Many detective-story writers are content with one successful series. On the other hand, M.C. Beaton keeps us delighted with two continuing series: the Hamish Macbeth stories, set in Scotland, and the Agatha Raisin stories, set in the English village of Carsely. (If you missed my post about Hamish, catch up here.)
Agatha Raisin gets away with doing what we wouldn’t dare and saying what we would love to say. Her irritations, which make her so human, make her great fictional company. When you need an escape, Carsely’s the place.
Irrepressible, sometimes cranky, but always loveable Agatha is the head of a small detective agency in England’s picturesque Cotswolds region. Her previous experience in publicity can sometimes steer her wrong in endearing ways: In “Hiss and Hers” (Minotaur Books, 2012), Agatha and her employees keep getting recognized at all the wrong times because she’s put their photos on the agency’s web site.
Agatha’s logical mind gets derailed in various stories by her romantic adventures and her search for more love in her life. She lives next door to James Lacey; it may be best to read the books in chronological order to trace the stages of the relationship between Agatha and James. On the other hand, figuring out the status of James and other friends in any given story adds a happy new layer to the puzzles and won’t interfere with your understanding of the plots.
The cases of Mrs. Raisin, as she is called by her longtime friend Mrs. Bloxby, are economically yet vividly described. (Mrs. Raisin and Mrs. Bloxby became friends calling one another by their last names and do not see any reason to change.) “Busy Body” (Minotaur Books, 2010) ends on p. 278, and “Hiss and Hers” (2012) ends on p. 294. In less than 300 pages, we get the main case in the plot; adventures of other employees of the agency, tied to the main case (or not?); and visits to and from Agatha’s friends and neighbors. Carsely itself is vividly described, right down to the thatched roof of Agatha’s cottage (the better for the occasional ominous rustlings in it).
In a very human way, Agatha’s friends may not be friendly all the time, nor her neighbors as neighborly as she might like. Still, getting to know them across several books will lead you to join Agatha’s hopes for support. You’ll love the characters and their various battles — sometimes minor, but always vivid enough to provide a joyful distraction from your own worries.
As “a woman of a certain age,” Agatha Raisin knows herself fairly well. In a way that feels more and more familiar to me, she doesn’t like admitting some things, but she knows them. Obsessions, for instance.
“Busy Body” opens with Agatha’s decision “to hit another obsession on the head.” After two years of wanting to celebrate Christmas as “the full Dickensian dream,” she decides on a long holiday (i.e., vacation) in Corsica.
“Hiss and Hers” starts with Agatha “in the grip of a great obsession” and Mrs. Bloxby’s observation that Agatha “seemed to lose her wits when she fell in love.”
Well, seemed, yes. But Mrs. Raisin’s considerable wits don’t desert her for long, and her lapses make her ever more human. Pay her a visit in a story or two and lay your own troubles aside.
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Filed under: Sustaining Books