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Death of a Gossip is the first book in the Hamish Macbeth mysteries by M.C. Beaton. I decided to read this book after having found many of the references to Hamish Macbeth's motives in the later books to be obscure and puzzling. I was pleased to find that Death of a Gossip does a fine job of setting up the premise for the series; outlining the characters of Hamish Macbeth and his friend, Priscilla Hallburton-Smythe; and establishing a plot structure for the future murder spree in the small village of Lochdubh in the northwestern Highlands of Scotland. If you want to understand those underpinnings, you definitely need to read this book.

However, the book is quite unlike the others in the series in important ways:

1. The premise behind the murder is much more thoughtful and better developed than in the following books.

2. The tension between the victim and the other characters is also better developed.

3. The interplay between Hamish and Priscilla is awkward and embarrassingly at the edge of prurience for burlesque purposes. In later books, this relationship is much better grounded and more interesting.

4. The detection involved is clumsy and disappointing. It's as though M.C. Beaton had missed the last class on how to write a mystery story. In the later books, the detection is a rewarding element of the stories. So this is an unusual false start.

I mention all of these things lest you fail to realize that you have better books ahead of you.

If you have read none of the Hamish Macbeth stories, I recommend you start with this one and read through them in the order that they were published. You'll enjoy the character development better that way.

Here's a thumbnail of the set-up. Hamish Macbeth is the sole police constable in a small village where there's not much to do. He's impoverished because he's the eldest son in a Scottish family with lots of wee lads and lassies who need financial support. Due to a Highland tradition, he cannot even think of getting married until another son can replace him as an extra provider for the younger children in the large family. Since Hamish is much older than the other children, that day will be long in coming. There's not much for him to do, and he uses a lot of his time to scrounge free food and drink, raise chickens . . . and to poach on occasion. His one vice is his mongrel dog, Towser, who often eats better than Hamish does. Hamish has been struck dumb by the beauty and grace of Priscilla Hallburton-Smythe, daughter of the local landed gentry. Priscilla is unaware of his feelings. Others think that Hamish is retarded because of how much Priscilla affects him. The Hallburton-Smythes see marrying off Priscilla well as their main activity.

As this story opens, it's fishing season . . . and many beginning anglers arrive for the fishing school. They expect to struggle with tying flies, getting lines untangled and overcoming midges, but they don't expect the pointed comments of Lady Jane Hamilton . . . which hint at the hidden secrets in their closets. Lady Jane is obnoxious in other ways, and soon everyone feels threatened. Someone must feel more threatened than others because Lady Jane is found dead. Who did it? Hamish will find out, even though he's ordered off the case.
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on June 7, 2001
When I first started reading this book I didn't quite know what to think. However, I quickly found that I was having quite a bit of fun reading it. Beaton fills the book with plenty of interesting suspects and no one is more offbeat than the detective Hamish MacBeth. For a light and enjoyable read I can't recommend this book enough. We don't learn that much about Macbeth in this story, but if future stories he becomes more of the focus of Beaton's novels. The MacBeth novels have quickly become some of my favorite British (or Scotish to be more correct) mysteries.
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on September 4, 2000
First of the Hamish MacBeth series, this book introduces the quirky country constable who -- while not ambitious -- refuses to take a back seat to the big city Detective Inspector sent to solve Lochdubh's murder.
It's a short, light, quick reading book that centers on the characters moreso than the murder. Luckily, Beaton's dialog is snappy, enough so that you can overlook some two-dimensionality in supporting characters and some all too heavy-handed contrivance plot-wise. Then too, the Hamish MacBeth character is so very interesting and well thought, that whatever character flaws there may be in the book, you don't care as long as you can spend some time with MacBeth....
....And you do get to spend most of the last half of the book with MacBeth, puzzling out the mystery and scrounging free tea and sandwiches from the locals. Not a bad way to spend day.
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on October 19, 1997
The mystery is not the thing here, instead enjoy this book as an introduction to the thoroughly charming character of Hamish MacBeth, the unambitious village constable who wants nothing more than to be left alone to enjoy fishing and poaching and mooching meals off his neighbors and friends. Unfortunately for Hamish, the horrible Lady Jane Winters had to go and get herself murdered, bringing the unwanted attention of Hamish's superior, Inspector Blair. Typical British mystery with a small circle of suspects all of whom have a motive for murder.
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on April 21, 2008
This is my second time reading most of these, this time in order! Book number one, when looked at with fresh eyes, is not particularly great. I'm not entirely sure I would have read on in the series if this had been my first exposure. Hamish's character is not fully developed, and a lot of the supporting cast come across as shallow and two-dimensional. Not to mention the utterly annoying and insipid Alice! If I could reach through the pages of the book and smack her, I would. She's overly naïve, even for a fictional character. You also get the sense of being plunked into the middle of something without quite enough reference - Hamish and Priscilla are ambiguous and largely unexplained at this point. How well do they know each other, how did they meet... all questions left - as far as I can tell - completely unanswered. Later in the series, when they've had interaction with each other and you have more of a grasp of their relationship, it seems less important to know the back story, but in this first book it feels a little empty.

