Death of a Village (Hamish Macbeth Series #18)by M. C. Beaton
Trouble is afoot in a Scottish fishing village as Constable Macbeth finds the pub empty, the church full, and the air permeated with fear. With the help of a journalist, Macbeth begins to ferret out the truth.See more details below
Trouble is afoot in a Scottish fishing village as Constable Macbeth finds the pub empty, the church full, and the air permeated with fear. With the help of a journalist, Macbeth begins to ferret out the truth.
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Death of a Village
By M.C. Beaton
Copyright © 2003
All right reserved.
In all my travels I never met with any one Scotchman but what was a
man of sense. I believe everybody of that country that has any,
leaves it as fast as they can.
The way propaganda works, as every schoolboy knows, is that if you
say the same thing over and over again, lie or not, people begin to
Hamish Macbeth, police constable of the village of Lochdubh and its
surroundings, had been until recently a happy, contented,
unambitious man. This was always regarded, by even the housebound
and unsuccessful, as a sort of mental aberration. And he had been
under fire for a number of years and from a number of people to pull
his socks up, get a life, move on, get promotion, and forsake his
lazy ways. Until lately, all comments had slid off him. That was,
until Elspeth Grant, local reporter, joined the chorus. It was the
way she laughed at him with a sort of affectionate contempt as
he.mooched around the village that got under his skin. Her mild
amazement that he did not want to "better himself," added on to all
the other years of similar comments, finally worked in him like the
end result of a propaganda war and he began to feel restlessand
Had he had any work to do apart from filing sheep-dip papers and
ticking off the occasional poacher, Elspeth's comments might not
have troubled him. And Elspeth was attractive, although he would not
admit it to himself. He felt he had endured enough trouble from
women to last him a lifetime.
He began to watch travel shows on television and to imagine himself
walking on coral beaches or on high mountains in the Himalayas. He
fretted over the fact that he had even taken all his holidays in
One sunny morning, he decided it was time he got back on his beat,
which covered a large area of Sutherland. He decided to visit the
village of Stoyre up on the west coast. It was more of a hamlet than
a village. No crime ever happened there. But, he reminded himself, a
good copper ought to check up on the place from time to time.
After a winter of driving rain and a miserable spring, a rare period
of idyllic weather had arrived in the Highlands. Tall twisted
mountains swam in a heat haze. The air through the open window of
the police Land Rover was redolent with smells of wild thyme, salt,
bell heather, and peat smoke. He took a deep breath and felt all his
black discontentment ebb away. Damn Elspeth! This was the life. He
drove steadily down a winding one-track road to Stoyre.
Tourists hardly ever visited Stoyre. This seemed amazing on such a
perfect day, when the village's cluster of whitewashed houses lay
beside the deep blue waters of the Atlantic. There was a little
stone harbour where three fishing boats bobbed lazily at anchor.
Hamish parked in front of the pub, called the Fisherman's Arms. He
stepped down from the Land Rover. His odd-looking dog, Lugs,
scrambled down as well.
Hamish looked to right and left. The village seemed deserted. It was
very still, unnaturally so. No children cried, no snatches of radio
music drifted out from the cottages, no one came or went from the
small general stores next to the pub. Lugs bristled and let out a
low growl. "Easy, boy," said Hamish. He looked up the hill beyond
the village to where the graveyard lay behind a small stone church.
Perhaps there was a funeral. But he could see no sign of anyone
"Come on, boy," he said to his dog. He pushed open the door of the
pub and went inside. The pub consisted of a small whitewashed room
with low beams on the ceiling. A few wooden tables scarred with
cigarette burns were dotted about. There was no one behind the bar.
"Anyone home?" called Hamish loudly. To his relief there came the
sound of someone moving in the back premises. A thickset man entered
through a door at the back of the bar. Hamish recognised Andy
Crummack, the landlord and owner.
"How's it going, Andy?" asked Hamish. "Everybody dead?" "Just a
tonic water." Hamish looked round the deserted bar. "Where is
everyone?" "It's aye quiet this time o' day." Andy poured a bottle
of tonic water into a glass. "Slainte!" said Hamish. "Are you having
one?" "Too early. If ye don't mind, I've got stock to check." Andy
made for the door behind the bar. "Hey, wait a minute, Andy. I
havenae been in Stoyre for a while but I've never seen the place so
dead." "We're quiet folks, Hamish." "And nothing's going on?"
"Nothing. Now, if ye don't mind ..."
The landlord disappeared through the door. Hamish drank the tonic
water and then pushed back his peaked cap and scratched his fiery
hair. Maybe he was imagining things. He hadn't visited Stoyre for
months. The last time had been in March when he'd made a routine
call. He remembered people chatting on the waterfront and this pub
full of locals.
