M.C. Beaton: A Highland Christmas (1999) A Hamish Macbeth Mystery

I like all sorts of crime and thrillers and while I mostly prefer more character driven psychological novels, I have a weakness for cozy and paranormal crime. Two years ago I discovered M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth series and fell in love with its charm. Set in the fictitious Scottish Highland village of Lochdubh it has everything we want from cozy crime. Great atmosphere, a very likable inspector, some excentric characters and crime that is far from gruesome. In the case of A Highland Christmas the crime doesn’t even involve a murder.

If you have never read any Hamish Macbeth, this may not be the place to start. It’s one of the more recent ones of a series in which there are already at least 30 books. Part of the charm is the character Hamish Macbeth (there is also a TV series starring Robert Carlyle). He is a very kind, good-looking loner whose love life is far from successful. In the earlier books his main companions are a dog and a wild cat. They are not mentioned here which was a bit of a disappointment but logical as they can hardly live forever. What I like about Hamish is the fact that he treats everyone equally nice, the old and the young, the men and the women and the animals as well.

Lochdubh is described in a way that makes you want to stay there for a while when your own personal life is getting too stressful. Life in the village of Lochdubh, which is surrounded by the picturesque scenery of the Scottish Highlands, is slow, people form a tight-knit community, they are chatty and friendly. Sorrows can be easily forgotten over a cup of tea and a wee dram.

It is winter in Lochdubh and Christmas isn’t far, only in this community of fervent Calvinists, there is no such thing as Christmas and Christmas decorations are unheard of. They are, as some would say, devilish. When this year, for the first time, someone sets up a Christmas tree and Christmas lights, nobody is surprised when they are stolen. Hamish isn’t thrilled that, instead of being somewhere on vacation, he has to chase a petty thief and on top of that find out who stole Mrs Gallagher’s cat.

Mrs Gallagher is a foreigner who has been living in Lochdubh for a while. She is generally hated but when Hamish pays her a visit and sees that she bolts her door, he is a bit surprised. It seems the woman is more frightened than truly unfriendly.

If you want to find out who stole the Christmas tree and if the cat is found, you have to read the book for yourself.

It’s a charming book, set in a charming world and for those who like M.C. Beaton it’s certainly a nice addition to the other books. In any case it’s a nice Christmas themed book with a picture-book Christmas ending, involving snow and good-natured festivities. The book is not too sugary but charmingly old-fashioned, despite the overall positive tone and the depiction of a better world, it still touches on themes like old-age and loneliness.

M.C. Beaton is also the author of the equally well-liked Agatha Raisin series which I haven’t read. Does anyone know  it?

35 thoughts on “M.C. Beaton: A Highland Christmas (1999) A Hamish Macbeth Mystery

  1. I read about 13 of the Agatha Raisin mysteries and then suddenly I couldn’t take any more. The first one was great fun, very funny and as you note: charming. I particularly enjoyed Agatha’s less-than-stellar human nature as she adjusts from the big city to small town nosiness and gossip. But then some in the series became rather weary and repetitive. I became particuarly annoyed by the author’s continual description of Agatha’s eyes as ‘raisins.’ Are there no other adjectives? When you start predicting where an author is going, it’s time to stop.

    • Thanks, that’s good to know, it sounds as if I’d like at least the first few. I’ll have a look and see if I find out in what order they were published and give the first a go.
      I didn’t notice anything annoying in the Hamish Macbeth so far but I only read a few.
      It’s a danger that authors bevome repetitive when they write such a lot of books.

      • The first one was fresh and funny and I think part of why I kept reading was that I hoped to replicate that. But there again, they were too soft for me. Others may feel very differently.

        • Sounds like what some people say abouT their lousy relationships. “We had such fantastic first weeks that’s why I stayed on another ten years”. 🙂
          There are decidedly a lot of people who love cozy crime because the murders are not gruesome.
          I don’t see myself reading ten in a row, I would need something darker in between but I’m looking forward to read the first Agatha Raisin. I’d like to read something funny once in a while.

