Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Hamish Macbeth Mysteries by M. C. Beaton

Recently I discovered the cozy mysteries of M. C. Beaton's Hamish Macbeth series, set in Lochdubh, a small fishing village in the Highlands of Scotland.
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.

These are the five. The proprietor of the store assures me there may be more in the back room. But I clearly see that once those run out, I'm going to have to go online and find even more.

What is so special about these books? Well, two factors right off: I love cozies, and these are well written cozies. And I love books set in far away places. These mysteries leave you with a feeling that you've had a free trip to the Highlands.

But there are writerly reasons I am enamored of this series as well:

 First, the characters: Hamish Macbeth is the lanky, endearing police constable who loves Lochdubh and has no ambition to be promoted to the larger town of Strathbane, where his nemesis, Chief Inspector Blair, does harbor ambitions and constantly chafes at Hamish's success at solving crimes

in the area. Hamish himself is unorthodox in his approach but has strong integrity and empathy for his fellow villagers. He loves dogs, checks in with older people to see how they are doing, and yet is relentless and quick witted in the pursuit of justice. But all the villagers are nicely drawn as well, with just the right, minimalist brushstrokes that fix them clearly in your mind.

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 locale 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?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Cover Reveal for Dark Winds Rising

Being a history buff I can't resist a novel set in the past, especially one in the Wales of long ago. And loving travel as I do, I always consider a good historical novel a free trip into that other world. So I am pleased to announce Mark Noce is publishing book two of his exciting series set in Medieval Wales and to announce his cover reveal.

Dark Winds Rising . . . What an irresistible title that is! About this new gem, Mark says, "Dark Winds Rising is the sequel to my debut novel Between Two Fires, and comes out with St. Martin’s Press December 5th 2017! Today is my cover reveal for the next book in my historical fiction series set in medieval Wales. A big thanks to St. Martin’s Press for the great cover art!" 

Here is the synopsis for Dark Winds Rising:

Queen Branwen finds her world once again turned upside down as Pictish raiders harry the shores of her kingdom. Rallying her people once more, she must face her most dangerous foe yet, the Queen of the Picts. Ruthless and cunning, the Pictish Queen turns the Welsh against each other in a bloody civil war, and Branwen must attempt to stop her before her country threatens to tear itself apart. All the while Branwen is heavy with child, and finds her young son’s footsteps dogged by a mysterious assassin. Branwen must somehow defeat the Picts and save her people before the Pictish Queen and a mysterious assassin threaten to destroy their lives from the inside out.

About the Author:

Mark Noce writes historical fiction with a passion, and eagerly reads everything from fantasy to literature. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, he’s an avid traveler and backpacker, particularly in Europe and North America. He earned his BA and MA from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where he also met his beautiful wife. By day, he works as a Technical Writer, having spent much of his career at places like Google and Facebook. When not reading or writing, he’s probably listening to U2, sailing his dad’s boat, or gardening with his family.

Dark Winds Rising is his second novel in a historical series published by St. Martin’s Press. His debut novel, Between Two Fires, (also published via St. Martin's Press) is available wherever books are sold. Learn more at marknoce.com or connect via his newsletter or blog.

You can purchase Between Two Fires at:  Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Macmillan
(For those of you who haven't read Between Two Fires — a gripping and satisfying read — you can read an earlier review I wrote of it HERE. )  I've also learned you can pre-order Dark Winds Rising from Amazon now.

How about you? Are you fascinated by Welsh history and novels set in Wales? Do you like historical fiction in general? Did you get a chance to read Mark's first book?