Monday, January 28, 2013

The Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton

The Quiche of Death (Agatha Raisin, #1)The Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My path to Agatha Raisin is a twisty one. I came to M.C. Beaton based on my somewhat foolish over-fondness for the Hamish MacBeth TV Series. That led me to pick up some of the Hamish Macbeth books which were fine but I became disappointed with them after reading only a few mostly because I found them not nearly as charming as the show. M.C. Beaton doesn’t seem overly concerned with creating characters that the reader likes (or she just likes different people then I do;) and her writing style is somewhat unusual for this genre of cozy mystery. Her style is clipped, blunt and straightforward and she barrels forward leaving very little room to sit and breath with a character or situation. This isn’t really a bad thing but for me it kept me from understanding her characters motivations (which often baffled and irritated me) and kept me at a distance from them. Since her characters are so important to the enjoyment of her books, I couldn’t stay engaged for more then 1/3 of the series. The books have all these elements that I love but there is something in her writing style that keeps me from being immersed.

So why pick up the first book in the Agatha Raisin series? 1) Simon Savidge of Savidge Reads and The Readers podcast count these among his most treasured guilty pleasures; 2) I like cozy mysteries and stories set in small U.K. villages; and 3)despite what seems like a lot of criticism above, I don’t actually dislike M.C. Beaton’s books - I just didn’t absolutely adore the H.M. series even though I felt like I should. I felt she was worth another try.

Quiche of Death is the first book in a series featuring Agatha Raisin, a 50-something successful London PR professional who decides to retire early and move to a quaint village in the Cotswolds. She immediately embroils herself in village scandal by submitting a store bought quiche into a village competition and said quiche then poisons and kills the judge of the competition. It is quickly determined to be an accident but Agatha’s not so sure and she feels an obligation to figure out the truth and revitalize her reputation.

The mystery is fine and is really less of a who dunnit then a how dunnit. However the meat of the book revolves around Agatha and this life change she’s embarked upon. I think this is actually why I liked the book more than perhaps I might have. I actually identified quite a bit with Agatha. She’s pushy, selfish and a little tone deaf as to how to deal with other humans as equals. I hope I share these traits with Agatha only minimally, but I definitely relate with the single older woman, very career focused with a very romantic idea of small town life and being part of a community. Her disorientation and loneliness after her move, her almost immediate disillusionment with her romantic ideas, are very understandable. However, with the vicar’s wife as a role model she begins to develop a conscience and sense of “being good” while still being irascible and…well… Agatha. It was a nice “personal journey”, not overdone or taken too seriously.

Overall, a quick and light read. There is definitely still that barrier for me that keeps me from getting too into the book but I think Agatha worked a little better for me then Hamish. In the end, Agatha will either speak to you or she won’t. I’ll definitely give a few more in the series a try to see how long she continues to speak to me.

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