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.

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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

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Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House (#14) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 1st March 2005 (print)/28 June 2010 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
St. Martin’s Paperbacks /Audible
Pages: 246/6 hrs and 39 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★ – 2 Stars

Just back from an extended stay in London, Agatha Raisin finds herself greeted by torrential rains and an old, familiar feeling of boredom. When her handsome new neighbour, Paul Chatterton, shows up on her doorstep, she tries her best to ignore his obvious charms, but his sparkling black eyes and the promise of adventure soon lure her into another investigation.

Paul has heard rumours about Agatha’s reputation as the Cotswold village sleuth and wastes no time offering their services to the crotchety owner of a haunted house. Whispers, footsteps, and a cold white mist are plaguing Mrs. Witherspoon, but the police have failed to come up with any leads, supernatural or otherwise. The neighbours think it’s all a desperate ploy for attention, but Paul and Agatha are sure something more devious is going on. Someone’s playing tricks on Mrs. Witherspoon, and when she turns up dead under suspicious circumstances, Agatha finds herself caught up in another baffling murder mystery.

I was disappointed the haunted, paranormal aspect was solved so quickly, it was something different to focus on than bodies right away. The murder mystery aspect was relatively predictable but there is a lot more focus on the character interactions than any real sleuthing. All of the characters are vain and fools, so no one gets any real sympathy.

There are also continuity errors based on information in previous books about Charles which throws you a bit since they are huge revelations and changes that can’t occur in a matter of months. Whether the previous facts weren’t interesting enough for this new story and had to be retconned I’m not sure, maybe perhaps Beaton can’t recall her own story, whatever the reason it’s another sign of disregard for the readers, the characters, and trying to create a consistent, evolving storyline if things can change on a whim through books.

Agatha thinks about James less than she has in the previous two books which is a plus. Not that her obsession over men isn’t there, between her and Paul, and her and Charles and the whole mess in between it gets a tad involved. Stock standards are there too – her absolute obsession over her age and her weight, and she applies, reapplies, and freshens up her make up a few dozen times.

Something you notice when you binge these books is the lengths are getting longer. From an initial length of around four hours, the shift to six hour stories is becoming the norm and it isn’t to the benefit of the story. With two hours extra of story there is no real improvement on plot, people, character development or sensibilities. The approach instead is to fill the book with more padding and random scenes almost unconnected and personally I can’t see the benefit of this if we aren’t going to see any more depth of character, growth of any real kind, or something relevant to the plot. These aren’t enjoyable enough characters to want to spend time with them unnecessarily.

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Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate (#13) by M. C. Beaton

Published: March 2003 (print)/12 March 2009 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Minotaur Books/Audible
Pages: 212/6 hrs and 34 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★  ★ – 3 Stars

Agatha Raisin has just about had it – James has abandoned her, the new neighbour has made an unseemly proposition, and the new curate seems to be taking a more than normal interest in her. Now he is dead.

This was a pretty forgettable book despite it having a few decent components. Beaton keeps us in Carsely but instead of the usual characters like Charles, Roy and the dreaded James we get to discover more of the villagers and the broader community while keeping familiar faces in Bill Wong and Mrs Bloxby.

Agatha is a mixed bag here, she has sworn off men, still has complicated emotions and pining towards James, and thankfully hasn’t fallen head over heels with new neighbour John and started imaging a life together. Her openness about her investigation is nice, she openly tells people she isn’t officially anybody and yet still tries her luck at asking people questions. This is all in an effort to help clear her friend’s husband’s name so credit to her for trying to help, it’s one of the few times her input is justified and isn’t about clearing her own name.

Her own life once again becomes in danger but while it’s predictable, it’s a nice consequence of Agatha running around butting in trying to solve crimes she has no real business solving. Her ability to stumble into revelations is hardly a good justification but Bill and Wilkes put no real effort into stopping her so they certainly can’t complain.

The reveal is relatively clever, the twist and surprises are interesting but Beaton still needs to work out where she is taking these characters because every moment of growth and positive change we see it is either contradicted or backpedalled soon after. The exploration of side characters was a nice change too, fleshing them out to become more than one dimensional. Bill’s love quest continues and we see more of John’s character than we have previously. Agatha learns some more about herself which was some good growth and I liked her decision to help out in the community with her PR skills. It’s these parts of Agatha I enjoy seeing – her input into to community and trying to be a good person for good causes instead of insulting everyone and being brash and abusive.

I don’t know whether it was because the story was lacking or because I had been reading these back to back but this isn’t the most memorable book. It’s not quite formulaic but not revolutionary either. So many of Beaton’s books are memorable for the wrong reasons though so being forgettable is probably the best thing for this one.

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Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam (#10) by MC Beaton

Published: 15th April 2001 (print)/26 July 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
St. Martin’s Paperbacks/Audible
Pages: 197/5 hrs and 56 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

When a fortune teller from a previous case informs Agatha Raisin that her destiny–and true love–lies in Norfolk, she promptly rents a cottage in the quaint village of Fryfam. No sooner does she arrive than strange things start happening. Random objects go missing from people’s homes, and odd little lights are seen dancing in the villagers’ gardens and yards. Stories soon begin circulating about the presence of fairies.

But when a prominent village resident is found murdered, and some suspicion falls on her and her friend Sir Charles Fraith, Agatha decides she’s had enough of this fairy nonsense and steps up her sleuthing for a human killer.

The prickly yet endearing Agatha will have fans dangling in suspense: Will she catch her crook–and a husband?

This is the story about Agatha and her desperate need for love and having someone in her life. Her own insecurities means she drops everything at the words of a fortune teller to find love in Norfolk. Thankfully the entire book isn’t about her finding love – there is a curious mystery going on and it was a fun mix of local lore and the entire village playing tricks on the newcomer.

The mysteries go from small and seemingly innocent to substantial and murderous. Of course as Agatha and Charles get embroiled in the accusations and suspicions but with their banter and comradery they make a good pair to start clearing their names and finding the truth. This is where Agatha takes off her lovesick hat and gets down to sleuthing. Even in a different village it was fun to get to know a new cast of characters, especially as they interacted with Agatha and the mystery at hand.

The mixture of real murder and magical fairies made for an interesting read and having Agatha alone by herself for a time gave us a chance to see her by herself and not performing for others. Even when she meets the villagers their interactions aren’t instantly accepting and it’s great to see this play out.

Then comes the downfall.

With a plot twist that comes from absolutely nowhere we also return once again to the story of Agatha and Why She Still Wants to be with James Lacey Because Every Single Person Thinks He Is a Terrible Human Being. I was so proud of her initially, her growth around him was making her mature and she had some grace and dignity back but Beaton tosses that aside in an instant for a relationship she herself isn’t even trying to orchestrate realistically.

I couldn’t quite see this relationship before they got together, I certainly can’t see it now, especially when Agatha appeared to be getting over her infatuation and the drama of the last time they tried this. James is cold and neglectful, he is dismissive and it frustrates me to no end because we see Agatha have a nice fun time with people like Charles Fraith, and how she is around other people but her life still will snap back to revolving around James in an instant and as much as she annoys me, she does actually deserve better. There is no cute “will they/won’t they” there is nothing riding on whether this might suddenly turn – Beaton makes it obvious they are a bad match so I don’t know why we must put up with this.

It goes beyond story because at some point you are being disrespectful of readers who can see this is unrealistic and trying to push the same failed relationship instead of letting characters move and grow into new relationships for the sake of main characters is insulting.

You can purchase Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam via the following

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