John and Heather Cartwright run a modestly successful fishing school in the Scottish highlands. Their pupils come to learn how to tie leaders and flies, and to wrestle with the salmon that populate the local rivers. The most recent group seems to be fairly typical — an American couple, a local twelve-year-old, a major with previous fishing experience, an innocent young girl, a wealthy young man, and the widow of a politician, all looking for a genteel fishing holiday. But what the Cartwrights can’t know is that one of their students has come with ulterior motives that will goad another one of the group to murder.
Despite the fact that M.C. Beaton’s novel (the first of a long series) was written in 1985, it has the feeling of a classic Golden Age mystery. The small, closed community of suspects includes no one unexpected. The village constable, Hamish Macbeth, is the detective, with his fiery red hair and his reputation for laziness. The structure, with its setup for murder, the murder itself (without unduly distressing gore), the red herrings, and the solution, are neat and satisfying. It’s a puzzle-piece mystery, with everything in its place.
The fact that the book is a wee bit predictable doesn’t make it bad, though. I particularly liked the setting of the highlands, and the small-village atmosphere of Lochdubh. The characterization is enjoyable, particularly that of Hamish, who (I assume) will be one of the few long-running characters. He’s kind of a Columbo type, easily underestimated until he begins to speak his mind, and that’s always fun. I mentioned, too, that this is the first of a series, and I look forward to the development of it.
I listened to this book as a downloadable audiobook, read by Davina Porter. It was a nice version, though there were several different accents in the book (Scots, New York, and Georgia) that were a little awkwardly handled. Still, this is the perfect kind of mystery to listen to on tape, and trying to keep track of the puzzle pieces made my workouts fly by! I plan to listen to the next one in the series, Death of a Cad, this week. Have any of you read further along in the series? Do you have favorites to recommend?