By M C Beaton
Constable (Constable & Robinson) - June 2002
ISBN: 1841195235 - HB
Contemporary Crime / Cotswolds, UK

Reviewed by Rachel A Hyde,
Buy a US || UK Copy

I must congratulate Constable for printing M C Beaton's best series so at last UK readers can experience them.

Agatha Raisin is the tough boss of her own public relations company based in London and has yearned for a cottage in the Cotswolds since a childhood visit. But taking early retirement from her fast-paced job isn't as easy as she thought. All alone in a village where she knows nobody (and nobody wants to know her) she even stoops as low as buying a quiche from an upmarket London restaurant in order to win the village quiche-making competition. But when the contest judge dies after eating it, Agatha is forced to turn sleuth in order to find out whodunit, and to give herself something to do.

Having spent my own formative years in this area, I was delighted at its wonderfully satirical (but worryingly true) evocation of modern rural England. Lonely Agatha tries everything to fit in, from taking out ghastly old people to joining the Ladies' Society and organizing a grand fete. The plot somehow takes a back seat to the satire, which is the true joy of this series and Beaton certainly knows her Cotswolds. Anybody who is familiar with the area or who has ever wanted to visit it will surely love her descriptions of Bath, Warwick Castle, Bourton-on-the-Water and Stratford-upon-Avon, as well as her images of noisy but soulless yuppie London. The "cozy" plot is enjoyable too, but somehow when Constable Wong befriends Agatha and the village starts to accept her, the sardonic humor fades to an inevitable contentment and the scene is set for a satisfying conclusion. The images that stay in the mind after the book has been closed, however, are the earlier ones of a sharply observed modern rural England. Overall, this is great stuff.


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