Agatha Raisin and the Dead Ringer (#29) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 2 October 2018 (print)/4 October 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Minotaur Books /Audible
Pages: 233/6 hrs and 25 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★  – 2 Stars

The team of bells at St. Ethelred church is the pride and glory of the idyllic Cotswolds village of Thirk Magna, together with the most dedicated bell ringers in the whole of England: the twins Mavis and Millicent Dupin.

As the village gets ready for the Bishop’s visit, the twins get overly-excited at the prospect of ringing the special peal of bells created for the occasion and start bullying the other bell ringers, forcing them to rehearse and rehearse . . . so much so that Joseph Kennell, a retired lawyer, yells at the sisters that he ‘felt like killing them’!

When the twins’ home is broken into one night and Millicent is found dead, struck from a hammer blow, suspicion falls onto the lawyer.

Will Agatha unmask the real killer and clear Joseph’s name?

I gave this book two stars because I didn’t want to claw my eyes out listening to it like I have in the past but that doesn’t make it good it makes it bearable. It’s so long winded and disjointed with random events and jumps there isn’t a coherent story to really pay attention to. I found I could tune out and come back in and have it in the background and not lose what was happening because nothing is actually happening of any consequence.

Agatha is in a foul mood for the entire first part of the book and all the characters are angry or abusive. Everyone goes from zero to threatening death when mildly inconvenienced and no one can yell at anyone without wishing them dead because they will end up dead a page later. I understand there is a formula to these mysteries, but a formula is different to the exact same thing happening in the same way every single time. We should be able to have multiple suspects in ways other than publically calling for their demise.

There were no pleasant characters and even the familiar regulars seem put out. People go from zero to abuse and while there are no swear words, calling every character a bitch or slut is tiring not to mention a little jarring in a cosy. The writing contains the same sexism and misogyny it’s always had but with James barely in the story thankfully it isn’t through him, Agatha does a lot of it herself.

One thing I noticed is no one is really sad about the death of anybody, and there are plenty to pick from this time round. Even the death of one of the multiple romantic obsessions and affairs Agatha has in this book isn’t enough to pull any great sympathy. The second they’ve died it breaks the spell and she’s back lusting after the next warm, breathing male in the nearby radius.

Somewhere along to way the police stopped telling Agatha to stop interfering and instead now tell her and everyone else things all the time. I guess there’s only so many times you can weakly say “no, don’t, stop” and then have no follow up consequences. The constant ringing of press was ridiculous and annoying too, the police should definitely stop Agatha from doing that, no matter how accepting they now are of her involvement.

The continuity and structure of the storyline is shot with scenes fractured and all over the place, there’s mistakes where main characters have their names changed, not to mention no solid connection to previous books. The budding romance between Charles and Agatha is gone, Agatha’s perpetual unhappiness is a far cry from the rough around the edges but sharp and competent woman we were first introduced to. For someone stuck the same age you can’t even wonder if her sudden despondency is due to her aging, it seems to be a character shift and not one for the better. Despite this our descriptions never change, that is something you can always rely on from Beaton and her bear-like eyed glossy haired woman with the long legs.

It was always a rare delight when you have a little more character development or background revealed because there is no escape from these cyclical stories. Any progression is shoved back down and reversed immediately in the next book and it frustrates you as a reader to see good work being undone. If characters could grow properly it would make for a much better series, you may sacrifice being able to pick up the books at any point in the series but with the poor quality this late in the series it really couldn’t hurt to try and make them tolerable.

You can always tell what year these books were written because social commentary makes its way in through Beaton’s writing and this time we’re treated to Brexit getting mentioned. Keeping Agatha perpetually 53 is one thing not to date your books, but that is certainly one thing that will.

After a while you get sick of Agatha being almost killed and saved, traumatised or totally fine depending what is needed for the story. Epilogues end up being the resolutions to the book and the murders of the next book and as a cliff hanger to lure you in it’s a poor attempt when you’ve had no desire to finish the current one.

It’s amazing to look back at my earlier reviews and see I gave them four stars, something I couldn’t comprehend doing now and they certainly had their issues them. One theory I have is Beaton getting older, or her reluctance to keep writing the series but had an obligation whether she cared about it or not. Another was that they’d started to be ghost written, which would explain the lack of consistency and each book undoing the progress of the last. It isn’t like they were amazing to begin with, but there has definitely a shift that’s been detrimental.

You can purchase Agatha Raisin and the Dead Ringer via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Wordery | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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