01 Feb 2006
All good things must come to an end, I suppose. Hamish Macbeth has had a good run as constable of the Scottish seaside village. He has his job, his small holding, his quiet, ambition-free life, and his longing for the upper-class woman who has dumped him.
But “Death of a Dentist,” the thirteenth in the series by M.C. Beaton, otherwise known as the romance writer Marion Chesney, shows solid evidence that the series has become stale.
Although barely competent as a dentist — he prefers pulling to filling teeth any day — many Highlanders visit Dr. Gilchrist because he is cheap and because they prefer dentures to real teeth. But his reputation as a philanderer catches up with him when he is found dead in his dentist’s chair, poisoned, his teeth drilled.
Although barely reaching the 200-page mark, reading “Death of a Dentist” proved hard going. Beaton’s books rely on a combination of a compelling mystery, interspersed with Macbeth’s travails, either with Priscilla, his superiors on the police force, or the people of Lochdubh. But the mystery behind who killed the dentist did not prove compelling, and Macbeth’s passive-aggressive attempts to woo a fetching hiker (while still emotionally attached to Priscilla, now living in London) proved so irritating it makes you want to slap him.
While the earlier books in the series retain their native charm and acidic comedy, I don’t expect the Scottish tourist board to be taking Beaton’s later books to heart anytime soon. Her portrait of Scotland is of a dreary land dotted by rotting towns, and her people are ignorant, snobbish, crooked and ugly. Beaton/Chesney is a writer known for her high output, currently writing books for this series, as well as the Agatha Raison and Daughters of Mannerly series, but this desolate portrait makes one wonder if the pressure of producing so much is beginning to fray her about the edges. Either that, or she’s drawing an accurate portrait of her native Scotland, which is an equally depressing prospect.