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.