Thursday, October 31, 2019
Published September 2003 by St. Martin’s Press
Source: checked out from my local library
Just back from an extended stay in London, Agatha Raisin finds herself greeted by torrential rains and an old, familiar feeling of boredom. When her handsome new neighbor, Paul Chatterton, shows up on her doorstep, she tries her best to ignore his obvious charms, but his sparkling black eyes and the promise of adventure soon lure her into another investigation.
Paul has heard rumors about Agatha's reputation as the Cotswold village sleuth and wastes no time offering their services to the crotchety owner of a haunted house. Whispers, footsteps, and a cold white mist are plaguing Mrs. Witherspoon, but the police have failed to come up with any leads, supernatural or otherwise. The neighbors think it's all a desperate ploy for attention, but Paul and Agatha are sure something more devious is going on. Someone's playing tricks on Mrs. Witherspoon, and when she turns up dead under suspicious circumstances, Agatha finds herself caught up in another baffling murder mystery.
M. C. Beaton has been writing about Agatha Raisin since 1992 and has put out at least one book about her favorite middle-aged amateur sleuth every year since then. In nearly 30 years, Agatha hasn’t aged. In fact, very little about Agatha’s life has changed, which makes it difficult to make Agatha’s personal life interesting. Beaton has two solutions for this: a steady stream of dead people popping up wherever Agatha happens to be and a steady stream of men in her life. Curiously, my problem which the Agatha Raisin books is not so much that a lot of people have been murdered in her general vicinity, or the fact that she’s so cantankerous, so much as it is with her desperate need for a man in her life.
I gather that Agatha is somewhere around the same age as I am so you’d think I’d be a little more sympathetic to her plight. Maybe because I have a man in my life, I can’t relate to being alone at my age. Or maybe it’s because when my mother-in-law was widowed at age 60, the last thing she wanted to do was start over with a new man. Or maybe it’s because some days, let’s be honest, I’d happily trade my man in for a dog. Or maybe it’s just because the feminist in me would like to believe that women do not need men in their lives to be happy. So, yeah, I’d like Agatha better if she weren’t so damn needy in that way.
To be fair, Beaton has even Agatha questioning why a woman who likes to think of herself as independent flings herself at every eligible man that comes her way (and also at some who aren’t). Perhaps by book 14 (which this one is), the pattern was just so ingrained that Beaton can’t work her way out of it. I’ll give her this – the relationship between Agatha and Paul was fun as they both gained and lost interest in each other, working their way through other relationship difficulties and dead bodies.
As I did with my most recent Beaton read, Death of a Witch featuring Beaton’s other favorite character, Hamish Macbeth, I did find a lot of repetition in this book. I don’t know how many times I needed to know that Agatha was pulling frozen meals, covered in ice, out for dinner because she couldn’t be bothered to cook for herself. Or that her cats did get freshly prepared meals. Nor did I feel it necessary to make it a thing that Agatha went through a lot of wardrobe changes trying to make herself look just right every time she and Paul were going anywhere.
Even with all of that going against the book, I still enjoyed this book. At its core, it’s a murder mystery and it works well as a murder mystery. There were a lot of possible suspects and a lot of possible motive. I felt very much like I was being allowed to play along in trying to solve the mysteries, unlike some murder mystery books where the reader is not privy to all of the information that will eventually help solve the case. There was English history here, which, of course, had me going to the internet to learn more (and you know how much I love when a book makes me do that!). Sure there were some implausible bits; but for a book with this many moving pieces, I felt like Beaton did a good time tying everything together and making it all work. Did I have problems with the book? Yes. Maybe the truth of the matter is that I'm just not a cozy mystery person. But I'll still probably read another of the Agatha books!