Beaton returns with a new Police Constable Hamish Macbeth mystery, the flame-haired bachelor providing the rural village of Lochdubh in the north of Scotland with the necessary degree of law enforcement, his superiors chronically irritated with Hamish’s lack of ambition and popularity with the locals. In Drim, another village in his jurisdiction, a wife finds a body stuffed in her newly-cleaned chimney, fresh drops of blood dripping on her hand and the hearth. The unfortunate victim turns out to be none other than the lady’s husband, Captain Henry Davenport, last seen taking a walk with instructions that if anyone called, he was “out of the country.”
The first suspect is the itinerant chimneysweep, Pete Ray. But when Pete’s body is found in the moors, his motorcycle conveniently crashed and littered with evidence of theft from Davenport’s Georgian mansion, Hamish thinks the coincidence a bit too obvious. Warned to leave well enough alone in favor of a quick resolution of both deaths, Macbeth begins his own investigation, soon noticing discrepancies that suggest murder afoot and a possibility that the killer may not have found what he wanted at Davenport’s estate.
Protecting Milly Davenport, the widow, from an unspecified threat is made all the more difficult by the presence of Milly’s formidable sister-in-law, Philomena, as intimidating and bossy as her murdered brother. While formerly unwelcome village ladies rally around the widow, Philomena stumbles across a critical piece of evidence, rashly embarking on a mission to confront a killer only to barely escape with her own life. Meanwhile, four of Davenport’s former business associates arrive in Drim to comfort the widow - and make demands of restitution of their investments after the funeral.
Given the authorities’ unwillingness to give any credence to Hamish’s opinion, he has no choice but to enlist Detective Jimmy Anderson and the locals in exploring his unfolding suspicions. When almost-fiancé reporter Elspeth Grant arrives in town with an assignment to cover the murders, Hamish welcomes her assistance in researching records and matching suspects to alibis, personal considerations aside. It seems Davenport was a con man adept at freeing people from their money and later absconding with the profits. The problem is deciding which investor is angry enough to have committed multiple murders.
As usual, Beaton’s light-spirited mysteries derive their charm from her characters, from the intrepid Hamish to a village full of eccentrics and good-hearted folk, the nosy elderly sisters who feed tidbits of gossip to the mill, Hamish’s “beasties’ - a dog and wild cat, Lug and Sonsie - even the cranky Glaswegian Chief Inspector Blair. Channeling the unique personality of the Scottish temperament and the practicality of a bachelor not completely averse to marriage, Hamish Macbeth is a delightful protagonist: clumsy, colorful and well-suited to his job. Maybe it’s not great literature, but Beaton’s little mysteries are guaranteed to put a puzzle in your head and a smile on your face.