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Thursday, January 23, 2020

A Tribute to M. C. Beaton by Connie Berry

M. C. Beaton

I heard the news first on Facebook: Marion Chesney Gibbons (M. C. Beaton), the prolific Scottish writer of mystery and romance novels, died after a brief illness on December 30th. She was eighty-three—way too young.

Beaton began her career in journalism and advertising, switching to writing novels because she wanted to spend more time at home with her only son, Charles. She certainly made up for the late start.

Since her debut in 1979, Beaton authored more than a hundred sixty novels in ten series under five different aliases. Her books have sold tens of millions of copies around the world and have been translated into seventeen languages. She hated being called a "cosy writer" and once said she'd give anyone who called her that a Glasgow Kiss (a headbutt, usually resulting in a broken nose).

Her most popular protagonists were Hamish MacBeth, the local policeman in the Highland village of Lochdubh, and Agatha Raisin, the cranky yet endearing London advertising-executive-turned-private-detective in the Cotswolds. Both series have been turned into popular TV mysteries.

Confession Time. Technically speaking, Beaton wasn't a great writer. In fact, she did everything young writers are told not to do—telling instead of showing; head-hopping with abandon; writing brief or nonexistent scene transitions and often predictable plots. And yet I and millions of her fans just couldn't get enough. We read her latest book in a day, then waited impatiently for the next installment because her stories were just plain fun to read. Escapism at its finest.

I believe her secret was creating characters her readers cared about. In spite of their flaws—or maybe because of them—we simply had to know what Agatha and Hamish would get up to next.

That's part of what makes her death so painful to her fans. 

Now we'll never know if Hamish's old flame, the sexually repressed Pricilla Halburton-Smythe, will ever thaw out and return to him. Or if he'll marry instead Elspeth Grant, the reporter with silver eyes and second sight. We'll never know if Agatha and the "dependably undependable" Sir Charles will realize their mutual attraction (at the same time) or if Bill Wong will find the love of his life.

Wondering about such things, of course, is like asking how many children Lady MacBeth had or if Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy went on to have a happy marriage. This is fiction. Nothing actually exists beyond the pages of the novel.

I think that's a major part of Beaton's charm. The worlds she created never change in the
essentials. The real world may be losing its bearings, but there's always Lochdubh and Carsley.

In spite of occasional plotting against him by enemies in the Strathbane CID, Hamish will solve the crime and let someone else take the credit. The Currie twins will continue to get the wrong end of the stick. Hamish will reject promotion and remain ensconced in the Lochdubh police station with Lugs, the dog, and Towser, the feral cat, forever.

Agatha Raisin will continue to alternately binge-eat and diet. She'll keep re-applying her make-up in her all-too-obvious attempts to attract unsuitable men. Her attraction to James, her ex-husband, will flare up from time to time—to no avail. Mrs. Bloxby will continue to be a voice of reason, usually unheeded. Roy Silver will reinvent himself once again, and Sir Charles Fraith will never bring his wallet to the restaurant.

Peace to your memory, M.C. Beaton. Thank you for the countless hours of pleasure you brought to readers all over the globe. You were one-of-a-kind. We will never forget you—or the characters you brought to life.


Kait said...

Congratulations, Connie - I am thrilled for your nomination and for the nominations of Grace, Kaye, and Annette. Well-deserved all. The Agathas have been known to award two winners--just saying.

What a lovely tribute, Connie. I, too, learned of the passing of M.C. Beaton on Facebook. It was a sad post to read. What a loss to the mystery community. No way I'm putting myself in line for a Glasgow Kiss!

Susan said...

Wonderful post, Connie. I discovered Hamish and Agatha only a few years ago, and I've enjoyed reading them ever since. You are so right--they make me smile. I always wondered what happened with writers near the end of their careers. Do they write last books ending their series, or simply disappear?

And you know congrats on your nomination!

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Congrats to Connie! Hamish was my favorite.

Grace Topping said...

Well said, Connie. I've loved Agatha and Hamish for years. What more could a writer ask for than to have readers love her characters and for those characters to live on after she is gone. Maybe in a way it's good not knowing what happened to Beaton's characters. We might not have liked the endings. We can imagine our own endings.

Marilyn Levinson said...

A wonderful tribute to a wonderul writer. I'm almost finished reading the latest Agatha Raisin mystery and, knowing of Beaton's death, I don't want it to end. She will be missed.

Warren Bull said...

Thanks for the memories.

Connie Berry said...

I thought her latest (and final) Agatha Raisin installment was possibly her best. How good that she left a legacy we can admire.

KM Rockwood said...

We got a rescue dog at one point. His reddish hair flopping into his eyes and he all-around sincere goofiness screamed "Hamish MacBeth" to us, so he became Hamish.

One thing I did love about these series was that the characters remained pretty much the same. There was not much "character development," but a reliable friend who could always be counted on to behave in the way I expected.

Congratulations, Connie, on the Agatha nomination!