I´ve actually already finished another Agatha Raisin book, so I though I´d just make this a double review. The Agatha Raisin books by M.C. Beaton are a cosy crime series featuring middle-aged, stocky Agatha Raisin who, in the first book, gives up her PR firm in London and settles down in the Cotswold village of Carsley. I suppose it would make sense to start with book 1 called Agatha Rasin and the Quiche of Death, but I could find only book 3 in my library and so started with that one. I don´t think it´s really a problem to read them out of order, there are plenty references to the most important events that happened in the books before, and this series is really uncomplicated 🙂
So, in Agatha Rasin and the Potted Gardener, I had fun with this one.
Agatha returns from a not so exciting trip around half the world to find that a new woman has moved to carsley. Mary Fortune seems perfect, she gardens, she bakes, she seems popular in the village and even Agatha´s attractive neighbour James Lacey seems to have fallen for her. So Agatha in an attempt to outshine Mary and get closer to James starts gardening as well. Only on Carsley Garden Open Day Mary is found murdered in her garden, buried upside down in a plant pot.
Agatha of course immediately starts investigating with James Lacey. They interview the other villagers and that´s probably the part I liked best, Beaton´s portrayal of eccentric and often unlikable characters. Agatha herself most often acts like a teenager in the worst phase of puberty, she´s gruff, vulnerable, mean, and sighing over her neighbour. Still, she´s a surprisingly likable, if awkward character.
It´s probably only in British crime novels that victims can be bumped off in such weird and ridiculous ways as being “potted” and still leave the reader with a cosy feeling. I liked a lot about this book: the characters, the Cotswold setting and the mood. What left me quite surprised was the length of the book and the structure. It´s only around 220 pages long and it takes nearly 100 before the murder takes place, leaving only half the book to the detecting. Agatha and James stumble through their investigation with hardly any idea of what they are doing, these really are amateurs, and it´s more or less by accident that they discover the solution.
Some passages I liked:
“Of course I´ve heard of you. You are our Miss Marple.´ There was something in the way she said it and the appraising look she gave that made Agatha think she was being compared to the famous fictional character not because of that character´s detective abilities but more because of her age.” (16)
“She turned on the television set and stared blankly at a movie, the kind which tried to make up for lack of script with exploding cars and blasting guns.” (174)
“`If we were detectives in a book,´ she said gloomily, `I would stare at the screen and say mysteriously, “There is something there that someone has said which is not quite right.” But all I can see is a lot of uninteresting twaddle.´” (178)
“He gave himself an angry little shake, like a wet dog. People didn´t go about planting people in London; mugging, raping, knifing and shooting, but not planting.” (189)
Agatha has just returned from from a six months stint as PR agent in London, and is happy to be back in Carsley. She attempts to get closer to the not so welcoming James and joins the local group of ramblers. The victim in this book is a rambler as well, and is found dead in a field of landowner Sir Charles Fraith. Another rambler asks Agatha to investigate. Together with James she goes undercover as a Dembley rambler to solve the murder. Turns out the victim was hated by all the other ramblers in the group.
This book is better structured I think than the one before, all the suspects are better introduced and of course they all had some reason to want the victim dead. There´s the usual stumbling about of our amateur detectives, and the usual relationship problems of Agatha and James. This time it was easy to guess whodunnit but it was fun to follow their investigation. My favorite character in this book was Gustav, Sir Charles´ super sarcastic servant.
Some passages I liked:
“Agatha Raisin cleared her desk. She had an almost childish desire to erase all the telephone numbers of contacts on the Filofax to make it harder for whoever replaced her, but managed to restrain herself.” (16)
“`I have shut the gates, Gustav,´ said Parsons. `But the press are trying to get to the house.´ `Then shoot them,´ said Gustv patiently.” (61)
“`I used to dream that one day I would be rich,´ said Bill Wong after Gustav had left,` and have servants. A short experience of Gustav is enough to persuade me that robot would be preferable.´” (64)
I enjoyed these books, they are a quick fun reading, much more to my taste than these depressing, realistic crime books. There´s a lot of making fun of the characters by the author and it feels like she doesn´t take herself too seriously. Just don´t expect tricky plots or a whodunnit with lots of clues. This is lighthearted and entertaining, best enjoyed with a cup of tea.