Dishing the Dirt (#26) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 14th September 2015 (print)/11 February 2016 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Minotaur Books /Audible
Pages: 304/6 hrs and 29 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★  – 1 Star

A therapist had moved into the village of Carsely and Agatha Raisin hates her. Not only was this therapist, Jill Davent, romancing Agatha’s ex-husband, but she had dug up details of Agatha’s slum background.

Added to that, Jill was counselling a woman called Gwen Simple from Winter Parva and Agatha firmly believed Gwen to have assisted her son in some grisly murders, although has no proof she had done so.

A resentment is different from a dislike and needs to be shared, so as the friendship between James and Jill grows stronger, the more Agatha does to try to find out all she can about her. When Jill is found strangled to death in her office two days’ later, Agatha finds herself under suspicion – and must fight to clear her name.

I have seen a few reviews mention an Agatha Raisin drinking game but you could also do a Bingo based on the formulaic events that happen in each book. I certainly think it would be a more interesting way of experiencing the series.

The stories are still going the same unengaging way – some character thinks they can solve the murder before Agatha or the police and then they get killed before they tell anyone. Everyone is rude and instantly jumps to abusing people and calling them a variety of colourful names. The immediate answer to any inconvenience is to threaten to kill someone which means of course that someone will end up dead in the next chapter. It’s the same every time and while formula is good, and expected in a cosy, there is no creativity, imagination, or variation on any of these. The plot is all over the place, there are random characters and scenes and none of it was important and if it was it was so late in the story I didn’t care. It’s flat and uninteresting and grating on the nerves.

I can’t decide if Beaton wants only murders now and minimal village life because there’s no village normalcy anymore. No ladies society, no fetes and no village people other than token characters like Mrs Bloxby who only pops in as a plot device half the time.

What doesn’t help is Penelope Keith, who normally is fabulous, has the same voice for many of these characters so they all screech in the same way. I guess when all the characters start being abusive and screeching you only can screech in one way.

Honestly the only saving grace is Charles who flits in and out as he pleases but he speaks his mind and there was a time a few books back I thought he and Agatha were going to get together which would do the series a huge favour. Charles is a delightful character, he has his flaws but the banter and dynamic between himself and Agatha is always enjoyable and I love seeing their interactions.

I’ve definitely decided that Beaton hates these characters and writing these books. It’s the only explanation for why they are so flat and feel like scenes tacked on to one another with no thought or care. I know Agatha’s behaviour and the outlandish behaviour by the entire cast are meant to be humorous but they end up making me angry at the stupidity of it all. Agatha hates everyone, all her friends annoy her and the solutions to everything are either get married and give up her job, or go on holiday and get over the trauma of nearly being murdered. Because when you’re attacked and almost strangled to death in your own kitchen it’s brushed over as a non-event and people expect you to recover immediately from your trauma. The fact Agatha is still shaken by it is the only redeemable part of her character because it shows she’s not completely hollow.

As if it couldn’t get any worse, Beaton, who published this book in 2016, has a scene with a man who initially is described as liking to wear dresses, but by the time Agatha meets him, she insults him, and Beaton can’t decide if he is a man who likes dresses, a cross dresser, or a trans woman because in the space of a few sentences she infers all three.

I had to pause the book in disgust when the word “Tranny” was used because it was so offensive, even if it was in relation to a shop name. This is unacceptable even for Agatha Raisin. The fact the sentence finishes with “for people like you” and then this person thanks her for helping them is pushing even my limits to finish this godawful series. The term transvestite is repeatedly used after this and it’s just wholly unpleasant. The whole series is filled with offensive terms, the earlier books repeatedly had Agatha threatening people by saying they should get AIDS so it isn’t beyond Beaton to use this kind of language but it was a surprise given this wasn’t the early 90s but published in a time I thought people, or even a few editors if she even uses them anymore, would know better.

I’m repeating myself here but the clear downfall of these stories was definitely extending them from four to six hours, or whatever the page length equivalent was. The extra length has completely lessened their quality. When they were shorter they were nice and concise mysteries which wrapped up while still having character depth and exploration. Now they are longer and the stories are drawn out, when the main mystery is solved another pops up and the remainder two hours is spent dragging it out. I also think as Ms Beaton ages her own opinions are bleeding onto the page and it ends up being a long rant about society and the youth and how no one is a lady anymore. It’s amazing she has time to fit a murder in amongst that.

