A Spoonful of Poison (#19) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 30th September 2008 (print)/01 Feb 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Minotaur Books /Audible
Pages: 288/6 hrs and 20 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Cranky but lovable sleuth Agatha Raisin’s detective agency has become so successful that she wants nothing more than to take quality time for rest and relaxation. But as soon as she begins closing the agency on weekends, she remembers that when she has plenty of quality time, she doesn’t know what to do with it. So it doesn’t take much for the vicar of a nearby village to persuade her to help publicize the church fete—especially when the fair’s organizer, George Selby, turns out to be a gorgeous widower.

Agatha brings out the crowds for the fete, all right, but there’s more going on than innocent village fun. Several of the offerings in the jam-tasting booth turn out to be poisoned, and the festive family event becomes the scene of two murders.

Along with her young and (much to her dismay) pretty sidekick, Toni, Agatha must uncover the truth behind the jam tampering, keep the church funds safe from theft, and expose the nasty secrets lurking in the village—all while falling for handsome George, who may have secrets of his own.

At book 19 it’s just passed the halfway mark in this series and this is indeed a middle book because it is quite forgettable. Even amongst the cookie cutter style of these stories and repetition this one hasn’t stuck in my head very well.

Away from Carsley we have a lot of new characters to play with, each getting the Agatha treatment but there was some variety in their characters. Agatha’s instant love and affection for the new man George goes over the same thing we’ve seen before, and even with new characters to get to know there isn’t anything different. There is extra story away from the main murder, padding details and random extra scenes but it was enjoyable enough. I understand that these are meant to work as standalones, you can pick them up wherever and not really need to know what was going on, but the amount of repetition those of us who do read the entire series has to put up with is frustrating.

The characters are unique and flawed which is entertaining but Beaton needs to learn to stop bringing out the same flaws each time, we do get another miniscule revelation of Agatha’s life but it’s not nearly enough given the amount of times we’ve been told about her bear like eyes, her ailments, and her body issues. What was interesting was that newcomer Toni gets additional focus as we see her pushed along by Agatha to branch out on her own, plus a new village of new faces to get to know and suspect, but what is a Raisin book without Agatha bringing up the rear with the usual complaints, brashness, and obsession of love and loneliness.

It also wouldn’t be an Agatha book without James making an appearance as we’re lured into the next book with his surprise engagement. Anytime James is mentioned it brings the tone down of these books and why Beaton keeps dragging him back into storylines where it doesn’t make sense is beyond me. Hopefully this time she can settle his storyline and move on.

You can purchase A Spoonful of Poison via the following

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A Bittersweet Murder by Kaz Delaney (#1)

Published: 22nd March 2022 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Tule Publishing
Pages: 294
Format: ebook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

In the small town of Airlie Falls, Texas, everyone knows everyone’s business, and newcomer carer and wannabe-baker Rosie Hart may be surprised to find herself the sole attendee at the funeral of her client, Miss Alice Auchinschloss, but she’s shocked when she discovers she’s also Miss Alice’s sole heir. When reports confirm Miss Alice was actually murdered, Rosie becomes the potential small town hero for killing off the unpleasant woman–and prime suspect in her murder.

In a chance meeting with a helpful and handsome cowboy, Rosie discovers her newly-inherited home is ransacked, and someone is going to great effort to conceal their search. Rosie has no idea who is involved, or why, or what they were looking for, but when she’s questioned by the town’s sheriff, it becomes obvious that if she doesn’t prove her innocence, nobody else will.

With the help of her new friend, Jonah, his family, and a nosy but canny group of snack-loving ladies in the local retirement home, Rosie conducts her own investigation to clear her name and reveal the true identity of the murderer. Discussions over mouth-watering treats bring the motley investigative team closer together – and closer to solving this intricate puzzle, but when another elderly person winds up dead, it becomes apparent that this small town is full of secrets that someone is prepared to kill for in order to keep buried. Rosie must sift through her list of clues in order to serve up the truth – before she becomes the next victim!

Note: A Bittersweet Murder was previously published under the title Chocolate and Lace. I was provided with a copy of the new edition for review.

I have adored Delaney’s young adult novels in the past and now I can confirm that I adore her mystery novels as well. This was a delightful cosy mystery and one I finished in a single sitting. There is a great narrative voice and you fall into the story quickly, pulled along page by page with endearing characters and numerous twists and unexpected nefariousness.

Delaney’s writing style is to be commended. There is humour and warmth, and her ability to shift a scene with a few words means you are always being surprised and intrigued by what’s to come. The mix of twists and surprises is balanced perfectly with great characters and well established settings. From the beginning we are drawn into Rosie’s life and her current circumstances and it’s not long before we are caught up in the unexpected situations and evolving drama alongside her, eagerly turning pages to see where it’s all headed.