He put his glass on the bar and went out into the sunlight. The
houses shone white in the glare and the gently heaving blue water
had an oily surface. He went into the general store. "Morning, Mrs.
MacBean," he said to the elderly woman behind the counter. "Quiet
today. Where is everyone?"
"They'll maybe be up at the kirk." "What! On a Monday? Is it
someone's funeral?" "No. Can I get you anything, Mr. Macbeth?"
Hamish leaned on the counter. "Come on. You can tell me," he coaxed.
"What's everyone doing at the church on a Monday?" "We are
God-fearing folk in Stoyre," she said primly, "and I'll ask you to
Baffled, Hamish walked out of the shop and was starting to set off
up the hill when the church doors opened and people started
streaming out. Most were dressed in black as if for a funeral.
He stood in the centre of the path as they walked down towards him.
He hailed people he knew. "Morning, Jock ... grand day, Mrs.
Nisbett," and so on. But the crowd parted as they reached him and
silently continued on their way until he was left standing alone.
He walked on towards the church and round to the manse at the side
with Lugs at his heels. The minister had just reached his front
door. He was a new appointment, Hamish noticed, a thin nervous man
with a prominent Adam's apple, and his black robes were worn and
dusty. He had sparse ginger hair, weak eyes, and a small pursed
mouth. "Morning," said Hamish. "I am Hamish Macbeth, constable at
Lochdubh. You are new to here?"
The minister reluctantly faced him. "I am Fergus Mackenzie," he said
in a lilting Highland voice. "You seem to be doing well," remarked
Hamish. "Church full on a Monday morning." "There is a strong
religious revival here," said Fergus. "Now, if you don't mind ..."
"I do mind," said Hamish crossly. "This village has changed."
"It has changed for the better. A more God-fearing community does
not exist anywhere else in the Highlands." And with that the
minister went into the manse and slammed the door in Hamish's face.
Becoming increasingly irritated, Hamish retreated back to the
waterfront. It was deserted again. He thought of knocking on some
doors to find out if there was any other answer to this strange
behaviour apart from a religious revival and then decided against
it. He looked back up the hill to where a cottage stood near the
top. It was the holiday home of a retired army man, Major Jennings,
an Englishman. Perhaps he might be more forthcoming. He plodded back
up the hill, past the church, and knocked on the major's door.
Silence greeted him. He knew the major lived most of the year in the
south of England. Probably not arrived yet. Hamish remembered he
usually came north for a part of the summer.
When he came back down from the hill, he saw that people were once
more moving about. There were villagers in the shop and villagers on
the waterfront. This time they gave him a polite greeting. He
stopped one of them, Mrs. Lyle. "Is anything funny going on here?"
She was a small, round woman with tight grey curls and glasses
perched on the end of her nose. "What do you mean?" she asked.
"There's an odd atmosphere and then you've all been at the kirk and
it isn't even Sunday." "It is difficult to explain to such as you,
Hamish Macbeth," she said. "But in this village we take our worship
of the Lord seriously and don't keep it for just the one day."
I'm a cynic, thought Hamish as he drove off. Why should I find it
all so odd? He knew that in some of the remote villages a good
preacher was still a bigger draw than anything on television. Mr.
Mackenzie must be a powerful speaker. When he returned to Lochdubh,
Hamish found all the same that the trip to Stoyre had cheered him
up. The restlessness that had plagued him had gone. He whistled as
he prepared food for himself and his dog, and then carried his meal
on a tray out to the front garden, where he had placed a table with
an umbrella over it. Why dream of caf?s in France when he had
everything here in Lochdubh?
He had just finished a meal of fried haggis, sausage, and eggs when
a voice hailed him. "Lazing around again, Hamish?"
The gate to the front garden opened and Elspeth Grant came in. She
was wearing a brief tube top which showed her midriff, a small pair
of denim shorts, and her hair had been tinted aubergine. She pulled
up a chair and sat down next to him.
"The trouble with aubergine," said Hamish, "is that it chust doesnae
do." "Doesn't do what?" demanded Elspeth. "Anything for anyone. It's
like the purple lipstick or the black nail varnish. Anything that's
far from an original colour isn't sexy."
"And what would you know about anything sexy?" "I am a man and I
assume you mean to attract the opposite sex."
"Women dress and do their hair for themselves these days." "Havers."
"It's true, Hamish. You've been living in this time warp for so long
that you just don't know what's what. Anyway, I'm bored. There's
really nothing to report until the Highland Games over at Braikie
and that's a week away."
"I might have a wee something for you. I've just been over at
Stoyre. There's a religious revival there. They were all at the kirk
this morning. Seems they've got a new minister, a Mr. Mackenzie. I
was thinking he must be a pretty powerful preacher."
