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DEATH OF A VALENTINE
By M.C. Beaton
Grand Central Publishing, 2010 ($23.99)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Finally, after several close calls and a few broken hearts, Police Sergeant Hamish Macbeth, the most eligible bachelor in the Scottish highland town of Lochdubh, is standing at the altar. The bride is lovely little Josie McSween. Has Hamish finally found the love of his life? His thoughts when the minister asks that one last question suggest otherwise. What's going on here? Is this marriage going to take place, or isn't it? This wedding scene is in the prologue, which normally contains information about events that have already happened. In this case, however, it is more like an epilogue, something that may or may not happen later in the story. When I realized that, I found it slightly jarring.
Chapter one is set a year in the past. Hamish, who wants nothing more than to be a lowly village constable, tending to the simple legal needs of his friends and neighbors, has once again been promoted to Sergeant. Whenever that happens, he always fears that he'll be sent to a larger town or city, and he always manages to get demoted. This time, he is allowed to remain in Lochdubh, but he is assigned a constable to assist him. That's bad enough, but when it turns out to be a female he is gobsmacked. Josie McSween, the new constable, is thrilled: she'd fallen in love with Hamish after reading about some of his cases, and worked all her charms on the higher-ups to get this assignment. She plans to stay in the police station/dwelling with Hamish, but he tells her that is out of the question. The ladies of the village, not to mention Hamish himself, would be horrified at such an arrangement. He finds her a room with the minister's family, and Josie has to abandon her plans to smarten up the cottage, perhaps redo the kitchen, maybe add a nursery, for the time being, anyway.
At least she can ride around with Hamish, helping him with his crime-solving activities and winning him over with her charms, right? Wrong. Hamish sends her off to the countryside to check on the housebound old folks. She is good at that, and they all sing her praises. Several of the villagers, including Mrs. Wellington, Josie's landlady, think Hamish and Josie would make a perfect couple, and they do all they can to encourage the match. Hamish does all he can to discourage their attempts. Josie decides she'll give herself two months to win her love, and then she'll throw in the towel.
She tries to prove her abilities as a police constable by arresting people for minor infractions. Hamish promptly releases them and tells her to stop it. Then something Hamish really hates occurs: there is a real crime to solve. A valuable item is stolen from an English lord, and Josie has information from a gypsy fortune teller that leads her to conclude the gypsies camped nearby are the culprits. Hamish's boss, Detective Chief Inspector Blair, hates both Hamish and gypsies, and an arrest is promptly made. Just as promptly, Hamish finds the real culprit, the gypsies hire a lawyer, and Blair and Josie are suspended.
Poor love-starved Josie tries more and more desperate measures to win Hamish's heart, or at least get his ring on her finger. Some of them involve doping glasses of whisky that she puts on his dining table when he's not around. For some strange reason, other people wander in, see the glass and drink it without a second thought. Maybe it's a Highland tradition to leave glasses of whiskey sitting out for unexpected guests? That stretched credibility for me, but it does make for interesting and unanticipated consequences.
Needless to say, none of her plans work, until -- yes, there is one way to achieve her goal, and she pulls it off. Or does she? Is Hamish doomed to become a married man? Find out for yourself, and enjoy the loopy ride. This is the twenty-fifth book in the Hamish Macbeth mystery series. Aside from a couple of minor quibbles, I enjoyed it, as will other fans of the series.
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