There are wonderful moments where we understand the significance of something Rosie has yet to connect which is always a satisfying feeling in a mystery. The urge to rush ahead and see where your own theories lead is high but like any great mystery writer Delaney leaves it to the very end to make us realise we missed a myriad of other clues being left behind. The mystery itself is unique and detailed in a fantastic way, and seeing Delaney pull all the threads together at the end was marvellous as you realise how even with the answers in front of you, there are still surprises in store.

Delaney has balanced the mystery and small town charm perfectly that brings a lot of light heartedness to this mystery which is what you expect from your cosies. The characters feel well rounded and even the few minor characters felt like they had depth and their own lives outside the pages. Being the first in a series getting to come back to this town and these people is inviting and Delaney has established enough that we can see Rosie making a future in the town. Having thoroughly enjoyed Rosie’s first crime solving misadventures in Airlie Falls I am primed and ready to jump into the next one.

You can pre-order A Bittersweet Murder via the following

Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Apple Books

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Check Kaz Delaney’s website for further purchase sites once released

Agatha Raisin and Love, Lies, and Liquor (#17) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 1st September 2006 (print)/1 July 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
St. Martin’s Paperbacks /Audible
Pages: 231/6 hrs and 14 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★ – 1 Stars

Cotswold detective Agatha Raisin lies to herself, hoping skimpy lingerie will suit her ex’s surprise holiday. He lies to himself, remembering childhood heyday of Snoth-on-Sea as sunny, now a wreck in a cold windy storm. Aggie threatens obnoxious guest Geraldine, later found strangled in Aggie’s lost scarf. Aggie can try drink, but needs all her friends when bodies pile up.

If I thought about it, every book with James Lacey is terrible, and Agatha is a better person when he isn’t around. Less than 1/5th of the way through I was already back to hating James and hating Agatha for who she becomes when she’s around him. I had such hopes for her after the last book, she was sensible, looking for companionship but not going after every neighbour that moved in with lust. She’d stopped going on about James and put herself in her work and her friends again. Now this is all undone.

Whilst Agatha is giving James another chance she gets caught up in another murder where she is a suspect. These can be hit or miss but because Agatha is stuck with the insufferable James it ruins any chance of enjoying anything else. You can see Agatha trying to break free from James but her desire to give him another chance is a complete disappointment.

All the regular characters make an appearance to try and help Agatha, you can see they are growing and evolving so that’s a benefit since Agatha isn’t allowed to.

Prejudices are ongoing with Agatha surprised that Harry, who dresses in punk clothing and has a shaven head, is considerate, while Patrick, who wears “conventional dress” could be considered attractive. It’s just criticisms and judgemental observations after the other. And the fact Beaton has Harry suddenly say they look foolish and wish they’d never gotten the piercings is so bizarre to me. Beaton is trying to bland down the world one book at time, just as she was adding some interesting characters.

These books were published in 1990s and 2000s, in that time society changes, language changes, and references change which I understand, you can pick that up from the way she writes her earlier books to these ones, but this one was published in 2006, there’s no excuse for this kind of writing.

There are endearing moments, but then there are also times you hate the main characters because Agatha and James will drive you up the wall. What is a quirk or personality trait for some characters, the fact these two change so much is ridiculous. Actually, James stays the same, but it changes from being a problem to not clearly on how Beaton feels on a particular book.

I truly don’t know what to expect with this series anymore. The vast differences in ratings so far is bizarre. In the beginning they were gradually getting better, characters were evolving as we got to know them and while the stories weren’t perfect they were decent enough. Now they have swung so wildly it’s hard to know what the next one will bring and characters flip suddenly between stories you don’t know what’s going to happen.

You can purchase Agatha Raisin and the Deadly Dance via the following

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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Audible

Agatha Raisin and the Perfect Paragon (#16) by M. C. Beaton

Published: June 29th 2006 (print)/26 July 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
St. Martin’s Paperbacks /Audible
Pages: 284/6 hrs
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Agatha Raisin, recent divorcée, hates adultery cases and pompous Robert Smedley, but needs work. Unfortunately Mabel appears the perfect young wife, a pretty church volunteer. Agatha stumbles across dead missing teen Jessica, and investigates free for publicity. When Smedley dies from poison, Mabel hires Agatha, who brings in old friends, new hires, and finds the killers.

Agatha’s detective agency is still going strong, however things like missing cats, dogs, and teenagers get swept aside with multiple murders this time round. Yet despite this, Beaton still finds time to pad out the story with side plots.

