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Book Review by Robin Widmar

“Death of a Liar”

ìDeath of a Liarî is one of a collection of entertaining mysteries set in the Scottish Highlands, featuring Sgt. Hamish Macbeth. Author M.C. Beaton infused the series with a huge dose of humor by creating characters that can only be described as stereotypes. While that practice is normally frowned upon in our politically correct world, Beaton gets a pass; after all, she is Scottish. And by blending genres, part mystery/part comedy, she has invented a smooth flowing tongue-in-cheek series that keeps readers coming back for more. Lounging on the deck outside the Lochdubh police station, Macbeth and Constable Dick Fraser are enjoying a wonderful Indian Summer day. Resting beside them are Macbethís wild cat, Sonsie, and his dog, Lugs; pets who readers will come to envy long before the end of the story. Just try not to drool on the pages while reading about their gourmet meals. There is little crime in this small, remote village. In fact, most of the 13,000 people living in Sutherland County are law-biding citizens. Only Strathbane, the county seat, is burdened with drug-related crimes. That is one reason Macbeth and Fraser prefer their rural posting. But even better, the setting allows them to magically escape the police bureaucracy that those working on the nitty-gritty city streets are subjected to daily. This freedom has never hindered Macbethís ability to catch the bad guys, but it is a constant source of irritation for his commanding officers. Piercing rings from the telephone interrupt the peacefulness. On the other end of the line is Liz Bentley, a women in her 50s who lives in Cromish. Macbeth is shocked by the nature of the crime she is reporting. Promising to come to her aid as quickly as possible, the two officers load the animals into the Land Rover and immediately set off. Completing the journey will take some time, as they must traverse twisty mountain and coastal roads. Finding Bentley in a distraught state, Macbeth asks for a description of her attacker, to which she only vaguely responds. After further investigation, it becomes clear that no crime has been committed. Bentley is just a lonely woman looking for attention. She moved to Cromish four months ago and has already earned a reputation for telling tall tales. She told everyone she was related to royalty, claimed to be engaged and evoked sympathy from local residents by swearing she was suffering from cancer. She was quickly found out, but no matter, Bentley canít seem to get through the day without fibbing. Totally disgusted by her actions, Macbeth suggests she see a psychiatrist and warns her, ìDonít effer dare phone me again.î Heading back to Lochdubh, the two men return to their slow-paced routine. The next bit of excitement happens after an English couple, Frank and Bessie Leigh, move into the old school house on the edge of town. When Macbeth and Fraser stop by to welcome the new residents to the neighborhood, Mrs. Leigh accuses them of being ìas nosy as the rest of the neighbors.î Her statement is true enough, but the accusation isnít the best way for the Leighs to ingratiate themselves with the constabulary; so later that day her husband stops by the police station to apologize for his wifeís rude behavior. Taking a look around the station, Mr. Leigh comments on all the ìgleaming appliancesî in the kitchen, wondering out loud how ìa local copper could afford all this.î While most remote police stations contain living quarters, the accommodations would normally be described as bleak. But then most stations donít have Fraser, who has the knack for being quick with an answer on quiz night. It is his prize winnings, including a large screen TV, on display in the station. His other talents include creating sumptuous meals for himself, Macbeth, and the animals; and a canny ability to anticipate what must be packed into the Land Rover when the officers need to camp out in distant parts of the county. A bottle of whiskey is always close at hand in the station. Macbeth normally uses it to loosen up Detective Jimmy Andersonís tongue. He is a colleague from Strathbane, who, after enough libation, passes along vital information Macbethís supervisors would prefer to keep to themselves. But it is only good manners to offer a glass to the new neighbor, and Leigh is happy to accept a ìwee dram,î which is followed by another, and another; until Leighís behavior becomes more obnoxious than his wifeís bad manners. Yet, unlike Anderson, Leigh remains tight-lipped, unwilling to divulge any information about the coupleís past life or why they moved to Lochdubh. Two weeks later, a young boy comes rushing to the station. He claims to have seen a foot sticking out of the ground in the Leighís garden. It belongs to Mrs. Leigh, but the whereabouts of her husband and the family car are unknown. An entire forensic team descends onto the village, headed by Detective Chief Inspector Blair. Hoping to solve the murder himself and collect the kudos from Superintendent Daviot, Blair orders Macbeth and Fraser away from the crime scene, sending them on a wild goose chase to search for Frank Leigh. Of course, they wind up at the heart of the action. While this murder is being investigated, Liz Bentley calls to say an intruder is in her home. As with ìthe boy who cried wolfî once too often, her plea for help goes unanswered. By the next morning, Macbeth begins to feel guilty about ignoring her call, and sets out for Cromish. Sadly, she, too, is planted in her garden. Bentley is obviously the ìliarî referred to in the title of this book, but she is far from the only one. Liars, pretenders, con artists and various other quirky characters appear throughout the story. For example, Angus Macdonald, with his ìlong grey beard and white gown,î is known as a ìseerî ó a perceived skill that he uses to his own advantage. Then, there is Alex Brough, a Canadian minister who runs ìThe Church of the Chosen.î Whether it is a church or a cult is debatable, but it obviously functions as more than a house of worship. Deceitful behavior extends to an array of officials as well. In fact, even some of Macbethís actions can be considered dubious at times. While the team completes its investigations, we get a running account of the landscape, weather and Macbethís love life. He has two ex-fiancÈs. Priscilla Halburton-Smythe is the daughter of the wealthy owner of Tommel Castle hotel. While extremely good looking, Macbeth describes her as ìsexually cold.î Next is Elspeth Grant, a local reporter and television presenter, who Macbeth thought was two-timing him. She wasnít, but by the time he figured that out, she was no longer interested in him. Currently, Christine Dalray, a long-legged beauty who heads the forensic team, has her heart set on Macbeth. But none of these women can hold a candle to a Polish beauty, Anka Bajorak, who moved to Cromish six months ago. As a newcomer to the area, she should be on the suspect list, but not only does she have a great body, she is also a fantastic cook. ìHer baps are the talk oí the Highlands,î Sadie Mackay, owner of the Cromish village shop, tells the officers. After trying the breakfast rolls, they agree. Sadly, Macbethís romantic efforts are wasted on Anka, who has designs on someone else. By the time I got to the end of this book, I didnít really care who committed the murders. I just wanted to keep roaming the Highlands with Macbeth and his pets. Evidently Iím not alone, which is why Beatonís other 29 ìHamish Macbeth Mysteriesî have all become New York Times best sellers. Get hooked yourself, read ìDeath of a Liar.î

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