Breaking Bounds

The stories that Marion Chesney writes — the romances under this name and the mysteries penned under the name M.C. Beaton — are always at their best when they bust out of their prefab genres or confound our expectations of her characters. At times, her books are almost subversive. Her Poor Relations series, set in the Regency era, casts a glance at convention by telling a love story, but it’s clear that she’s interested in her secondary characters as well, and the result is a charming, entertaining series of books that stand out from the herd.

She has a similar success with this mystery series starring Hamish Macbeth, the constable of a small Scottish seaside town. Depending upon the book, this series, now numbering 15 books, is a cross-fertilization of police procedural, village cozy and romance, all held together by the amiable Macbeth, the good copper too unambitious to want to move from Lochdubh, no matter how irritating the cantankerous residents could be at times.

But “Death of an Addict” sends Macbeth away from Lochdubh as he investigates the suspicious drug overdose of a young man who had kicked heroin and was writing a book about his experiences. The trail leads to an evangelical church of dubious faith and to drug smuggling in Amsterdam, where Macbeth falls into some very unofficer-like behavior as he goes undercover as a smuggler alongside a hard-nosed detective inspector who poses as his wife.

While I’ve generally found the Macbeth stories a treat, “Death of an Addict” is a cut above Beaton’s usual excellence. With its fast pace, a plot that takes unexpected turns and Macbeth pushed into some unexpected roles, “Addict” is the best book of the series, and it brings joy to this reader’s heart to know that there are more books to come.