I was recently going through a phase where there was too much of everything... So, when Katrina reviewed an Agatha Raisin book by M.C. Beaton saying that it was "a good book for a bad day", I knew I wanted to try as well - I started with Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener (plus, it fits nicely in my Century collection...)
The first thing that came to my mind, of course, was the name of the heroine - Agatha. I personally only know one other famous Agatha, Christie, and I was wondering how and if the two had any connection. Well, in Beaton's biography, I read that she's considered the "new Queen" of crime (aha!) and, already in the first pages of the book, this is what I read when a new village neighbour greets Agatha:
"Come in. Of course I have heard of you. You are our Miss Marple"
Not a coincidence, then? of course, later on we are informed that
"Agatha (thought) she was being compared to the famous fictional character not because of that character's detective abilities but more because of her age"
That book was exactly what I needed. Light (but not silly) reading, story plot that goes beyond the murder, detective work that I cannot figure out from the first 10 pages and a main character who has serious flaws: "prickly, aggressive and judgemental".
Agatha has sold her well-to-do PR business and retired to the idyllic (and sleepy) village of Carsely - she has already helped solve murder mysteries and become the sweetheart of the village. Back from a holiday, she is confronted with Mary, new in the village, who is so much better than she is - in every respect... Even in the attention shown by her next door neighbour, James.
That cannot be. Agatha decides to excel herself in all matters where Mary seems to have taken her place, but even in the unknown territory of gardening - she certainly has no green fingers, but that shouldn't be a problem (hint: cheat). A parallel story brings one of Agatha's former colleagues to the village with a proposal she initially laughts at, but after one tiny little incident (hint: garden destroyed) cannot refuse: she will have to go back to London to work... Back to the main story, Mary is found murdered and Agatha is called to solve the mystery...
What I liked about this book was the fact that apart from the main characters, the villagers are also described in as much detail as possible to give the story extra flavour and make the reader (me) more at ease with it: When describing the old Boggles couple, I could see in front of me my grandparents - the things the Boggles say, mine have also said -- in reality!!
"Soap's on. You'll need to wait till it's finished"
"It's no use you two expecting tea or coffee. I've got more to do with my savings"
"not all of us had money to go gallivanting around in large cars"
But it's not all light reading. Beaton sheds light in several passages about life in a village and the difficulty one can encounter while trying to blend in:
"(a newcomer) is surrounded by the easy friendliness of the locals, that peculiar village friendliness which was all on the surface and never really gave anything away"
The mystery, in any case, is solved in the last chapter - and not a moment sooner. Although I had guessed who the murderer might be, I could not imagine how, and, more importantly, why. All in all, a pleasant read that had me thinking for quite a while...