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Death of a Dustman    by M. C. Beaton order for
Death of a Dustman
by M. C. Beaton
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Mysteries don't come any cozier than Beaton's charming series about Hamish Macbeth, police sergeant in Lochdubh, a small village in the Scottish Highlands. Hamish is a very laid back policeman, who knows his neighbours, is tolerant of their foibles, and looks out for their interests. He is at the bottom of the official food chain, with a superior, the heavy-handed Detective Chief Inspector Blair, who is perpetually out to get him.

The title of this seventeenth episode in the series intrigued me, reminding me of the popular song 'My old man's a dustman'. Beaton's garbage collector is a nasty little alcoholic blackmailer who beats his wife and ends up murdered and dumped into one of his own bins. Hamish's investigative style reminds me somewhat of a game of Clue. He wanders around, chatting with villagers and intuitively pieces together the puzzle from the scraps that he picks up.

Hamish always has interesting assistants, who are likeable but incompetent officers. This time he's paired with fat Clarry, who spends his duty hours snoring in the police station - his redeeming feature is that he is a wonderful chef. Clarry complicates the investigation by becoming a suspect after falling hard for the abused widow. There are other interesting characters like the young woman who sees herself as a village vamp.

The author pokes gentle fun at different aspects of village life and at some modern trends, as when Clarry wants to hug Hamish, who says 'Take care of yourself and stop watching those touchy-feely soaps'. She also takes aim at environmental action groups when Freda Fleming, 'a well-upholstered woman of middle years', who was recently appointed the local Council's Officer for the Environment, takes on the Greening of Lochdubh in the hope that the picturesque village will put her on national tv. It does - not quite as anticipated - in a hilarious climax to the story.

If you like cosy mysteries, don't miss this series. Hamish will never be a high flyer in the Scottish police force, but his sense of priorities is as clear as the air of his beloved Highlands, and he consistently finds his culprit. New tales of Lochdubh are always a treat and Death of a Dustman a pleasure to read.

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