M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin and the Dead Ringer

"Just lean back and enjoy a romp through a genre that is cosily British."


The Cotswold village of Thirk Magna eagerly awaits a visit by the local bishop, Peter Salvey-Hinkley. The bell ringers of St Ethelred's especially, as they've put together a special peal for the occasion. The bishop is a handsome, sexually attractive man, and, of course, Agatha initially falls for him. However, this doesn't last for long, and she eventually decides (paid for by a bell ringer called Julian Brody) to investigate the mysterious disappearance some years before of heiress Jennifer Toynby, the bishop's fiancée. Is she dead? Did the money-mad bishop murder her?

The ringleaders (if that's the right word) of the bell ringers are the haughty twins Millicent and Mavis Dupin, who lord it over the village from the grand . But when Millicent is murdered in her own home by a blow from a hammer, Agatha has more than the missing fiancée to occupy her mind. Then the body count starts mounting. Something is going on, and Agatha is convinced that the bishop, ably assisted by dean of his cathedral, and mixed up on it all. But alas, her enthusiasm stalls when another man enters her life, and she finds that, for the first time, she is experiencing real love. But there is still James Lacey, her ex-husband, living next door to her, and Sir Charles Fraith, with whom she is in lust, to deal with.

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Lee Child, on the back of the dust jacket of the book, admits that reading Agatha Raisin is his 'guilty pleasure'. I feel the same, and I've been racking my brains to find out why. But now I think I know. It's because the sheer joy that MC Beaton gets from writing the books permeates every page, and this joy transfers to me as I read. The books are, in fact, a joyous romp, subverting Miss Jane Marple and the rather stuffy St Mary Mead. Agatha, in her early 50s, swears like a trooper, still wears London outfits, tells people who annoy her to 'sod off!', eats steak pie and chips in the pub, sleeps around and lights up a cigarette at every occasion. The plots in an Agatha Raisin book are always simple, but with lots of red herrings. The characters may tend towards the stereotypical, but this gives the books much of its humour. Don't look for gun toting cops here. Don't expect a plot that dissects today's fractured society. Just lean back and enjoy a romp through a genre that is cosily British and unthreatening. The denouement is, perhaps, a wee bit contrived, but nonetheless satisfying, as Agatha puts herself in danger (again!) to unmask the murderer.

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