While I had heard of mystery writer M.C. Beaton, often through rave reviews, I had not read any of Beaton's books. So, naturally, I jumped at the chance to not only read her new book, Death of a Maid, but also to interview her. The book is scheduled for an early February 2007 release.
If you, like me, are used to reading books by Michael Connelly and George Pelecanos with lots of corrupt cops, shootings, traffic congestion, and other inner city problems, this book may be a bit jarring at first. I know it was for me.
But soon you adjust to the quieter environment of the small towns in which Beaton's characters reside in Scotland. In this book, Scottish detective Hamish Macbeth investigates what happened to a gossipy maid whose services he and others used regularly. As he interrogates the folk in town in his own special way, we get to know them, quirks and all.
Since the story involves a gossip-mongering maid, I have to ask – have you ever had a maid and was she a gossip?
No, I never had a gossipy maid, and by that I mean a malicious one who does her work badly – like the one in Death of a Maid. But I have known people who have suffered by employing such a woman and because they are frightened of such a person, they dub that person "a real character" so as to avoid a confrontation by giving the useless woman the sack.
I am going to ask you a question I also asked Laura Lippman. What are the benefits of having a recurring character? Do you ever find it limiting in any way?
I find the benefit is that I am already familiar with all the quirks of personality and the setting.
What are the pros and cons of using the same setting? How would the protagonist, Hamish Macbeth, fare if asked to solve crimes in a big city in Europe? Or in America?
I sometimes feel guilty about using the same Highland setting as there have been about two murders in Sutherland in the past 100 years. But I would never move Hamish from his Highland location. That is the escape for the reader. I read Chinese, Japanese, and Swedish detective stories, for example, because I like to get away from where I am and into someone else's world. When speaking to a large audience in a bookshop in America, someone asked if I would consider sending Hamish on a trip to America and the rest of the audience cried, "NO!"
Never having been to Scotland (which I like to pretend was named after me), does the book reflect what life is like there in small towns?
It's a highly fictionalized account of life in a small Scottish village to a certain extent, but it does have some of the flavor of the reality. Sutherland has a dramatic landscape and a wild climate. There are vast uninhabited areas. There are two types of highlander. One is like Hamish Macbeth, clever and easy-going. The others are called cowboys. They hate to see anyone being successful. Barbara Cartland had her house burned down. A trout farmer had his water poisoned. The contrasts in character make for inspiration. There is also in some parts a strong streak of Calvinism. In the eighties, a minister was locked out of his church in Lairg because he had dared to allow a Catholic to say a prayer at a council meeting.
What's the biggest misconception readers and critics have of you?
The biggest misconception readers have of me is that they really think I am like Agatha Raisin, my other character. I am really quite polite, although I do smoke and drink black coffee.
What are you working on next?
I am working on a new Hamish Macbeth called Death of a Gentle Lady.