Death of a Witch by M.C. Beaton (Review #2)

witch1Reviewed by Stephanie Nordkap

This edition contains an excerpt of Ms. Beaton’s next book Death of a Valentine.

Death of a Witch is the 24th mystery featuring Hamish Macbeth, a series set in the picturesque Scottish Highlands. In this novel, MC Beaton takes a look at the superstitious nature of a tight-knit community that protects its own and alienates those interfering with community affairs.

Hamish has just returned from a rather dull vacation in Spain to find a newcomer in the village, a woman by the name of Catriona Beldame who creates special ‘medicines’. It appears the local men have been visiting Catriona for certain potions meant to increase their prowess in the bedroom, but instead has them visiting the local doctor for treatment for swelling and infections. While Catriona seems to have endeared herself to many men in the village, except for Hamish who remains suspicious, the women remain aloof and unwelcome of their spouses’ amourous attentions and totally distrust the ‘potions’ and Catriona.

When Catriona is violently murdered, and her cottage goes up in flames, the villagers murmur to one another about ‘witchcraft’. And suddenly Hamish is implicated in the murder as he has been overheard threatening her. When three other villagers are killed in succession, pressure is put upon Hamish to solve the murders quickly before any other murders are committed. To help him in his pursuit of the murderer, Hamish calls upon his reporter friend Elspeth Grant and Lesley Seaton, the new forensics expert who appears to have her sights set on Hamish. To Hamish’s surprise, he also learns that his former love Priscilla Haliburton-Smythe is in town, creating some awkward moments for Hamish.

It is clear that Hamish has difficulty keeping to a committed relationship. His relationships and the experiences he has are often laughable and create some interesting moments in the book, but they also serve as a larger theme, the battle for control between the sexes that has infected the small town of Lochdubh. Secrets that would normally remain behind closed doors are suddenly becoming public, embarrassing many of the villagers.

This was a light, charming mystery, remaining true to the author’s formula of Hamish finding clues no one else seems to find, using his sources in an entertaining and deceptive way, constantly battling Inspector Blair, of women fighting over Hamish, and Hamish trying to solve the crime without drawing attention to himself so he won’t be promoted and have to leave his beloved village of Lochdubh. MC Beaton strikes a perfect balance between humour and drama, filling her pages with the usual idiosynchratic characters that make her books so much fun to read. It is a great and satisfying addition to the series.

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