February OGoF Pick and Review: “Death of a Maid” by M. C. Beaton

This month’s Other Genre or Format* pick is Death of a Maid: A Hamish Macbeth Mystery by M. C. Beaton.

In answer to the question “What are you reading now?” the chances that I would answer “a cosy mystery” are extremely low. That said, I do believe the genre is unfairly reviled by those who view it as the sole purview of elderly women with too many cats and a passion for yarn craft.

A basic definition of the “cosy mystery” is a mystery story that takes place within a closed environment (a house, a train, a small village, etc), features little or no graphic content (sex or violence), and is tidily resolved in the end. The works of Agatha Christie epitomize the genre.

Image result for hamish macbeth death of a maidM. C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth series follows the crime-solving exploits of the titular hero, a policeman in a small village in the highlands of Scotland. It features a strong cast of characters and many charms, including the lead character’s unfortunate last name, his strange pets, and the Scottish highland scenery.

In Death of a Maid, Hamish must solve the murder of a cleaning woman who may have also been a blackmailer.

Beaton’s writing is unpretentious and flows seamlessly. The story has a solid three-part structure (beginning, middle, end) but is not boring or predictable. Definitely recommended to fans of the mystery genres, or anyone in search of a relaxing and entertaining read.

Why I chose this book: I listened to the audio version of this book, and to be honest I chose it simply because it was available and I wanted something undemanding to listen to during my commute home from work. I did not regret my choice.

* To expand my reading horizons, I try to read one book each month from a genre or format I don’t usually read.


January Reading Recap

At the beginning of the month, I set my 2017 reading goal as reading one nonfiction and one fiction book each month. Since this turned out not to be very challenging, I decided to add two more goals – reading one book that was written before I was born (BIWB) and one book of a different genre or form each month. This month I selected The Plague by Albert Camus as the BIWB book, and a book of poetry – Notes on the Assemblage by U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera for the “other form” category.

Here’s what I read this month:

  • Nonfiction –
    •  The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee (Scribner, 2016)
    • Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach (2011)
    • Zika: The Emerging Epidemic by Donald G. McNeil Jr. (2016)
  • Fiction –
    • The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert (2016)
  • BIWB –
    • The Plague by Albert Camus (1947)
  • Other form / other genre
    • Notes on the Assemblage by Juan Felipe Herrera (2016)

Favorite book:  The Plague by Camus. It reminded me of why I loved literature as a teenager and young adult, and why, when I give myself the chance, I still do. Perhaps fortuitously, Camus’s book is mentioned in The Gene. This excerpt captures what I liked about both books quite well:

We need a manifesto – or at least a hitchhiker’s guide – for the post-genomic world. Historian Tony Judt once told me that Albert Camus’s novel The Plague was about the plague in the same sense as King Lear is about a king named Lear. In The Plague, a biological cataclysm becomes the testing ground for our fallibilities, desires and ambitions. You cannot read The Plague except as a thinly disguised allegory of human nature. The genome is also the testing ground of our fallibilities and desires, although reading it does not require understanding allegories and metaphors. What we read and write into our genome is our fallibilities, desires, and ambitions. It is human nature. — Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Gene: An Intimate History