Death of a Travelling Man is the ninth novel in the Hamish Macbeth series of comic mysteries by M.C. Beaton. Before describing the book, I strongly urge you to not start your reading of the series with this book. The subjects in this book reflect important transitions in the series, and you won't find the book nearly as entertaining as a standalone novel rather than a continuation. Stop reading here if you haven't read the earlier books!
At the end of Death of a Glutton, Police Constable Hamish Macbeth was still trying to get the central heating for his Lochdubh police station home that Chief Inspector Blair had promised in exchange for getting credit for solving an earlier murder. Anxious to get the central heating, Hamish took credit for a gutsy bluff that solved the death of the glutton. His reward? He was promoted to Sergeant and Police Constable Willie Lamont was assigned to "assist" him and live in the police station's spare bedroom.
Rarely since Shakespeare has anyone painted a portrayal of a person in power with greater comic wit than M.C. Beaton does with Willie Lamont. Three main gags dominate: Willie's desire to keep things neat and tidy; Willie's malapropisms; and Willie's idea of a romantic life.
Much of the pleasure of Willie's appearances is spoiled, however, by the portrayal of Hamish as being very upset by Willie. No one could be upset by Willie.
As the book opens, Hamish spots a recycled hippy van parked where it's not allowed. Planning to hurry the van and its occupants right out of town, Hamish is surprised to find that the driver, Sean Gourlay, is young, handsome, and well off. Gourlay is accompanied by a very foul-mouthed Cheryl Higgins who loves to shout "pig!" Hamish associates such "travellers" with layabouts who are collecting on the dole and sell drugs for an income. Hamish has a premonition that this traveller is bad news.
In the first half of the book, Hamish finds himself running the police business by himself while looking out for Willie, too. Desperate to get rid of Willie, Priscilla and Hamish work out a scheme that quickly backfires. In the background, Blair decides that it's time to take Hamish down a peg or two and comes close to succeeding.
In the meantime, Gourlay has charmed the minister and is camping behind the manse and siphoning off electricity to power his lights and telly. Gourlay soon has all of the older ladies in town in the palm of his hand. But the town doesn't seem as happy. Hamish reaches the end of his rope when Gourlay starts to show an interest in Priscilla and becomes a pest.
When Gourlay turns up bludgeoned to death by a sledge hammer, it looks bad for the villagers. Those with a motive have iron-clad alibis . . . except the villagers. How will Hamish handle investigating his friends and neighbors?
The mystery's resolution will probably strike you as a little far-fetched. M.C. Beaton wrote herself into a corner that required a pretty weird result. I graded the book down accordingly, but I found the book's ending to be a nice surprise.