Constable Hamish Macbeth is the lucky man who won the services of a maid, Mavis Gillespie, in a church raffle. But the outcome isn't what he had hoped. Mavis is an incompetent cleaner and a world class gossip. Determined to fire her, Hamish tracks her down to another of her client's homes, only to find her dead, bashed over the head with her own bucket.
Mavis is so hated in the community that her death is cause for rejoicing, not mourning; even her husband is elated. Nevertheless, Hamish feels obliged to find her murderer. As he interrogates her clients, he learns more secrets than one would expect in a small Scotland community. Mavis is an accomplished blackmailer with somewhat odd requests--a supply of cream cakes from one, a DVD player from another.
Hamish's personal life is a mess. His long-ago girlfriend has come to town with a fellow reporter in tow--a man she hopes will make Hamish sufficiently jealous to propose. Although Mavis appears only briefly, the loathsome woman is as vivid as the dour Hamish is endearing. The plot is complex and moves smoothly, with Hamish plagued by the murder investigation and the machinations of the bullying Chief Inspector Bailey.