A cosy read

One of the great things about being retired is that you can go down a rabbit hole without feeling guilty. This morning I was trying to remember the name of a Scottish novel we read in my book group years ago, so I started tootling around the web looking for “books set on Scottish Islands” and came up with a list of top favourite Scottish crime novels featuring a book called Death of a Liar by M.C. Beaton.

I was delighted to read that Death of a Liar is the 30th book in a series featuring the Scottish police officer Hamish Macbeth. I used to love the TV show which starred a very youthful Robert Carlyle. You can watch some grainy episodes here if you’d like a trip down memory lane. The TV show (featuring a cute little white Scotty dog) aired between 1995-97 in the highly coveted Sunday night drama time-slot, back in the days when we didn’t have control over what was on our tellies and had to watch whatever was on.

I was a big fan of the TV series, primarily because I have a soft spot for Scottish accents, but I’ve not read the books, although that might change. It surprised me to find that M.C. Beaton was the pen-name of a writer called Marion Chesney Gibbons. She wrote under four different pen-names and was also the author of the Agatha Raisin series. These books are known as ‘cosy mysteries’ because they feature low levels of blood and gore and have neat and tidy endings. Perfect comfort reads. Midsomer Murders and Agatha Christie books are other examples of the genre, as is The Thursday Murder Club by television presenter Richard Osman.

Marion Chesney started her career in the publishing industry in the 1960s and wrote her first novel after reading some poorly written romance novels and thinking she could do better. I love it when people write for that reason! She soon switched to crime novels and published 160 books during her career.

According to this article in the Guardian, her attitude to the television series was ambivalent, and at a crime-writing festival in Reading in 2010 Chesney Gibbons told a shocked but amused audience in no uncertain terms that Carlyle had been miscast because he was a Lowland Scot whereas Macbeth was a Highlander.

Chesney Gibbons continued to write well into her 80s and published her last Agatha Raisin book only a few months before her death, aged 83, in December 2019. She sold 21 million books during her lifetime and attributed her impressive output to the “curse of the Scottish work ethic”.

I still haven’t been able to recall the name of the books I was originally looking for, so that might be a task for another day. Or maybe someone in my book group will remember?

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