Cannonball Read 7, Book 2: Agatha Raisin & The Deadly Dance by M.C. Beaton

9781849011488Year of Crime Book 2

So, here we are. 2015 will be the year I finally burn through the rest of the Agatha Raisin books, which have been sitting on my Kindle for a year. The self-imposed Year of Crime (Reading) should sort that right out. And following the entertaining but hugely miscast TV adaptation of the first book, my interest in all things Raisin has been very much renewed.

So, after several years of having her retirement disrupted by dead bodies popping up and then solving the murder, Agatha has finally decided to come out of retirement and open her own private detective agency. And even more refreshing, Agatha’s new neighbour is a retired lady, not some silver fox for her to coo over and fall in love with. And when Agatha hires her as her secretary, all hell eventually breaks loose.

See, the dance of the title, and the central murder story, are FAR less interesting than the sub plot involving Secretary Emma and her increasingly psycho fixations and mental behaviour. Which isn’t to say the central story is bad, it isn’t. In fact, it’s probably one of the more satisfying ones Beaton has come up with in a long while. It is just overshadowed by Mental Emma.

The decision to give Raisin her own agency has given the series a new lease of life and come as a welcome change. It was the best thing Beaton could have done. It’s just a shame it’s taken fifteen books to get there, when really it could have been done in five. If you’re intrigued enough to start reading Raisin, but the thought of the series being SO long makes you break out in hives, then start here. You’ll pick it all up just fine.

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Cannonball Read 6, Book 58: Agatha Raisin & The Haunted House by MC Beaton

9781849011471The other day, I looked at my “Already on the Kindle” shelf over on Goodreads and I thought to myself “you know, I have a LOT of crime books here. Like a LOT”. So I decided, there and then, to make 2015 my Year of Crime. While I’m not going to devote myself solely to reading crime novels, they will make up the majority of my Cannonball 7 input. The plan originally was to end Cannonball 6 with Station Eleven, but it was so good I burned through it in record time and was left with a bit more time than I thought. So I am kickstarting the Year of Crime a bit early with the 14th (yes really) entry into the tireless Agatha Raisin series.

So here we are again. Back on familiar territory with our Agatha. They have made a TV movie out of the first book in the series, which aired here on Boxing Day. I have been wondering why on earth they didn’t make a Midsomer Murders style show out of the books years ago, and finally, my wishes have possibly been answered. That Raisin, a stout but sexy mid-fifties headstrong woman with a cut glass accent to hide her Birmingham upbringing is being played by someone ten years too young and 100% too Scottish is vexing, but hey ho. In my mind, she’s always been Frances Barber, and that is how she will stay. If they make more and don’t cast Tom Hollander as Charles Fraith, then I give up.

Anyway, I digress. So Agatha is once again bored and once again fawning over her handsome new neighbour and once again getting herself caught up in a murder mystery. There is not one single millimetre of new territory being explored here, but then you don’t read these books for them to re-invent the wheel. Amusing pop culture references to Oprah Winfrey and Lolita aside, Beaton is still setting feminism back decades while seemingly thinking she’s advancing it. Her only true friend Bill Wong notes that she’s of a generation who can’t help but fall in love with every handsome man they meet, or something along those lines. First of all, bullshit. Second of all, it does NOT stack up, and never has that someone as forthright and brittle as Agatha would turn into some awful mewling fool every time someone vaguely handsome walks within 100 yards of her and has always been my biggest bugbear of the books.

The identity of the murderer won’t tax your brain, and the whole thing with the haunted house is very silly. It also gets bogged down with some heavy plodding work about Roundheads and Cavaliers and some comedy amateur dramatics. All in all, this is a perfectly acceptable entry into the series, and if you’ve read the previous thirteen books, there’s nothing new I (or indeed MC Beaton) can tell you. However, my other bugbear has at last been addressed. The book ends with Agatha turning down an offer of work from her ex-colleague because she’s going to open her own detective agency. Thank heavens for that.

And that’s it for Cannonball Read 6 and 2014. Cannonball Read 7 is on the horizon so stay tuned. And in the meantime, check out everyone else on Cannonball Read. Use the links to buy any books you fancy and consider joining in next year too, why not? All the money the site raises goes to cancer charities, so it’s a win/win.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 18: Agatha Raisin & The Curious Curate by M.C. Beaton

8051243Continuing my brain dead decompression from the lengthy Booker challenge finds me reading the 13th instalment of the Agatha Raisin books. At the start of the year, for a brief window, the entire series (apart from the recently published latest instalment, the brilliantly titled Something Borrowed, Someone Dead. I’m going to just go ahead and say the death in that one is wedding related), was just 84p a piece on Kindle. So I bought them all. They are the perfect palate cleansers in between bigger and better books.

