Fiction Review

“Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet ” by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet (1993) 
St. Martin’s, 199 pages, $17.95 hardcover 
ISBN 0‑312‑09242‑3

Agatha Raisin arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport with a tan outside and a blush of shame inside. She felt an utter fool as she pushed her load of luggage towards the exit.

She had just spent two weeks in the Bahamas in pursuit of her handsome neighbour, James Lacey… (1)

Could this be the same Agatha Raisin whom we first met in Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death, the self-assertive middle-aged retiree who crashed her way into Carsley society? Indeed it is. Now having decided to stay in the village of Carsley after all, Agatha has set her mind on winning over the new occupant of the cottage next to hers. And what Agatha wants, Agatha works hard to get.

But wait. There’s another new, handsome bachelor in town, Paul Bladen, who has opened a veterinary clinic. So, after Lacey has proved elusive, Agatha decides that her cat could use a check-up. But when Agatha, dressed to the nines, arrives at the clinic waiting room, she finds just about every other woman in the village, similarly attired, there before her.

This is a mystery, so a murder occurs early on. But the murder is almost incidental. The real content of the book is the comic machinations that Agatha goes through to arouse Lacey’s interest and that Lacey goes through when he fears she’s after him. Has the inimitable Agatha Raisin finally met her match?

© 2000 by Mary Daniels Brown

Fiction Review

“Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death” by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death (1992).
St. Martin’s, 201 pages, $17.95 hardcover 
ISBN 0‑312‑08153‑7

When we first meet Agatha Raisin, she’s 53 years old and about to retire from her public relations job in London to a cottage in the Cotswolds: “The Cotswolds in the Midlands are surely one of the few man‑made beauties in the world: quaint villages of golden stone houses, pretty gardens, winding green lanes and ancient churches […] to Agatha the Cotswolds represented everything she wanted in life: beauty, tranquility and security” (1).

It’s hard to begrudge Agatha her coveted retirement bliss. After all, she’s had a tough life. The child of alcoholic parents, she was forced to leave school and go to work at an early age. As soon as she was old enough she left her parents and went to London, where she worked her way through secretarial classes. She went to work at a public relations agency and learned all she could before starting her own business, which she’s built up “over long hard years of work.”

As a young woman Agatha was married briefly to the charming Jimmy Raisin. Once she admitted to herself that Jimmy was a drunk, Agatha walked out on him one day and has never heard from or of him since. She assumes he’s dead by now.

So who wouldn’t expect Agatha Raisin to be a bit gruff, a bit self-centered, a bit harsh? Now, after selling her business for a tidy sum, Agatha is off to fulfill her life-long dream. She’s determined to impose herself upon the village of Carsley. But is Carsley ready for Agatha Raisin?

On her first few days in the little village Agatha is offended that the villagers’ warmth does not extend beyond the superficial greetings of common courtesy. But no matter. When she sees posters announcing the annual quiche-baking contest, Agatha knows she’s found just the way to find acceptance in the village: she’ll submit the prize-winning quiche. So what if Agatha’s culinary skills don’t extend beyond warming frozen dinners in the microwave oven? She’ll just drive on into London and buy a smashing quiche at her favorite deli.

Agatha’s position in the village becomes even more tenuous when Mr. Cummings-Browne, judge of the quiche contest, dies of poisoning after eating Agatha’s quiche. Now, as Agatha sees it, the only way she can stay in Carsley is to find out who murdered Mr. Cummings-Browne. As she crashes her way through village society looking for the information she needs, Agatha Raisin learns a thing or two about life in a small, enclosed group.

Will Agatha solve the mystery and remain in her cottage in Carsley? To do so, she’ll have to mellow a bit. But not too much—without that edge to her personality, she just wouldn’t be the same Agatha Raisin.

© 2000 by Mary Daniels Brown

Fiction Review

“Death of a Gossip” by M.C. Beaton

Death of a Gossip (1985)
Warner Books, 179 pages, $6.50 paperback 
ISBN 0‑446‑60713‑4

Every week during salmon-fishing season a new class arrives at the fishing school in Lochdubh run by John and Heather Cartwright. But town constable Hamish Macbeth has a bad feeling about this particular class….

Macbeth is the lone police officer in Lochdubh, a small village in the Scottish Highlands. Since not much happens in Lochdubh, he keeps a pretty close eye on the fishing school classes. He also has an uncanny knack for showing up just as the sandwiches and coffee are being distributed.

The current class includes Lady Jane Winters, a woman with a sharp, biting tongue who seems to know the secrets of all the others in the class as well as of the Cartwrights and of Hamish Macbeth himself. So it’s no surprise to the reader when Lady Jane first fails to appear for a morning lesson and then later floats to the surface of the lake where the others are practicing their fly casting.

But before killing off Lady Jane, Beaton cleverly uses her to fill in the necessary background of Hamish Macbeth. Except for the outdoor setting, this novel follows the formula of the traditional English drawing-room mystery. Beaton livens up the narrative, though, with her portrayal of Macbeth as the astute observer who quietly goes about identifying the murderer while the police higher-ups who’ve been sent in to solve the case continue to ridicule and ignore him.

© 2000 by Mary Daniels Brown