You can purchase Dishing the Dirt via the following

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The Blood of an Englishman (#25) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 16th September 2014 (print)/11 February 2016 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Minotaur Books /Audible
Pages: 294/6 hrs and 18 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Even though Agatha Raisin loathes amateur dramatics, her friend Mrs. Bloxby, the vicar’s wife, has persuaded her to support the local pantomime. Stifling a yawn at the production of “Babes in the Woods,” Agatha watches the baker playing an ogre strut and threaten on the stage, until a trapdoor opens and the Ogre disappears in an impressive puff of smoke. Only he doesn’t re-appear at final curtain.

Surely this isn’t the way the scene was rehearsed? When it turns out the popular baker has been murdered, Agatha puts her team of private detectives on the case. They soon discover more feuds and temperamental behaviour in amateur theatrics than in a professional stage show—and face more and more danger as the team gets too close to the killer.

You can really start to see a lack of care in these stories. New characters that can be introduced and removed in one book, no need for backstory or cementing into the established world, simply in and out and on to the next thing. I had to reread this story because I couldn’t recall much of what happens and having reread it I can attest that is because nothing actually happens. It’s a boring story, nothing is memorable and the investigation is filled with a lot of nothing that can’t keep your attention. The plot seems to be random scenes pieced together that have the thinnest connecting thread if any.

Clearly Beaton has given up the complex community of earlier books and now focuses on these extra characters but none of them have any depth. Most pop in an out in one book and they are as shallow and ludicrous as each other. The only characters that keep being included are the detective staff, though less so in this story, and Charles. Beaton includes familiar characters as a reminder that they still exist but they serve no real purpose to the story. James is barely mentioned, Mrs Bloxby has a few scenes but it feels more like a reminder that other people live in this village than actually contribute to the story.

The descriptions are repetitions of the same ones trotted out book after book. Honestly if I hear one more time about Agatha and her long legs and glossy hair I think I might just scream. I have no other image of this woman except long legs and glossy hair. I think somewhere a few books back there might have been a mention of “frumpy” in her lesser moments but what does that even mean? Beaton seems to have found her descriptors and refused to budge. No matter how much time has passed these are the facts of these characters and nothing else will be said of them. Small, bear-like eyes, long legs, glossy hair. Not to mention twenty five books in and Agatha is still in her early fifties.

Beaton’s opinions are out in force again about the state of society as well as whatever the current issues are at time of writing making casual comments about sexual assault and paedophilia, much like the earlier books she jumps to reducing serious issues to crass comments by characters. The mystery almost didn’t matter as a lot of time was focused on Agatha and her “unfortunate obsessions” as they’re called (of which there are many this time around) where she lusts after the latest attractive man she comes across. You’d also think a book that had such a gruesome death would be more interesting but I’ve expected too much.

Moving away from the set cast of characters is a hindrance because there isn’t a lot to keep your attention. New people who haven’t been well developed don’t hold your interest if you aren’t going to include well known characters that can tie things together. It’s another book following the usual formula with the addition of having random scenes added in that serve little to no purpose. It’s a shame Penelope Keith had to keep reading these if I’m honest.

You can purchase The Blood of an Englishman via the following

 Booktopia | Book Depository

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Something Borrowed, Someone Dead (#24) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 17th September 2013 (print)/03 October 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Minotaur Books /Audible
Pages: 304/6 hrs and 19 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

Incomer Gloria French is at first welcomed in the Cotswold village of Piddlebury. She seems like a do-gooder par excellence, raising funds for the church and caring for the elderly. But she has a bad habit of borrowing things and not giving them back, so when she is discovered dead, folk in the village don’t mourn her passing too much.

Parish councillor Jerry Tarrant hires Agatha Raisin to track down the murderer. But the village is creepy and secretive and the residents don’t seem to want Agatha to find who the murderer is. Then Agatha’s investigations are hampered by the upset of discovering that her ex, James Lacey, has fallen in love with her young protégé.

The shift between these books that can go from horribly written to one that is actually decent is amazing. Decent for Agatha Raisin that is. There must be something in the water in the Cotswalds that make people go from calm to threatening death upon people at the slightest inconvenience.