The thirteenth book is terribly similar to books 1 to 12, really. Firstly, we have a new arrival to the tiny village where Raisin is spending her retirement. In this case, it’s the terribly handsome, utterly charming, unpleasantly devious curate Tristan Delon. He’s introduced, described and killed off all in the first chapter, since Beaton really doesn’t believe in hanging around. Naturally, in the brief amount of time he’s in the book, Delon has managed to cross paths with our inimitable amateur sleuth and when the suspicion falls on the local vicar, Agatha takes it on herself to clear his name and find the real killer.

So what happens? Essentially, the same thing that happens in all the others. Agatha meddles, gets warned off by the police, ignores them, spars with the handsome neighbour, meddles some more, gets herself entangled in life threatening situations, stumbles across the identity of the killer by accident and no discernible skill. There’s some comic moments with some of her bungled investigating, for sure, but any of that is offset by how lamely she works out the killer’s identity and how repetitious her back and forth feelings over the handsome neighbour become.

And with this one, Beaton throws a lot of balls in the air, only to find out she can’t quite juggle them as well as she might. There is at least one glaring error which makes the final pages all very obvious. And to dispatch the second handsome neighbour Agatha has locked horns (but this time not loins) with only to replace him with a third would indicate Beaton doesn’t plan to deviate from the tried and tested structure just yet. Here’s hoping that she at least starts to give Agatha some self-esteem and actual sleuthing skills before too much longer though.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 16: Agatha Raisin & The Day The Floods Came by M.C. Beaton

8537775So here we are. After the mind numbing banality and apparently endless pages of The Kills, I needed something to decompress. Something easy, something short, something that I can take my brain out for and still enjoy. Who better fulfils that remit that Miss Marple by way of Midsomer Murders? As some of you may be aware, I’ve read a fair few of these books and this instalment is number 12 in the still ongoing series. Not bad when you consider the author is knocking on 80 years old.

When we last left our hapless heroine and amateur sleuth, she was abandoned by her husband and hunky handsome neighbour James, who lost his mind and decided to enter a monastery. To mend her broken heart, Agatha takes herself off to a remote South Pacific island for some sun and relaxation. Naturally, the bride in a honeymooning couple ends up dead, apparently drowned by her husband. Back home, the weather causes rivers to flood and amid all the burst bank craziness, a dead body in a wedding gown comes floating along. Initially it’s ruled a suicide, but Agatha remembers the drowning on her holiday and has other ideas…..

And so of course, it’s business as usual, with Agatha getting in the way, being snappish with people she interviews, flirting with the new neighbour, suffering crippling bouts of low self-esteem and stumbling on the answer by chance rather than skill. Beaton is smart enough to realise Raisin’s sharp edges need a foil to blunt them, but to give us another handsome writer as the new neighbour is a little repetitive. Also on the repetition front is Beaton’s language (Agatha howls at people fairly often and more than one person is truculent) and a far-fetched, ultimately unsatisfying and entirely daft conclusion.

In addition to being utterly ridiculous, the finale also leaves several plot strands hanging unresolved. The initial murder on the island seems to be a Maguffin (I’m being very kind there) and another sub-plot with someone trying to murder Agatha is either resolved very haphazardly or not resolved at all, I couldn’t really tell which. And yet somehow for some reason, I forgive all the faults and carry on reading. I have no clue why. Maybe I’m waiting for them to suddenly become amazing. It’s likelier that I enjoy losing myself in harmless mindless nonsense.

Cannonball Read 5, Book 63: Agatha Raisin & The Love From Hell by M.C. Beaton

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Ok, people. We can all relax. This is the last of the Raisin books I’ll be reading on this particular Cannonball. I’m sure in the future there will be more offers for them on Kindle (I enjoy them, but I don’t enjoy them enough to pay more than £1 for them, don’t get me wrong) and they will feature in future Cannonballs, but for now, we’re done.

