Book Review – Death of a Gossip

  • Title: Death of a Gossip
  • Author: M.C. Beaton
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/06/2017

I picked up this paperback, which turns out to be the first Hamish Macbeth mystery, quite some time ago, and finally got around to reading it. I liked the Hamish Macbeth mystery television series, which aired on BBC America quite some time ago, and which I have on DVD, so I thought I would like the mystery series, but really… well, there are a lot of issues with this book.

The story concerns a couple in the tiny village of Lochdubh in the Scottish Highlands who run a “fishing school”. That is, every week during the Summer a small group of tourists stays at the local one and only hotel, and the couple teach them fly fishing. This year’s group, though, includes Lady Jane Winters – a horrible woman who insults everyone, is outright mean, and goes out of her way to hurt people. She even threatens to expose everyone’s secrets and “dirty laundry”. It should come to no surprise when she’s murdered.

However, it literally takes nearly 100 pages before she is murdered. So for the first 100 pages of the book, rather than following a typical cozy mystery format, we are “treated” to a treatise on more than I ever wanted to know about fly fishing, plus some characterization of the tourists in the fishing school, and a few characters who I would suppose are regulars in the series, including Constable Hamish Macbeth. You’d think this would be “background” and technically it is – but it’s also annoying. I wanted the book to get to the point, and I found the frankly sexist portrayals of the women in the group to be pretty awful. Lady Jane, the one person who’s background should be filled in, is a blank slate – other than manipulating the reader to really hate her. Then there’s a young girl, a secretary from a big accounting firm in London, who has a crush on her boss, falls in love with a young aristocratic man, lets him talk her in to sleeping with him – and believes all along that he will marry her. Of course, she’s dead wrong – and he runs off with Daphne – the brainless airhead bottle blonde that he accompanied to the hotel. The reader knows the whole affair is doomed, and the secretary comes off as incredible naive and even dumb. Not to mention that the secret in her closet is: she had been through the exact same thing before. Everyone else’s secrets are similarly silly, especially once Hamish gets to pull the “gather everyone in one room to solve the case” scene.

Once Lady Jane is murdered, the DI from the nearby city shows up, takes over the case, and throws his weight around. This DI is a brute – he bullies everyone, suspects, tourists, locals, and Macbeth. He’s also apparently dumb as a post because he can’t find a single real clue.

Hamish does some investigating as well, on the sly, as the DI has forbidden him to get involved. In the end he gathers everyone in the hotel parlor, reveals all the secrets everyone has kept (turns out Lady Jane was a gossip columnist for a London tabloid), and tries to needle someone – anyone – into admitting they killed Lady Jane. The killer turns out to be a sociopath who essentially kills Lady Jane for looking at her wrong.

Yep.

Needless to say – this makes no sense. It’s like the author gave up and pulled a name out of a hat to reveal as the killer. It’s almost like a parody of the “fair shot” mysteries of the 1930s, where the author included all the clues so the reader had a fair shot of discovering who the murderer was before or at the same time as the detective. Macbeth also later admits he was “guessing” about the identity of the murderer (though he may have been lying at the time) and refuses to take credit, allowing the world’s dumbest DI to take the credit for solving the case. Besides the horrible portrayal of women in the book – the native Scottish Highlanders, especially Macbeth, are portrayed as lazy and not too swift. Macbeth, however, and this was true in the television series at least, is like a blonde woman doing a “fluffy bunny” act – he’s pretending to be slow, so that people will under-estimate him. He also, again, definitely in the television series – but never mentioned in the book, has no desire to be promoted. He loves Lochdudh, his dog, the Highlands, and his life, and promotion would mean relocating to a big city. In this book, he does seem to be pretending to be slow, but his motivations for doing so are completely ignored. No mention is ever made of way he tends to act like a total idiot.

The point-of-view of the book is omniscient, with considerable time spent getting in to the heads of the various characters staying at the hotel, especially the secretary. It would have been better if the story was actually told from Macbeth’s point of view. At least that would have made the story more like a traditional mystery (in either third person or first person).

Finally, the book itself is only 205 pages. The rest is made up of advertisements and sample chapters. One sample chapter is barely acceptable in a paperback book, but three (roughly 80 pages)? That is highway robbery – another reason this book gets a low rating. Although I can honestly recommend the television series, Hamish Macbeth starring Robert Carlyle (The Full MontyOnce Upon a Time) as the titular character, I cannot recommend this book. It’s the first in a long series, so the series itself may improve later, but overall – Death of a Gossip was full of holes and annoying stereotypes.

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