The enjoyment of this book comes from the murder plotline and less so of the writing or extra content. Agatha’s obsession with her figure and the judgement towards other people are eye rolling and typical, but the fact Beaton managed an interesting premise for a murder and didn’t drive me up the wall reading it to execute it was something of a miracle.

There’s a lot of character action and conversations to suss out motive and intent, things happen that actually connect to the investigation and the side stories of characters when we get them are woven in a way that they still feel connected to the main story. There are throwaway lines that show time passing, Agatha taking holidays etc, but it keeps returning to interviewing people about the murder. The character interactions are more entertaining than reading long sections of narration which is probably why this was a better story than most.

There’s a couple murders in this one, the original and the second one that usually happens during the investigation of the first, typically after someone proclaims they know who the murderer is and then dies before telling anyone. The whole team gets involved and we see various avenues of investigation which is a change from quick mentions and having them behind the scenes and on other cases, even the non-detective gang help in their own ways.

The solution to having to extend the stories out this time involves having the main story for most of the book and then having a secondary mini plot afterwards to fill in time. The entire last hour was a side story that was what happens after the murderer is caught and it was a strange addition but I guess it’s a change to see what happens to the culprit and not just what new thing Agatha is up to.

There is also an unexpected addition about Toni that is tacked on at the end but given the haphazard nature of these books it’s easier to simply go along with it at this stage. The final pages feel like the start of a new book again as it introduces a whole other storyline but as a weird cliff hanger I guess it’s meant to lure you into the next one but with no real stakes, just pushing your curiosity about what’s going to happen next.

You can purchase Something Borrowed, Someone Dead via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

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Hiss and Hers (#23) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 4th December 2012 (print)/5th December 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
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

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Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

As the Pig Turns (#21) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 11th October 2011 (print)/21 Oct 2011 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Minotaur Books /Audible
Pages: 292/6 hrs and 32 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★  – 1 Star

Winter Parva, a traditional Cotswolds village, has decided to throw a celebratory hog roast to mark the beginning of the winter holiday festivities and Agatha Raisin has arrived with friend and rival in the sleuthing business, Toni, to enjoy the merriment. But as the spit pig is carried towards the bed of fiery charcoal Agatha–and the rest of the village–realize that things aren’t as they seem.

I hated this book. So much so I think I scrubbed it from my mind which is why I had to force myself to revisit it and remember what actually happened where I was promptly reminded exactly why I hated it. The premise was interesting and yet was extremely poorly executed that it came of nothing and by the time the book ended the story had shifted so much you forgot it even started with a murder.

This is another “Agatha publically threatened the person who ended up dying” story so while it is a local cop who has died, he was mean and ruthless and everyone didn’t like him, including Agatha. So instead of being left out of the investigation as a person of interest she is butting in to clear her name. Again.

All of the usual players are involved, James, Toni, Charles, Roy, and a few new characters who were introduced in the previous book. I’m amazed Toni is still putting up with Agatha given how she is trying to micro manage and dictate how she should live her life but that is the least of the problems in this book. The fact anyone could mistake a human for a pig is one thing, the other is the end result that made no sense and the lazy writing that is once again proving that Beaton does not care about these books anymore.

The writing is jarring and the explanations for things are convoluted and ludicrous, I’m curious if Beaton actually believes these things or not. There are inconsistencies and the plot drags as if trying to fill in extra pages without adding to the story in a substantial way. Characters get away with things that simply would not happen, and there’s so many side tangents it’s a wonder why we’re wasting pages on things that go nowhere. You could almost use this time to add depth to the story, to the characters, to anything, but it’s all boring nonsense that is easily forgettable. Even the added drama and character danger isn’t engaging.

I’ve mentioned before these books used to be around four hours now they are around six, those extra two hours have definitely seen the writing and plot suffer but as this is book twenty two I think Beaton’s writing is so bad because she does not care. These books were never perfect but they were decent stories and they’ve been falling in quality for quite a few books now which is a shame. The trend of having the final chapter/epilogue act as the first chapter or introduction to the next book to lure you in does little and it’s only the fact I’m determined to finish what I started and read this series is what’s keeping me going.

You can purchase As the Pig Turns via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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