At the end of the previous instalment, James Lacey performed a volte face and re-proposed to Agatha. To the surprise of absolutely nobody, the marriage doesn’t go well. Private arguments soon become public arguments when Agatha finds out that James didn’t quite end things with the blonde beauty he was seeing before marrying Agatha. And then, OF COURSE, James disappears from his bloodstained cottage and Nubile Blonde shows up with her head stoved in. Once again, Agatha is a prime suspect and once again, Sir Charles Fraith rides to her rescue.

This is probably the best of the series so far. It’s entirely ridiculous with the James Lacey sub-plot, but at least it puts the love triangle to rest once and for all. And for once the usual motives are absent. Nothing so straightforward as adultery and blackmail feature as possibilities. The waters are deeper and murkier here, and much improved for it. When Beaton makes it personal, it works so much better.

Alas, some of the good work is undone by a finale that is exactly the same as the other ten finales before it, but with Lacey out of the picture, if Beaton can smooth some of Raisin’s rough edges and make her just a titch less spiky and insecure, then the only way for this series to go is up.

 

Cannonball Read 5, Book 62: Agatha Raisin & The Fairies of Fryfram by M.C. Beaton

9781849011433

 

 

Well, here we are again. After the Larsson slog, I needed something silly, something lightweight and not too taxing. Cue book 10 in the Agatha Raisin series, which sees our titular amateur detective take the advice of a fortune teller and decamp to Norfolk to find her romantic destiny. Naturally, what she finds are unfriendly folk in Fryfram, followed by mysterious fairies, and then, of course, murder.

Raisin decides, while trying to ingratiate herself with the locals, to tell them she’s writing a novel, Murder at the Manor, in which the local squire gets his throat cut. Guess what then happens to the ghastly nouveau-riche squire of the manor in Fryfram? I KNOW! Who would have guessed? It all gets a bit complicated since Agatha did take a crack at the novel and the police find it, thus considering her their prime suspect. Ignoring her erstwhile beau and neighbour, James Lacey, Agatha enlists the help of her friend and shag buddy Sir Charles Fraith to get the bottom of things.

The one thing I really can’t fathom here is why these books haven’t been adapted for television. They’re crying out for it. Someone on Pajiba once wrote that it’s the average book which makes the best adaptations, and that is what Beaton writes. Reliably average fare. I even find myself casting the show. Clare Higgins for Raisin, Tom Hollander for Fraith, Ralph Fiennes for Lacey and Anne Reid as Agatha’s dependable friend, the vicar’s wife Mrs Bloxby. Like that would ever happen, but in my head, it works very well.

Suffice it to say that the same old motives are investigated and the killer is revealed in the usual manner. The sub plots are kind of fun though and Beaton is wise to occasionally get Raisin out of her home village of Carsley. With twenty four books in the series, credibility would be strained even further if every book was in the same tiny place. Unless there was some fantastic final twist that Agatha was in fact a psycho mass murderer, framing innocent people as she goes…..Somehow I don’t think it likely.

Cannonball Read 5, Book 59: Agatha Raisin & The Witch of Wyckhadden by M.C. Beaton

9781849011426

 

When we left Agatha Raisin last, she was bald, shampooed with a depilatory by a murderous hairdresser. Her vanities and insecurities won’t allow her to stay in her home village while it grows back in, lest her handsome neighbour James Lacey should see her. So she flees to Wyckhadden, a seaside resort, holes up in a hotel and waits for her hair to return. When it fails to do so, some permanent residents of the hotel suggest she visit the local witch for a potion. Agatha does so and can you guess what happens next?

Yes, the witch turns up dead and through some ridiculous contrivances, Agatha is a suspect and thus remains in Wyckhadden. There, she tries to befriend the elderly people who live year round in the hotel, has a romantic liaison with the investigating officer of the murder and generally blunders about the place, interfering in everyone’s lives and trying to solve the murder.

There’s a slight improvement in the writing (the word “truculent” only appears once), but the characterisation and plotting is as flat as ever. There isn’t anything inspired in the investigating of the murder and once again the culprit is revealed out of nowhere, almost on  whim. The romantic liaison and its resolution are lazy to an almost embarrassing degree. I’m hopeful that as the series continues (and continues) to progress, Agatha might actually solve a murder by intuition and investigative skills, rather than lucky guesses and stereotypical thinking (the motive for murder isn’t ALWAYS blackmail). I only have two more Raisins to read (so you can relax, Cannonballers, the end is in sight) until they’re reduced in price again. There’s no way I’d pay good money for these books. But for 99p a time, I’ll take my chances.