"Not much, but something," said Elspeth. "I'll try next Sunday."
"The way they're going on, you may not need to wait that long.
They've probably got a service every day." "Want to come with me?"
Hamish stretched out his long legs. "I've just been. Have the Currie
sisters seen you in that outfit?" The Currie sisters were
middle-aged twins, spinsters, and the upholders of morals in
Lochdubh. "Yes. Jessie Currie told me that I should go home and put
on a skirt and Nessie Currie defended me." "Really! What did she
"She said my boots were so ugly that they made everything else I had
on look respectable." Hamish looked down at the heavy pair of hiking
boots Elspeth was wearing. "I see what she means." Elspeth flushed
up to the roots of her frizzy aubergine hair with anger. "I don't
know why I bother even talking to you, Hamish Macbeth. I'm off."
When she had gone, Hamish lay back in his chair, clasped his hands
behind his head. He shouldn't have been so rude to her but he blamed
her remarks about him being unambitious for having recently upset
the lazy comfort of his summer days.
The telephone in the police station rang, the noise cutting shrilly
through the peace of the day. He sighed, got to his feet, and went
to answer it. The voice of his pet hate, Detective Chief Inspector
Blair, boomed down the line. "Get yoursel' over to Braikie, laddie.
Teller's grocery in the High Street has been burgled. Anderson will
be there soon."
"On my way," said Hamish. He took his peaked cap down from a peg on
the kitchen door and put it on his head. "No, Lugs," he said to his
dog, who was looking up at him out of his strange blue eyes. "You
He went out and got into the police Land Rover and drove off,
turning over in his mind what he knew of Teller's grocery. It was a
licensed shop and sold more up-market groceries than its two rivals.
He was relieved that he would be working with Detective Sergeant
Jimmy Anderson rather than Blair. He parked outside the shop and
went in. Mr. Teller was a small, severe-faced man with gold-rimmed
glasses. "You took your time," he said crossly. "They've taken all
my wine and spirits, the whole lot. I found the lot gone when I
opened up this morning, and phoned the police."
"I was out on another call," said Hamish. "How did they get in?"
"Round the back." Mr. Teller raised a flap on the counter and Hamish
walked through. A pane of glass on the back door had been smashed.
"The forensic people'll be along soon," said Hamish. "I can't touch
anything at the moment."
"Well, let's hope you hurry up. I've got to put a claim into the
insurance company." "How much for?" "I'll need to total it up.
Thousands of pounds." Hamish looked blankly down at the shopkeeper.
He had been in the shop before. He could not remember seeing any
great supply of wine or spirits. There had been three shelves, near
the till, that was all.
He focused on Mr. Teller. "I haven't been in your shop for a bit.
Had you expanded the liquor side?" "No, why?"
"I remember only about three shelves of bottles." "They took all the
stuff out of the cellar as well." "You'd better show me."
Mr. Teller led the way to a door at the side of the back shop. The
lock was splintered. Hamish took out a handkerchief and put it over
the light switch at the top of the stairs and pressed. He stood on
the top step and looked down. The cellar was certainly empty. And
dusty. He returned to the front to find that Jimmy Anderson had
"Hullo, Hamish," said the detective. "Crime, isn't it? A real crime.
All that lovely booze. Taken a statement yet?" "Not yet. Could I be
having a wee word with you outside?" "Sure. I could do with a dram.
There's a pub across the road."
"Not yet. Outside." Under the suspicious eyes of Mr. Teller, they
walked out into the street. "What?" demanded Jimmy. "He is saying
that thousands of pounds of booze have been nicked. But when I
pointed out to him that he only kept about three shelves of the
stuff, he said they had cleared out the cellar as well."
"So?" "The cellar floor is dusty. Even dust. No marks of boxes and,
what's more to the point, no drag marks. It is my belief he had
nothing in that cellar. He could have been after the insurance."
"But the insurance will want to see the books, check the orders."
"True. Well, we'd best take a statement and then talk to his
supplier." They returned to the shop. Hamish took out a notebook.
"Now, Mr. Teller, you found the shop had been burgled when you
opened up. That would be at nine o'clock?" "Eight-thirty." "You
didn't touch anything?" "I went down to the cellar and found
everything gone from there."
"We'll check around and see if anyone heard or saw anything. What
is the name of your supplier?" "Frog's of Strathbane. Why?" "The
insurance company will want to see your books to check the amount of
the lost stores against your record of deliveries." "They're welcome
to look at them anytime."
Excerpted from Death of a Village
by M.C. Beaton
Copyright © 2003 by Marion Chesney.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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