Tuesday, June 25, 2013

the joys of local color

I recently finished one of the Hamish Macbeth novels by M. C. Beaton, this time Death of a Village (ISBN: 0892966777, Recorded from:, New York : Mysterious Press, c2003). I would classify these as light cozy mysteries, since the mysteries are fun, sometimes a bit complicated, but certainly less than totally engrossing. The characters are far more fun, as is the rather gentle humor. The real reason I keep coming back to visit Hamish, though, is the setting. M. C. Beaton has one of the most finely honed senses of place I’ve ever come across. The Scottish Highlands village of Lochdubh has become very familiar territory, and I would fully expect to be able to find anything I wanted if I were to be set down there (though that would have to be a magical process). I’d also know most of the people who live there, at least the “regulars” like Angela, the doctor’s wife, with her rather unique cooking and many cats, the Minister’s wife (from whom I would probably try to hide), the gossiping twins, and all the rest. The magic of these books, for me, is the village where much of the action takes place, and even when Hamish is working elsewhere, it is still the home of these novels. It is lovingly portrayed in all seasons, in its beauty, in its storms, and in its damp and muddy chill. While reading any book in this series, I can feel the strong pulse of the village around me, and I can bring it quickly to mind, even long after finishing a Hamish Macbeth mystery. The portrait of Lochdubh is vibrant and loving, but it is also realistic. The author avoids the trap of idealization, and it is this avoidance, I think, which makes Lochdubh feel almost like a 2nd home. In fact, don’t I own or rent a cottage there? If I did, it would be within walking distance to the harbor wall, where I would most like sit for contented hours, enjoying loch and village. Then I’d probably get dressed up a bit and stroll over to the Italian restaurant to have some excellent food and a visit with Willie and Lucia, then to the pub, just to see who’s around. This is all fanciful, I know, but M. C. Beaton makes such fancies charmingly easy.

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