* Prices may differ from that shown
For a couple of days this week, I've been visiting Carsley, a fictional village nestled somewhere in Gloucestershire and home to the recently retired PR executive, Agatha Raisin. This is a 2 CD BBC full cast adaptation of two more of the Agatha Raisin mysteries written by M C Beaton, with Penelope Keith giving voice to the rather forceful and sometimes prickly Agatha. These stories fall into the category of 'cosy' mysteries in that the murders always happen off stage and the stories revolve around the search for clues and subsequent investigation.
In the first story, Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener, it soon becomes clear that Carsley may only be a small village but it seems to have a population seething with killer instincts, albeit in this first recording most of them are currently confined to outdoing each other at the local garden festival. Agatha returns home from an extended holiday to find she has a rival for the affections of James, her eligible bachelor neighbour. Her rival comes in the shape of Mary Fortune, recent arrival to the village who is not only an attractive divorcee but also an excellent gardener, something Agatha definitely isn't, and with the village Garden Open Day approaching, poor Agatha is feeling more than a little miffed. The listener takes against Mary immediately: she's one of those loud, kissy-kissy types and she's very derogative about Agatha's garden with "I see you've gone for the wilderness look." Agatha gives back as good as she gets though with a few barbs of her own. When Mary is found dead, with her head buried into a terracotta plant pot, Agatha begins to dig around for more details about Mary and soon begins to unearth (sorry about the puns) information which finds her on the trail of the killer.
Agatha Raisin has a somewhat abrasive personality and Penelope Keith is perfectly cast here as our amateur lady sleuth with a voice which drips superiority, arrogance and disdain, very much in the Audrey Fforbes-Hamilton mould, although with just a hint of flirtation when it comes to her relationship with James. This is the third book to be dramatised by the BBC which is in two episodes and although some details have been changed slightly from the book these are more for dramatic effect than anything else and unless you're an Agatha Raisin purist (and I can't imagine there are many of them on the planet) these alterations won't make any difference to the listener's enjoyment.
As these recordings are of BBC broadcasts, I really don't need to say much about the quality because the BBC is renowned for its excellent radio productions and these recordings are highly professionally produced, complete with suitable sound effects necessary for the listener to paint a vivid picture of the action, not least whilst Agatha is involved in taking a couple of Carsley OAPs on a trip to Bristol. During the rather hair raising journey, they loudly criticise Agatha's driving skills whilst singing the praises of her love rival, Mary Fortune, and when told that Mrs Fortune is absent today because she's a very busy woman, Agatha is moved to mutter "Probably because she's up in the trees teaching baby birds to fly."
There is a malevolent force at work amongst the gardeners of Carsley with decapitate gnomes and worse. The murder of Mary isn't discovered until the end of the first episode, almost half an hour into the recording, which leaves only another half hour in which to solve the crime. As a consequence, the action flows quickly, possibly a little too quickly in the second half. As the entire book is condensed into this one hour recording, the pace never slackens and the story was absorbing enough to keep me listening and with a very satisfactory, though slightly rushed, conclusion.
The second recording is of the fourth book in the series, Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley. In an effort to get fit and lose weight, Agatha, has joined the Carsley Walkers Society, run by Agatha's neighbour and would-be love interest, James Lacey. On one of their walks, Agatha and James witness an altercation between some militant ramblers from the neighbouring village of Dembley and a local farmer. Following the murder of one of the Dembley militants, Agatha and James are asked by the local squire to investigate and they go undercover, masquerading as a married couple. As a single gentleman, James is unsure about how a married man behaves. "Do I call you darling?", he asks, to which Agatha replies, "Only if we're appearing in a 1950s sit-com."
As with all the Agatha Raisin mysteries, the crime is pretty easy to solve with lots of signposts pointing towards the guilty party but that's no more than to be expected of a cosy mystery. These recordings are very easy listening and although the plots and characters are more than a little clichéd, they are also very enjoyable with the incidental music provided by rather lively violin playing which is merely there as demarcation between scenes.
Penelope Keith is superb in the title role and although she's the only actor to get star billing on the CD case, she's ably supported here by a cast of series regulars including Malcolm Sinclair as the rather pompous and prissy James, Liza Sadavy as the vicar's wife, Mrs Bloxby, and young Constable Bill Wong, played here by Ben Crow. D C Wong is the local bobby, always called in to investigate and who has a rather soft spot for Agatha.
The village of Carsley, bearing a striking similarity to Ambridge, is beautifully brought to life in these recordings. Of course, it's as far removed from any real village you'll ever come across being populated with every village stereotype you could wish for, barring the village idiot, and all speaking with very BBC yokel-type accents.
I downloaded this recording from NetLibraries via my local library but it is also available from Amazon for around £9, from £6 for used copies or for slightly less if a member of Audible
"Agatha Raisin and The Potted Gardener" - When a garden festival is announced, the village of Carsely is gripped with enthusiasm for water features and mulch. But when her arch rival at the festival is found hanging from her conservatory roof, Agatha is determined to dig deep and root out the wrongdoer. "Agatha Raisin and The Walkers of Dembley" - Keen to get closer to James Lacey, Agatha joins his walking group. Agatha and James are then hired to investigate the murder of a militant rambler. They go undercover as a married couple, but it's a marriage made in hell.