The murders are interesting enough, and the reveal was satisfying which is what you want from a good mystery, logical and with a point. There is certainly a lot happening to focus on and a lot of characters to enjoy away from the murders themselves too which adds some more variety.

The story has moved on from the will they/won’t they between Agatha and James that took up so much time in earlier books, and thankfully has moved even further on from Agatha still lamenting about him. Old favourites remain like Agatha groaning about her perpetual early fifties and obsesses about men and love so nothing drastic has changed. I am glad though Beaton is mixing up the characters and storylines a little more.

The new characters introduced fit well into the story, not just living in the village and moving out at the conclusion for the convenience of the plot as the formula has been for a few books. The rotation of villagers leaving through murder, scandal or random chance meant people were coming and going fairly frequently it was hardly worth caring about them.

New regulars of the series are the employees of the detective agency. I liked the mixture of ages and motivations Beaton has chosen for these people; Harry is young and a punk looking for something to fill his gap year, Patrick is a retired police officer which is handy for connections and actual skill and training, and Phil is retired and looking for something to keep him busy and conveniently takes a decent photograph. It’s a mix that works and while they don’t all have complete depth or intricacies, they are enough to be decent characters. Beaton’s certainly presented us with a lot less before.

Charles is back which is always fun, and the regular characters play their formulaic roles. Again there are a lot snide comments and big opinions stated in the story that don’t feel like they fit within the story. It’s a hard line to decide if the views expressed and thought by the characters are their own quirks or Beaton’s own opinions about “these days” and “nowadays”. The judgement, mild offence, and criticism of everyone and anything comes across as mini tirades but it’s such a strange thing because it could be Agatha lamenting, or it is Beaton’s own criticisms about the changes in the world that she is projecting. It is consistent enough however that at least it is predictable even if it feels out of place.

You can purchase Agatha Raisin and the Perfect Paragon via the following

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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

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Agatha Raisin and the Deadly Dance (#15) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 1st December 2005 (print)/10 June 2011 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
St. Martin’s Paperbacks /Audible
Pages: 256/6 hrs and 10 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Infuriated that her holiday was ruined by a mugging, Agatha Raisin decides to open up her own detective agency. The romance-minded sleuth is thrilled by visions of handsome fellow gumshoes and headline-making crimes—but soon finds the only cases she can get are a non-glamorous lot of lost cats and an errant teenager. But when a wealthy divorcée hires the agency to investigate a death threat against her daughter Cassandra, Agatha thwarts a vicious attack on the heiress bride. Now Agatha is in hot pursuit of the culprit. But when the groom’s father turns up dead, Agatha must untangle a growing list of suspects, from Carsely’s quiet village lanes to Paris’ most fashionable streets. Soon the wilfully undaunted Agatha is in trouble with French and British police; on the outs (again) with old friends—and dead in the sights of a murderer.

Finally a breath of fresh air and a new direction for the characters to go in. After 14 books there’s something new happening and a real chance for Agatha and these characters to grow and develop, hopefully without being flung back into bland, one dimensional people on a whim.

It was a fascinating decision to have the main story not be the focus of the book, instead there’s a lot of character interaction and small details that fill the pages instead. This could be in part because there are so many new characters and new situations to unfurl, but it was also a nice change to focus more on characters and delve deeper into their relationships and lives. It’s often the more pleasing parts of these books when done properly.

With the creation of the detective agency we aren’t stuck on the single case now either and Agatha has slightly more legitimacy to butt in everywhere. There are lots of different cases to focus on too which allows good side plots away from the main one and means there doesn’t need to be useless fillers in between key discoveries.

I loved the new influx of characters we get to know and love how the old characters remain and are incorporated into the story. The story felt real and I loved that the new employees felt genuine in their work roles, even without getting a lot of depth. If this agency remains I can only imagine they’ll develop as the series goes on.

I enjoyed how murderous everybody became through this story, it was fun and added some of the eccentricity that’s been lacking. Agatha grows up a bit in this book which has been needed for a long time. She is less vain and focuses more on her work.

It isn’t a perfect book though by any means, Beaton still includes some standards of opinionated characters that moan about the state of society – complaints about Americans and swearing, about “youths” and other remarks. Previously these have often come from Agatha and I took it to be one of her fun quirks we had to deal with but these come from a lot of different characters which makes me think these are coming from the author instead, inserting her opinions because sometimes it feels out of character.

The formula is there though slightly more detailed. Agatha can’t solve anything without being put into peril herself but I appreciated that there was a more complicated and decent plot after the mess the last few books have been. It was a much more enjoyable experience and makes you remember that these books, while never perfect, didn’t used to be so terrible.

You can purchase Agatha Raisin and the Deadly Dance via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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