M C Beaton

Death of a Valentine

Book 26 in the Hamish MacBeth series, 2009

For my husband, Harry Scott Gibbons.

And my agent, Barbara Lowenstein.

With love.

To Minerva

My temples throb, my pulses boil, I’m sick of Song and Ode and Ballad-So, Thyrisis, take the Midnight Oil And pour it on a lobster salad.

My brain is dull, my sight is foul, I cannot write a verse or read-Then, Pallas, take away thine Owl, And let us have a lark instead.

– Thomas Hood


Over the heathery flanks of the mountains, over the lochs, over the vast tracts of land that make up the county of Sutherland in the very north of Scotland, down to the fishing boats bobbing at anchor along the west coast, the amazing news spread.

That most famous of highland bachelors, Police Sergeant Hamish Macbeth, was to be married at last. No, nothing like that mistake he had made before when he had nearly married some Russian. This was love. And he was to be married, right and proper, with a white wedding in the church in his home village of Lochdubh.

He was to marry his constable, Josie McSween, who had helped him solve the Valentine’s Day murder. Pretty little thing she was, with glossy brown hair and big brown eyes. The whole village of Lochdubh adored Josie. And everyone could see she was in love with Hamish.

On the great day, the church was full to bursting. Some wondered if the former love of Hamish’s life, Priscilla Halburton-Smythe, would attend, but others whispered she was in Australia.

The added excitement was that Elspeth Grant, former reporter and now a star television news presenter, had promised to attend. She had many fans, and some had brought along their autograph books.

Josie’s father was dead and she appeared not to have any male relatives. She was to be given away by Police Superintendent Peter Daviot.

There was a rustle of excitement as the bride arrived. Hamish stood erect at the altar, flanked by his best man, Detective Sergeant Jimmy Anderson. “Cheer up!” muttered Jimmy. “Man, you’re as white as a sheet.”

The service began. Then at one point, the minister, Mr. Wellington, addressed the congregation. “If any amongst you know of any reason why this man and this woman should not be joined in holy matrimony, speak now, or forever hold your peace.” His deep highland voice held a note of amusement. For who could protest such a love match?

Hamish Macbeth raised his eyes to the old beams of the church roof and murmured desperately the soldier’s prayer.

“Dear God, if there is a God, get me out of this!”

Chapter One


It’s hardly in a body’s pow’r.

Tae keep, at times, frae being sour.

– Robert Burns

A year earlier

Hamish Macbeth had been promoted to sergeant. Having been promoted before and then reduced to the ranks, he had not even had to sit the necessary exams. Many a constable would have welcomed the promotion and the extra money that came with it, but Hamish was dismayed for two reasons. He was not an ambitious man and saw every rise up the ranks as a move to get him transferred to the city of Strathbane. All he wanted was to be left peacefully alone in his village police station.

He was also dismayed by being told that a constable would be coming to work with him and to clear out his spare room. The spare room was very highland in that it was stuffed with all sorts of rusting odds and ends that Hamish had picked up from time to time and had stored in the happy thought that they might come in useful one day.

At first he was confident that no one would want the job, but then he was told to expect a police constable, McSween.

He received a visit from his friend Detective Sergeant Jimmy Anderson. Jimmy walked in without knocking and found Hamish gloomily studying the contents of the spare room.

“For heaven’s sakes, man,” exclaimed Jimmy. “Get a move on. The lassie’ll be here any minute.”

Hamish Macbeth, all six feet and five inches of him, turned slowly round. “What lassie?”

“Your new copper. Wee Josie McSween.”

Hamish’s hazel eyes looked blank with shock. “Nobody told me it was a woman.”

“I overheard that curse o’ your life, Blair, telling Daviot that the influence of a good woman was just what you need.”

Detective Chief Inspector Blair loathed Hamish and was always looking for ways to upset him.

“Come into the kitchen,” said Hamish. “She cannae be staying here.”

“Why not? Got any whisky?”

“Usual place. Help yourself. No, she’ll need to find lodgings.”

“It’s the twenty-first century, Hamish. Nobody’ll think anything of it.”

Jimmy sat down at the kitchen table and poured himself a drink. He was a smaller man than

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