And even as much as I enjoy this series, the mystery in this story wasn't the best. The motive, the actual murder, and the big solution scene all lack believability. Honestly, I didn't even care who'd done it or why, it didn't seem all that pressing or important. The really interesting and fun characters from later in the series hadn't yet made an appearance, and the story lacked the sparkle and interest of later books.

While I'm giving this particular book a low rating, I add as a caveat that if you don't read at least the later books in the series, you'll be missing out on some great little mysteries.
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on April 1, 2002
I am always in favor of a light hearted mystery, but I was very disappointed in this book. While the descriptive language in this book is positively delicious, I found the characters to be mousy, nervous, unbelievable and annoying to the point that I didn't really care what happened to them. The mystery element was not very well crafted either; each of the characters was given motive for murder in a not-very-subtle way, there wasn't much in the way of plot twists, and suspense was very minimal. No goosebumps or delicious anticipation here, just disgust over unrealistic insipidity of the characters' actions. I could very happily have stopped halfway through without caring that I didn't know how it turned out. Don't waste your time, if you want a fun mystery read, try one of Diane Mott Davidsons culinary mysteries.
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on March 17, 2003
Since I began reading these Hamish Macbeth mysteries out of order, it's given me a bit of perspective. In DEATH OF A GOSSIP, the early Hamish (c 1985) is funnier and more awkward, and Priscillla is even more fragile, airy, feminine, and perfect. The whole thing is a little more edgy than some later ones. Beaton creates really unlikable characters -- in this case, the gossip columnist is truly obnoxious. I would have killed her myself. But, unlike some other Beaton books, there's no sense of place this time -- that is, no sense of picturing exactly where everybody was. I always love Beaton's sense of humor. I laughed from page one: "People who travel up here to the wilds of Scotland expect to be instructed by some great hairy Rob Roy, making jokes about saxpence and saying it's a braw bricht moonlicht nicht and lang may your lum reek and ghastly things like that." All in all, a so-so mystery, but a very fun time with Hamish.
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on July 1, 2003
I have read all of the Agatha Raisin series, and I am a great fan of M.C. Beaton's style of cozy, but this is the first Hamish Macbeth book I've read. They are as different from Agatha Raisin as could be, but just as enjoyable. Macbeth is a poky Scottish village constable who appears to not know how to even tie his shoes, but when he sets his mind on discovering a murderer, he shows that he has a mind like a steel trap. He has the Miss Marple knack of being able to compare people and situations to those he is familiar with, and he has the added help of many relatives throughout the world that he can call on for information. In this book Hamish solves the murder of a very nasty woman who has come to the village for a week long fishing school. It turns out that she is a gossip columnist for a tabloid newspaper, and she is at this school to dig up dirt on the other students. A very nasty character indeed, and there is certainly no lack of suspects. Great fun!
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on May 2, 2016
I love the Agatha Raisin books and hope this will turn out to be a good series. This first book in only o.k. I think that the setting in a Fishing School with so much boring teaching of fishing techniques and equipment is a mistake in that it is very boring. There is so little about Hamish Macbeth in the book that one really can't get to know him. However, he seems a likeable person which is more than anyone can say for Agatha Raisin. I have 10 of the books of this series so hope that the others are better. They seem to be shorter books than the Agatha series which leaves little time for much development of characters or drawing out of the story.
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on January 24, 2016
A group of people have come to a village in Scotland to learn how to fish. From the start, Lady jane has been making trouble--hinting at gossip she knows about each person. Hamish Macbeth, the law enforcement officer, likes the peacefulness of the place and also loves to mooch food off of others. He seems a bit lazy, but when a murder occurs, he works to solve it even though he is thrown out of the investigation by the DCI.

A light simple read. More cozy mystery than regular police procedural. Not meaty, but easy and fun to read.
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