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By M.C. Beatohn
Mysterious Press
129 pages, $16.95

By all odds, it should have been a tranquil Christmas in the wee village of Lochdubh in the very heart of Scotland, where law and order are represented exclusively by lank, laconic Police Constable Hamish Macbeth.

In this slim 14th novel in M.C. Beaton's charming Macbeth series -- timed for yuletide release -- the author has her principal character looking forward to a peaceful holiday, with no major crime cases on his docket and his home quietly restful while his family is off in Florida for a winter vacation.

But fans of Beaton's Macbeth know it won't be long before the quirkiness of the village reasserts itself.

And it does.

First, cranky Mrs. Gallagher reports her cat missing and demands a special investigation be mounted.

Then, the nearby village of Cnothan, with its own wacky problems, is added to Macbeth's jurisdiction.

Which means Macbeth must also investigate the theft of an 8-foot Christmas tree and all its decorations, in a community where a strong Calvinist element frowns on any observance of Christmas.

Then there's the police constable's old nemesis, Detective Chief Inspector Blair.

He's on the phone, almost incessantly, dreaming up fresh new obstacles to impede the put-upon, harassed policeman of Lochdubh. But these are cases that, after all, Macbeth should handle with his native aplomb.

Which, of course, is exactly what he does.

M.C. Beaton is a pseudonym for Marion Chesney, who lives in a cottage with her husband in the Cotswolds in England.

She is also the author of the Agatha Raisin mystery series and of many Regency romances.

The Hamish Macbeth novels have been filmed by Zenith Productions, the company that brought Inspector Morse to television, seen locally on Buffalo's PBS TV stations and on Cable station A&E.

More thrills, briefly

Honeymoon to Nowhere, by Akimutsu Takagi; Soho, 288 pages, paperbound, $12 -- Another crime puzzle featuring State Prosecutor Kirisnima. A young woman must admit her pregnancy to her family for an OK of her marriage to a studious university lecturer. Her family wants her to nix the marriage because of the criminals in her betrothed's family. Then the groom is called away, his body found the next day. This is the first U.S. paperback edition by the author whose 1948 "The Tattoo Murder Case" won the prestigious Japanese Mystery Writers Club award. Author Takagi died in 1995.

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