Thursday, October 13, 2011

Opposites attract - Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth

22nd Agatha, 2011
26th Hamish, 2011
Agatha Raisin is one of my favorite fictional sleuths (read my Books & Culture online review of her just-published adventure, As the Pig Turns, here).

A close second is Hamish Macbeth, a doughty if lazy policeman from the Scottish Highlands whose 26th story, Death of a Chimney Sweep, was published in February.

Both Agatha and Hamish are the creations of M.C. Beaton, author of maybe 100 books in addition to the nearly 50 in these two series (I apparently vastly underestimated her output in my B&C article; check out the scary-long list here).

Beaton, one of many pen names used by Marion Chesney, was born in Glasgow, Scotland, some two or three hundred miles south of Hamish Macbeth's fictional town, Lochdubh, in the real county of Sutherland. Now 75, she divides her time between Paris and the English Cotswolds, where Agatha Raisin holds forth in the fictional town of Carsely. If you get the feeling Beaton knows the eccentric characters who people her mysteries - well, she probably does.

If you're already a fan of Agatha or Hamish, you know that Beaton's mysteries are gentle, funny, relaxing, and delightfully anti-authoritarian. And yet, apart from their unorthodox methods of crime-solving, Agatha and Hamish could not be more different from one another:
  • Agatha comes from a dysfunctional family; Hamish's family is warm and supportive.
  • Agatha has few friends; Hamish is a friend to his whole village.
  • Agatha has extremely poor people skills; Hamish spends much of his time schmoozing with villagers.
  • Agatha is ambitious; Hamish is lazy.
  • Agatha takes credit for others' work; Hamish lets others take credit for his work.
  • Agatha funds village projects (but earns no love); Hamish is known as a moocher (but they love him anyway).
  • Agatha often blunders her way to solving a crime; Hamish's skills are based on hearsay, deduction, and chutzpah.
  • Agatha is short and stout; Hamish is tall and lanky.
  • Agatha is an amateur (who gains expertise along the way); Hamish is a professional.
  • Agatha has cats; Hamish has dogs.
  • Agatha's love life would improve if she were less pushy; Hamish's would improve if he were more assertive.
  • Agatha is comically fussy about her appearance; Hamish is comically negligent of his.
But just because Agatha and Hamish are polar opposites does not mean they attract different sets of readers. If you like one series, I can almost guarantee you'll like the other.

Which leads me to wonder - will Agatha and Hamish ever meet? Could they stand being in the same room? Could they work on a case together? And if they did, would their chief nemeses, Detective Chief Inspectors Wilkes and Blair, go completely berserk?

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