Hiss and Hers (#23) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 4th December 2012 (print)/5th December 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Minotaur Books /Audible
Pages: 277/6 hrs and 25 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Agatha has fallen in love – again. This time it’s the local gardener, George Marston, she has her eye on. But competition for his attention abounds. With her shameless determination Agatha will do anything to get her man – including footing the bill for a charity ball in town just for the chance to dance with him.

But when George is a no-show Agatha goes looking for him – and finds he has been murdered, having been bitten by a poisonous snake and buried in a compost heap. Agatha and the rest of her crew plunge into an investigation and discover that George had quite a complicated love life. And if Agatha now can’t have George, at least she can have the satisfaction of confronting those women who have and finding a murderer in the process.

I am honestly only reading these books to finish the series at this point. I’m aiming for book 30 and I’ve come too far and suffered too much to stop now. Agatha is as vain and foolish as ever and once more the quality of these stories has dropped dramatically.

Beaton’s well-worn plots get pulled out again as Agatha goes after a man she met ten minutes prior. George has been the local gardener and one Agatha has recently become infatuated with but alas his murder gets in the way of any chance of a relationship – that and Agatha didn’t seem to be his type.

The problem is always there’s a good tight story at the beginning which seems to unravel and fall apart by the end. Scenes are set and you get great descriptions of the weather and current village life and then a few chapters in it all disintegrates.

This time the main characters have been pushed aside to near casual mentions, one line to remind the readers they still exist. This is a far cry from the early books where they were much more rounded characters who had their own histories and personalities. I understand at this many books in you don’t need to rehash the ongoing life of Mrs Bloxby, but I know so many readers pick these books up at random and to have this be their first experience of the village and these characters it’s amazing Beaton doesn’t try harder to have decent representation (though I am not the least bit surprised).

The wholesome village life has also been affected. The story escapes any depth whatsoever by throwaway lines about how the village has changed with new people moving in all the time so there’s no need to get to know the characters or find out who they are if it’s not the same people we’ve known from the earlier books. It’s lazy writing to avoid having to remind readers there’s a greater world beyond Agatha’s ageless existence and her love affairs and it saves having to think up any more plot or substance around secondary characters.

The series as a whole should have ended many books ago and it would have done Beaton a great deal of service not having to keep this series alive when the quality has suffered so greatly to the point of being detrimental. Pushing out those extra pages has stretched into weaker and weaker plots and scenes sewn together randomly with no clear cohesion is confusing to read.

I’ve said before I think Beaton’s own opinions come through her characters, not only Agatha, which you used to be able to pretend was part of Agatha’s personality. Now it’s happening with other characters and through the general narration and there are multiple occasions where Beaton uses derogatory terms for various people and is essentially judgemental and offensive to pretty much anyone it’s hard to see any character or narrative purpose than simply being offensive.

Keith, again, excellent narration, makes the ordeal bearable and after having sat through many hours of Agatha it’s good to keep the same voice for the characters and not have to readjust to anybody new.

Nobody is coming to these books for believability, but there should be a least a hint of possibility that don’t take you out of the story. On top of the outlandish plot decisions, it’s the same formulaic cycle we’ve seen before: Agatha’s infatuation, a death, her role as a suspect, her attempt to clear her name and annoying a lot of people in the process, an attempt on her life, and a resounding resolution by luck, poor police work and criminal stupidity. It’s great to have a reliable formula when done well but Beaton can’t create a solid story anymore that makes these formulas work anymore to any real degree of reader satisfaction.

There isn’t anything overly complex in these murders, it’s all about characters and their intentions and misgivings but a non-complicated murder mystery should not equal a boring or poorly developed one either.

You can purchase Hiss and Hers via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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