 

 

Cannonball Read 5, Book 57: Agatha Raisin & The Wizard of Evesham by M.C. Beaton

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Yes, Agatha Raisin is BACK. Nobody’s favourite detective returns for the eighth instalment in this seemingly unending series (the twenty forth book, the hilariously titled Something Borrowed, Someone Dead is due out later this year). Seemingly unfazed by a body turning up everywhere she goes, Agatha still can’t handle being rejected by friends and is still mooning over her erstwhile paramour, James Lacey. To cheer herself up, she gets her hair did and nobody is surprised when the super charming Mr John (the titular Wizard) is revealed to have a dark side and then turns up dead.

This is a flimsy effort, even by the Agatha Raisin series lightweight standards. Beaton publishes under several different pseudonyms, and publishes with a regularity which makes James Patterson look like George RR Martin, so it’s inevitable that you’re going to get a duff entrant somewhere along the way. This feels rushed, it’s super short and and the plot machinations are artlessly crammed in. One good thing is Agatha’s sometime shag, the baronet Charles Fraith, is her sidekick on this one, as Lacey is absent for the whole book. And it looks like that little triangle will continue, adding some much needed variety.

However, that is not enough to disguise a book where the identity of the killer is obvious from the second they appear, where there is absolutely no craft or skill to the detective work (literally every revelation is through lucky guesses or random coincidences) and where there’s very little differentiation in character voices. Pull your finger out, Beaton.

Cannonball Read 5, Book 55: Agatha Raisin & The Wellspring of Death by M.C. Beaton

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So here we are at the 7th entry in the seemingly indefatigable Agatha Raisin series. This one finds Agatha embroiled in a murderous scandal surrounding a local spring and a water company’s plans to tap into said spring for a new line of mineral water. It also finds the series in desperate need of some variety.

Beaton goes to great pains to point out that Raisin is a headstrong woman, a force to be reckoned with, someone who was a feared and respected businesswoman when she ran her own PR company. We then get page after page of her being driven by how desirable she is or isn’t to various men, constantly mooning over the handsome neighbour she nearly married and generally being a neurotic mess. These two facets of her clash pretty badly and make for some intensely irritating reading.

Another area we could use some variation in is that of the killer’s identity and the method of revealing it. Once again, motive and identity is continually presented by others to Agatha and it’s dismissed as being implausible. And once again, Agatha finds herself in peril with the murderer when she realises too late, everyone was right all along. I am giving this a third star purely because there is a slight curve ball thrown with the end, and it makes ALL the difference. I hope this means the 8th and soon to be read instalment of the series, The Wizard of Evesham, is an improvement.

Cannonball Read 5, Book 53: Agatha Raisin & The Terrible Tourist by M.C. Beaton

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I told a good friend of mine that I indulged in the guilty pleasure of reading these books. She looked at me aghast and told me at length how members of the Cosy Crime Corner shun Beaton books in general and the Agatha Raisin series in particular. I had to point out, equally at length, that I was under no illusion that these were good books. Sometimes I just wanted/needed to take my brain out and read some drivel. That’s where these books come in.

At the end of the previous instalment, Agatha’s planned marriage to her dashing neighbour James Lacey had gone awry. He had taken off to Cyprus to try and put the latest murder fuelled disaster behind him. Agatha followed him, in an attempt to rekindle things with him. And so we begin with The Terrible Tourist. 

Agatha finds James, but only after falling in with a close knit bunch of Brits, all of whom are varying degrees of obnoxious. When one of them, the most hideous (Horrible Tourist would have been a more fitting title, but of course that doesn’t alliterate) turns up dead, it’s a case of  same shit, different location as Agatha and James try to solve the murder and how they feel about each other.

It really isn’t the most artfully constructed of books, even for one of this series. It feels like a first draft. Choice writing such as “‘So how are things back home?’ asked Agatha, wondering now what James was making of her disappearance and feeling uncomfortably that she had behaved badly”.  The book is padded with a lot of information about Cyprus, so it almost doubles as a tour guide in places. Most unforgivable, again, is the reveal of the murderer. A lot revolves around identifying the unusual weapon used to off the tourist. When it IS identified, it’s quite clear that it would have been staring Agatha in the face the whole time, it’s just never mentioned by Beaton prior to the big reveal.

And yet, with all of that, I’m still going to read the next in the series, Agatha Raisin & The Wellspring of Death. Oh yes.