Death of a Kingfisher Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of Death of a Kingfisher

Sergeant Hamish Macbeth, and his Constable, Dick Fraser, solve the murder of Mrs. Colchester and her family in the idyllic setting near The Fairy Glen. In Death of a Kingfisher [ISBN 978-0-446-54736-9] Police Sergeant Hamish Macbeth, of the small police station in Lochdubh, solves the murder of a rich, crotchety, offensive, widow, Mrs. Colchester, who has recently moved to the area.
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Mrs. Colchester has bought a small, old house, called a hunting box, which was part of an estate six miles to the north of the town of Braikie. She is extremely angry to learn that Lord Crowther, who used to own the estate, left Buchan's Wood, the prettiest part of it, to the town. Even worse, a woman by the name of Mary Leinster has been appointed the council director of tourism and the environment, and has been running tours to the wood, which she's renamed the Fairy Glen.

It is Hamish's custom, to visit new people to the area; he's been postponing his call to Mrs. Colchester because he's heard that she is “poison” and that the two grandchildren who are staying with her, 16-year old Olivia and 12-year old Charles, are “even worse.” However, duty calls so, taking his new constable, Dick Fraser, in tow, he goes off on this unpleasant assignment.

Officials at police headquarters in Strathbane, which oversees Lochdubh, feel that Hamish's small police station is an excellent way of getting rid of deadbeats, which is what they believe Constable Dick Fraser to be. Dick, who is marking time until his retirement, is a short, grey-haired man with most of his weight concentrated on his beer belly.   Hamish's idea that he is lazy seems to be corroborated by the fact that Dick spends many hours sleeping in a deck chair in the front garden. Dick's lazy ways are especially upsetting to Hamish because, in addition to working at the police station, both men live there.

When Hamish and Dick arrive at Mrs. Colchester's house they meet a squat, bent, old lady, with grey hair and sharp black eyes, leaning on two sticks. Since the main living area is one flight up, and she cannot negotiate stairs, there is a stair lift, complete with seat belt, which she uses. They are received with all the rudeness they have heard about by both the old lady and her grandchildren. Hamish says that he's heard that Mrs. C. is upset because of the tour groups to Buchan's Wood. She says “I was upset at first, but then that Mary Leinster called on me. She persuaded me that the beauty of the place should be shown to as many people as possible. She has the second sight, you know.” She then throws Hamish and Dick out of the house. When they meet the two grandchildren at the foot of the stairs, Charles says “Is the old bat dead yet?” Apparently, their parents, Fern and Ralph Palfour, are having serious financially difficulties; the entire family cannot wait to inherit grandma's money.

When they leave the hunting box, Hamish decides to look at the wood – the beautiful glens, waterfall, pools, flowers and trees. “My, but it's rare bonnie” says Dick. At one point, a magnificent kingfisher, with sapphire-blue wings and a bird in its mouth, flies under the trailing branches of a weeping willow tree and disappears.

They then visit Mary Leinster, a beautiful, flirtatious, woman with magnificent eyes, who is known to use all of her charms to manipulate men into giving her what she wants. She claims that the changes she's made have been beneficial to the economy of the region, creating more jobs.

Odd things start to happen at the Fairy Glen: someone kills the kingfisher, poisoning it and hanging it from a tree; someone pushes Charles into the pool from which he needs to be rescued; the bridge, with a party of old-age pensioners from Inverness, collapses injuring several tourists who are taken to hospital; two young boys, Callum and Rory Macgregor, who sneak out of the house during the night, go to the glen, where they see “sparkly lights” and hear a voice telling them to leave.

Mrs. Colchester is murdered.

After an evening with her family, Mrs. Colchesters stays downstairs after the others have gone to bed. Later, when she starts up the stairs in her stair lift, there is an explosion under the chair, the bannister gives way, and she is catapulted through the skylight to the stone terrace on the outside of the house. The seat belt had been glued together with superglue, so she could not escape.

Her son-in-law, Ralph Palfour, is the prime suspect and is taken in for questioning. He needs his mother-in-law's money since he has severe financial troubles.   He owns a plant nursery, which uses fertilizers, containing potassium nitrate, a component of bombs. If he would sell the nursery his financial troubles would be over. However, the land has been in his family for generations and, although he's had several good offers, he refuses.

Although Mrs. Colchester's first will left everything to her daughter, her new will, made one month before her death, leaves everything except the house and its contents [which still go to Fern] to the trust which runs the Fairy Glen. Although Fern and Ralph are very upset, Ralph is let go, since it seems he does not have a very strong motive for the murder.

Hamish and Dick eventually solve the murder. Dick is much more useful that Hamish ever predicted. What seems to be his lazy habit of dozing in the front garden is really a boon, since people stop to gossip with him, giving him all sorts of useful information. Also, he has a photographic memory, which is shown when he wins two TV contests [he gets a dishwasher in one and and a flat- screen TV in the other].

Ralph's refusal to sell his plant nursery, with the land around it, is the ultimate reason that Mrs. Colchester, Ralph and Fern are killed. There's also an attempt on the children, but Hamish and Dick get to them before they die.

A rich Ukrainian named Ivan Andronovitch wants the land so he can build a castle. When Ralph refuses, Ivan sets into motion a complicated series of events that should result in his getting the land, but does not. It only results in murder.

The following year, the bridge is rebuilt, the tourists are back, and a new kingfisher flies across the glen.
Best part of story, including ending: I liked the story because it was “a good yarn”, it was engrossing, and well written. I disliked the fact that it dragged a bit and was much longer than it needed to be to get in all of the important components. I kept thinking “When is this book going to end?”

Best scene in story: In my favorite scene Dick Fraser, who Hamish thinks is lazy [because he spends lots of time sitting on his lawn chair in the front garden], gives Hamish lots of new information. Hamish says “Where on earth did you pick up all this gossip?...You hardly move.” Dick replies “When you're out, people stop by the hedge for a wee chat.”

Opinion about the main character: CHARACTER I like Hamish Macbeth because he is unassuming, hardworking and loves his animals -- a cat names Sonsie and a dog named Lug. They go practically everywhere with him.

The review of this Book prepared by Maria Perper a Level 4 Yellow-Headed Blackbird scholar

Chapter Analysis of Death of a Kingfisher

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Plot & Themes

Composition of Book Planning/preparing, gather info, debate puzzles/motives 50%Feelings, relationships, character bio/development 30%How society works & physical descript. (people, objects, places) 20% Tone of story    -   very humorous How difficult to spot villain?    -   Challenging Time/era of story:    -   2000+ (Present) What % of story relates directly to the mystery, not the subplot?    -   70% Kind of investigator    -   police procedural, British Kid or adult book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book Any non-mystery subplot?    -   life in small town Crime Thriller    -   Yes Murder Mystery (killer unknown)    -   Yes

Main Character

Gender    -   Male Profession/status:    -   police/lawman Age:    -   40's-50's Ethnicity/Race    -   British


Europe    -   Yes European country:    -   England/UK Small town?    -   Yes

Writing Style

Unusual forms of death    -   dropped from large heights Unusual form of death?    -   Yes Amount of dialog    -   roughly even amounts of descript and dialog

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M.C. Beaton Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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