Death of a Scriptwriter by M C Beaton

M.C. Beaton aka Marion Chesney has written quite a few detective novels – to be precise, 100 over the last thirty years or so. She has created a number of series that fill shelves in both libraries and bookshops across the country – notably 22 books in the Agatha Raisin series (as dramatised on Radio 4 with Penelope Keith) and 27 books featuring Hamish Macbeth (as dramatised by the BBC with Robert Carlyle in the lead role).

Death of a Scriptwriter concerns a novelist with writer’s block who, after several years of steady but low sales of her books, leaps at the chance of a dramatisation of her last book. Unfortunately the scriptwriter and producers are keen to considerably “sex up” the book, to her absolute horror. So when the scriptwriter is found murdered, she turns to her only friend in the area, PC Hamish Macbeth, to help her out. But the Scottish Highlands turn out to be even more dangerous when a second murder threatens to derail the production completely…

I bought this book for a few reasons –

  • It was cheap – in a 3 for £5 offer with a couple of books that I actively wanted!
  • I was interested in the author due to the sheer number of her books available in bookshops – for example Liverpool Waterstones has more Beaton than Christie on its shelves!
  • This one seemed the most interesting of the lot as it was written around the time of the production of the Hamish Macbeth by the BBC and I figured there might be some autobiographical detail here – if I remember correctly, the series was a bit odd at times, not tying in with my impression that the books were bog-standard whodunnits.

People say that if you can’t say anything nice about something, then don’t say anything. So I really ought to stop this review here. But I won’t…

Where to start? The plot is basic but fairly nonsensical – the second murder, where someone is pulled over a cliff due to a fortunate ledge directly under the edge for the murderer to stand on, is particularly stupid, but one has to also cite the dismissal of the first murder (of a man) as being caused by someone who was shouting “I’ll kill her” beforehand, just because he has conveniently collapsed from alcohol poisoning after finding the body and some weird stuff concerning a hire car towards the end of the book. The writing style is straightforward in the extreme – although using the word “style” does feel wrong when talking about this book. The characters are two-dimensional caricatures who you would be pushed to sympathise with and the choice of murderer feels very lazy – there’s a feeling that the writer thinks that they’ve done something clever here, but they really haven’t.

I’m going to stop there, but a request to my readers. Does anyone out there read Beaton’s books and enjoy them? Clearly lots of people do – but then lots of people read Dan Brown as well… Was this just a bad example in the series? Is this series aimed at people other than me? If so, who?

Anyway, at least it means that it’s one series that I don’t have to waste my time with – unless someone wants to try and convince me otherwise… And if you’re a reader of my blog who thinks these are the best thing since sliced bread, please give some of the other authors I’ve reviewed a try – I can almost guarantee you won’t look back.

WHERE CAN I BUY THIS?

Well, if you absolutely must, most of the series seem to be in a 3 for £5 offer at The Works – along with a lot of other authors, such as Edward Marston and Simon Brett.

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About Puzzle Doctor

I'm a mathematician by nature and as such have always been drawn to the logical side of things. Hence my two main hobbies being classic mysteries and logical puzzling. Oh, and cats. No logic there, I'm afraid.
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10 Responses to Death of a Scriptwriter by M C Beaton

  1. John says:

    I have always avoided Beaton’s books. Anyone who created a character named Agatha Raisin, I thought, had to have been more interested in the cutesy parts of this “cozy” genre than anything else. There is a audience for this kind of book – just ask around at any Malice Domestic convention and you’ll find them by the dozens. I attended my first in April and gained some respect for many of these writers who chose unusual subject matter and created truly original characters like Sandra Parshall who writes about the Melungeon community in Appalachia. However, I still have a problem with the cutesy gimmicky books about amateur sleuths who own cheese shops, tea shops and sewing shops; are apple orchard farmers, wine merchants and gardeners or florists; or are professional dog walkers, home improvement specialists, glassblowers or what have you; and then there are the numerous detectives — both professional and amateur — who have the gift of communicating with the dead who help them solve the crimes. The books with recipes and craft ideas in the rear of the book seem to be very popular with a predominatly female audience and the age range is surprising based on the people I met at the convention – from late 20s to the golden years. The books, however, do nothing for me. Not even for the few I read because of my curiosity about wine making and artisan glass making. There was a lengthy discussion about the “modern cozy” at the Golden Age of Detective Fiction yahoo forum several months ago and I just couldn’t participate in it without getting too disparaging.

    • puzzledoctor says:

      I think the issue I have is that there is so many better, intelligently written but still accessible, detective series out there. I don’t mean going back to the golden age, as I can see how Ellery Queen, for example, can be almost inpenetrable at times. But Kate Ellis and, in particular, Simon Brett are writing excellent modern mysteries with probably a fraction of the sales of these books or “The Cat Who…”, to cite another example of a series that I won’t be bothering with. Carola Dunn (based on the strength of the first book – review coming tomorrow) has written an accessible series, the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries, without sacrificing the quality of the writing. I understand the need for an easy read, but does it have to be this easy? Maybe I’m being an intellectual snob here and what I consider an easy read (Paul Doherty, for example) is not considered thus by others.

      Anyway, I’ll shut up on this topic and keep recommending my favourite writers in future.

  2. Bill says:

    I read Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House a while back and it was about what I was expecting. I do find myself getting impatient with the breeziness (for lack of a better word) of this type of book but I’d wager that I’m probably not the target audience anyway.

  3. I must admit, I’m not a fan of this kind of book either, but I am no expert (and a bloke). I did listen to the first series of the radio versions of the Agatha Raisin books, which I thought were quite good fun, but then Penelope Keith is very good in that sort of thing – the problem, apart from anything else, is that it all seems very disposable and anodyne, with all the consistency of a blancmange and just not individual character to the writing or the stories. Still, sounds like Kate Ellis and Sandra Parshall are worth pursuing at least …

    • puzzledoctor says:

      Well, I would (and have) strongly recommend the latest Kate Ellis, The Jackal God. I think it’s a cracking read and an excellent mystery. Everything Death of a Scriptwriter isn’t. But that’s a bit like comparing Chablis with Ribena…

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  7. I’m forced to admit that I do read M.C. Beaton (both the Agatha Raisin and the Hamish Mc Beth series), in spite of the fact that they are not well written. Why, is what I’ve asked myself many times. And I think the reason is, with all the obvious telling instead of showing, with all the shallow plots and repetition, Beaton has created in Agatha and Hamish characters that pique my interest. Will Agatha ever meet Mr. Right? Will Hamish and Priscilla will ever get back together again. It’s enough to spend a few hours on a Saturday morning (which is all it takes to read one of her books). I don’t love them. It’s pure curiosity. And my guilty secret.

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