  2. You mentioned that series before and it does sound lovely. I will definitely have a look for the first books. I like my mysteries cosy and preferably without violence.

    • Yes, I mentioned it as I had just bought this one. I read a few cozies that I liked but hardly any as much as this series and from what Guy writes the other one must be great as well. It’s quite a magical series, really, you open the cover and you’re in another world. And it is definitely not gruesome.
      I hope you will like it. I’ll be curious to see what you think of it.

    • They are indeed. I love it when there are animal characters and it looks as if there will be a dog in the future as he gets one as a Christmas gift in the last few pages. 🙂

  3. I don’t remember seeing this in France.
    I thought you didn’t like cosy crime. It sounds a lot like Agatha Christie or Patricia Wentworth. It’s nice once in a while.

    • I do like a certain type of cozy crime, hard to say what exactly it is I like.
      I don’t think the series has anything in common whith Agatha Christie. I’ve read quite a lot when I was younger.

      • It sounds like a Miss Marple story though.

        Why is it different, except that the main character isn’t a little granny who loves Tennyson? (or is it Miss Silver who likes Tennyson?)

        Do I misunderstand what you mean by “cosy crime”?

        • I think for me Agatha Christie isn’t cozy crime. I have a feeling that if she was writing nowadays her writing would be very different and people like M.C. Beaton write about modern life but in a clearly non-realistic environment. Agatha Christie feels cozy because the books are so old.
          No clue if that makes any sense.

          • And another major difference, cozy crime is often funny, Agatha Christie isn’t that funny or is she? I have never read Miss Marple or Poirot, I only read her standalones.

            • I think her stand-alones can be funny (especially the Beresford. Have you seen the French films? They’re excellent)

              So the Precious Ramistwe series are cosy (Alexander McCall Smith) or Miss

              Anne Perry isn’t funny at all.

          • OK, so I had misunderstood the term “cosy crime”.

            I thought you meant crime fiction in a limited environment with a crime committed at home or in a village. A the-culprit-is-among-us kind of books.
            So Agatha Christie, early Anne Perry, Patricia Wentworth…qualify for that definition.

            Well, now, what is cosy crime fiction?

            • I think that applies as well but most of the time the “detective” is an amateur -like Miss Marple. …Hmmm. No idea. Guess they are both cozy but one is modern. Decidedly the crime is never gruesome and it is mostly a whodunnit, no thriller. Often the hobby of the amateur sleuth will be very important.
              Hamish isn’t typical as he is a real police man but Agatha Raisin seems an amateur.

    • It’s delightful. Maybe not as a stand alone but as part of a series. I really like Hamish Macbeth, he is a wonderful character. After reading Guy’s comment I had to order the first two Agatha Raisins.

  4. I really like cozy mysteries. I like to balance them out with my darker crime novels. I’m actually in a mood to pick up a cozy now–this Hamish Macbeth sounds good–I really need to try one sometime. Cozies are nice in winter it seems. My favorites are Agatha Christie and the Daisy Dalrymple books by Carola Dunn–which are totally easygoing, charming sorts of stories, too.

    • Ok, so that is solved then as i wasn’t all that sure anymore whether Agatha Christie is really a cozy crime writer.
      I’m sure you would like M.C.Beaton. I’m looking forward to the Agatha Raisin as I would love to read something funny.

  5. Nice review, Caroline! This looks like a nice Christmas present to give (or get :)) I love the plot of the book – that is is about who stole the Christmas tree and the cat 🙂 I have heard of the Agatha Raisin series, but I haven’t read it. I will look for this book.

  6. This sound like a nice read between all the gruesome mysteries I have read lately 😉
    It reminds me of Three Detectives, my favorite series when I was still in junior high. I like that series a lot. The case was always small cases because the detectives are highschool students. I’d love to reread it if I could find the English version of that series.

    • If you like cozies, which I think you do, I should think you would like her. And it’s really not gruesome at all. Lochdubh is a nice place to spend some entertaining moments with csome likable characters.

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