I found the books, while browsing in my favorite used bookstore in Midtown, Sacramento, Time Tested Books. There were five altogether, and, after buying two, and then two more, and then the last one, I'm completely hooked.
But there are writerly reasons I am enamored of this series as well:
Then there is the plot — each book is a great puzzle to solve. Every single element of storytelling drives the plot forward, and Beaton is a master of tweaking interest and suspense with false leads and true ones, side stories, and the unexpected, until she brings you to an ending that is inevitable but not predictable.
The setting is superb. Beaton manages to give the landscape such texture and atmosphere that it becomes a character in its own right. Lochdubh is so far north that summer gets little darkness and winter gets little light. Storms rage even in late spring and early fall, followed by surprisingly mild days until the next shrieking winds descend with buckets of rain. Mists rise, swirl, and disperse. Clouds hover and cover. The village has a couple of hotels, a restaurant, a bar, a general store run by an Indian named Patel, an elementary school so small its students are in danger of being bussed to a larger district, a police department with one constable (Macbeth) who lives in part of the police station. Such a local colors the lives of the people, and by the time you put down the book, it's easy to feel you've had your free trip to a remote village in the Highlands.
There is wonderful humor in the way Beaton tells these tales. Even with mayhem on the loose, it's hard not to snicker and chuckle as characters enter and exit with their little moment of drama. And while this series has a progression in the lives and interactions of the characters—especially the star-crossed romance between Hamish and Priscilla Halburton-Smyth—each mystery is a satisfying stand-alone read. (I didn't read these five in order, as I wasn't sure what the order was, and that didn't spoil my enjoyment one bit.)
You can see all of the books in the series at Beaton's website HERE.
But, oh, oh, oh: dreadful question to consider: What am I to do when this series runs out?
How about you? Do you have a series you are absolutely hooked on? (Recommendations, please — especially if it is a mystery series.) And, what do you do when you get to the last read in the series? Start over? Look for a new one?