M.C. Beaton: Introductory Notes

M.C. Beaton is a pseudonym of Marion Chesney, who is known primarily for the more than 100 historical romance novels she has published under her own name and under several pseudonyms: Helen Crampton, Ann Fairfax, Jennie Tremaine, and Charlotte Ward. But M.C. Beaton is the pseudonym she reserves for her mystery novels.

Marion Chesney was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1936. She has worked as a fiction buyer for a bookseller, as women’s fashion editor for the magazine Scottish Field, as a reporter and theater critic for the Scottish Daily Express (Glasgow), and as a reporter for the Daily Express (London). Like her amateur sleuth Agatha Raisin, Chesney lives in a cottage in the English Cotswolds.

For more information, see her web site

According to Willetta L. Heising in Detecting Women 2, the idea for the first Hamish Macbeth novel came to Chesney while she was learning to fly cast for salmon at a fishing school in northern Scotland. Macbeth is the town constable in Lochdubh, a small village in the Scottish Highlands. He keeps a low profile, preferring to have people assume he’s of limited competence and intelligence. But, despite the intervention of more high-powered police officials, he’s able to solve crimes by careful observation of the people involved. Hamish Macbeth’s quiet but steady process of investigation has lead one reviewer to say of a novel in this series, “The pleasures of the book are akin to those of a good gossip session with a perceptive old friend.”

Beaton’s later mystery creation, amateur sleuth Agatha Raisin, is a middle-aged public relations dynamo who retires to a village in the English countryside. She’s more self-important and assertive than Hamish Macbeth, but both series deal with life in a small village. Each town presents an isolated, insular community that doesn’t take kindly to strangers—perhaps because the arrival of outsiders often causes trouble and upsets the status quo. Like Hamish Macbeth, Agatha Raisin solves crimes by observing and analyzing the people around her, but unlike Macbeth she’s pushy, nosy, and manipulative.

British readers probably prefer the Hamish Macbeth mysteries. In fact, the BBC has made the stories into a television series. American readers seem to prefer the more brash Agatha Raisin, who crashes her way through village life with more outright humor than occurs in the more subdued Hamish Macbeth books. But both series examine small-town life under the guise of a mystery. These are short books that provide the  perfect diversion when you’re in the mood for some light, amusing reading.

© 2000 by Mary Daniels Brown

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