Friday, 27 March 2009

Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell

Reading M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin books has become like listening to The Archers – I don’t really like any of the characters and I don’t much enjoy the way it’s told, but it’s become a habit. For me they’ve proved effective “no-brain” books, engaging just enough of my attention at the beginning, and containing just enough “whodunnit” to continue to hold it at a time when I don’t want to take on anything which needs too much thought, or which ought to be savoured.
For such a long series, the characters remain consistently two-dimensional, and this is not entirely helped by the serialisation on Radio 4 which sees Penelope Keith (Margot in The Good Life) playing Agatha. Keith has a remarkably distinctive voice, and one which instantly conjures a picture of the actress which is completely at odds with the book’s description of a short, round-faced woman in her 40s. This clash means that I can’t picture Agatha at all, but then I don’t really have more success with anyone else. Similarly, the Cotswold landscape is barely evoked.

There are by now nearly twenty Agatha Raisin books, which must say a good deal about how popular they are, and the couple of copies I’ve listed on Bookmooch have been snapped up eagerly. I’m inclined nevertheless to think the radio serialisation is more successful, mellowing Agatha’s personality a little, and fleshing out the other players. This particular episode sees a slightly chastened Agath investigating the murder of a local woman, in the company of her friend Sir Charles. Both Agatha and her long-term neighbour (and love interest) James Lacey are initially suspects, and to Agatha’s chagrin, James has disappeared without trace.

As ever I found the relationships rather unconvincing, although I suppose that Agatha is such a prickly individual that she is never going to exist in harmony with many of her fellow villagers. There is, however, a balance between baldly telling the reader what a character thinks, and following a Joycean stream of consciousness that this author has yet to find.


  1. I feel exactly the same way about the Agatha Raisin books. I loved the first one and then got sucked in so I still read them but am not sure why!

  2. I enjoyed reading your post! I've only read one book by M.C. Beaton - Death of a Gossip and it was definitely a "no brain" book. If the library has an Agatha Raisin book I might just give it a go.

  3. I've always wanted to try this author (have 3 on my shelf) but still unread. Thanks for reviewing & reminding ME :)

  4. SS, I'm glad it's not just me!

    Booksplease and Diane, they are certainly worth a try - after all, some people love them.

  5. Life's too short to waste on Agatha! I read the first three and then gave up. The trouble was, I was mentally trying to put a face to Agatha and came up with either Miriam Margoyles or Anne Widdicombe! Oh, dear ...
    No, read something much better: the cosy crime novels of Hazel Holt, about retired academic and amateur sleuth, Sheila Malory. Really page turning but easy reads. Go on. Try 'em. You won't want to read another Agatha (Raisin, not Christie!)
    Margaret Powling

  6. Galant, I absolutely agree on both counts! I've just finished my favourite yet of the Mrs Malory books, The Cruellest Month. Splendid.

  7. I feel the same way about her Hamish Macbeth. I read a bunch of them before I finally said 'enough!' I don't like the characters. Nothing changes. Boring.

  8. Nan, I've never tried the Hamish Macbeth books, but I got bored with the TV series, although the scenery was beautiful.

  9. There was a creepiness about the series on tv which wasn't in the books. But I do love Robert Carlyle. :<)

  10. My mother-in-law gave me the first three Agatha Raisin books, and I liked them, and have read the whole series so far. They are easy reading, but nonetheless, I usually don't know the solution to the case in advance.
    In your blog entry, you say she is a woman in her 40s. According to the books, she is in her 50s. You can even find a short "biography" on her on the website.
    And if you have trouble conjuring up a mental picture of the character, try the author - only younger :-)
    They have a lot in common, it seems, from reading the interview:

    Anyway. I think I'll follow your blog, it looks interesting.