. The real love, Priscilla Smythe-Halliburton, has moved to London, after he had broken off the engagement, and appears intermittently in all the books of the series. In ¿Death of a Scriptwriter,¿ a television crew appears in Macbeth¿s bailiwick to film a novel written by an English spinster who has moved to Lochdubh. Her books were never much of a success, but this one was picked up by the BBC. She is delighted that at long last, fame is coming her way. She is so overjoyed that she fails to retain the complete rights to her book; a screen writer is hired to ¿modernize¿ the plot and characters (in other words, to add lots of sex and violence to the rather staid Victorian tale). Disagreements among the TV crew members erupt and, viola, the screenwriter (an impossible sort, unliked and unloved by anybody, and quite impossible to work with) is found dead; shortly thereafter, the star of the film (who is to appear nude in some scenes) is killed when she ¿falls¿ off a boulder; her alcoholic husband has also been found dead! (Bodies seem more plentiful than the last act of ¿Hamlet¿!) Everyone seems to be a suspect! Macbeth, in his plodding, but thorough way, of course, leads us to the conclusion, wherein all deaths are solved, and the reader then is set up to await the next installment. This book is a fun-read. Ms Beaton is in her element--she¿s writing about what she seems to know a lot about herself--authors, screenwriters, and television crews (this series is being filmed in England and we can only hope that A&E or PBS will bring it to us over here!). Beaton devotees will love this one!