* Prices may differ from that shown
Over the last couple of days, on my walk to and from work, I've been enjoying the first two stories in the Agatha Raisin series: Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death and Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet. These are the BBC recordings which were originally broadcast on Radio 4 and are full cast plays starring Penelope Keith in the role of Agatha.
The Agatha Raisin mysteries are the creation of M C Beaton, a Scottish author probably best known for her Hamish McBeth stories, which were once essential Sunday night viewing and helped a certain Robert Carlisle on his road to acting stardom. These two radio plays are very much in the same vein as the Hamish McBeth mysteries being murder mysteries of the non-gory type generally referred to as 'cosy'.
Cosy mysteries are also sometimes known as country house mysteries, generally taking place in a rural setting of some description and where the murder often happens off stage, the crime is solved by an amateur sleuth and the action is frequently laced with gentle humour.
Price and availability:
I borrowed this double CD from the library but it's available to buy new from Amazon for £8.99 or used from £5.49.
Agatha Raisin is a director of a London PR company who has decided to give up the cut and thrust of public relations and take early retirement and to this end, Agatha buys herself a little cottage in the quiet Cotswold village of Carsley. Having come from a dynamic environment and held a high powered position, even in retirement Agatha is a pretty forceful personality. Inevitably, this rubs some of the locals up the wrong way. Agatha decides she needs a strategy to enable her to make friends with the inhabitants of Carsley.
In the first play, Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death, we are introduced to Agatha, newly arrived from London. In her efforts to widen her circle of acquaintances in Carsley and whilst making enquiries in the village shop about evening classes, Agatha discovers that there is to be a baking competition which she immediately decides will be her entrée into village life. Her entry is a cheat, however, being a quiche that she's bought from a London deli, but when Reggie Cummings-Browne, one of the judges, is later found poisoned and the last thing he ate was Agatha's quiche, the finger of suspicion is pointed at her.
With the help of her attractive neighbour, James Lacey, a retired military man, sets about proving her innocence and finding the real culprit uncovering lots of village shenanigans on the way. During the course of her investigations, Agatha develops something of a tender for James but that has to be put on the back burner whilst her investigations are underway. She is aided and abetted by D C Wong from the local police force and we see the beginnings of an unlikely friendship and possibly a romance.
The second play, Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet, finds Agatha just returned to Carsley after a holiday in the Bahamas, where she'd gone in pursuit of her would-be beau, James, but James changed his plans at the last minute and went to Egypt instead. Did he go to avoid Agatha? She's currently unsure of the answer to that question.
As the course of her true love is definitely not running smoothly, in the meantime, Agatha decides to cast her net in a different direction. There's a new and rather handsome vet in Carsley: Paul Bladen, who's just set up business in the village and Agatha, along with every other single woman, is making a beeline for the surgery. She's soon convinced Paul has taken a fancy to her and when he asks her on a date, she's even more convinced and very flattered. However, it soon turns out he's more interested in her chequebook than in Agatha herself.
The next day, Agatha is somewhat startled to hear the news circulating in the village that it seems the vet has accidentally killed himself with a fatal dose of vaccine whilst attending Lord Pendlebury's horse. Of course, once the police begin their investigation, what was thought to be an accident later turns out to be murder.
So, once again, Agatha turns amateur sleuth to help solve the case and once she's cleared the air, she is again assisted by her neighbour, James and they set out to help D C Wong solve yet another case.
These first two outings for Agatha are the original BBC broadcasts in CD format (thank goodness I didn't throw away the old Sony Walkman!) and feature Penelope Keith as the eponymous heroine. Penelope Keith uses her cut glass tones to excellent advantage as the redoubtable Agatha, coming across as a cross between Audrey Fforbes-Hamilton and Margo Ledbetter in style. She's ably supported by Malcolm Sinclair as James, Agatha's neighbour and would-be love interest and Stephen Hogan as D C Wong, from the local police force who has become a friend, of sorts, of Agatha.
I really enjoyed both these plays. The stories are enjoyable without being too taxing on the brain with a good balance of drama and humour and the plot of both murders are just convoluted enough for the big reveal to come as something of a surprise.
I have to say that some of the local accents were rather strange and put me in mind of the non-specific rural tones adopted by the inhabitants of Ambridge, sort of East Anglia meets the West Country, but I guess that's about right as these plays are set in roughly the same location as Borsetshire.
Other than that very minor observation, I have nothing but praise for these audio CDs. As usual, the BBC have pitched it just right with these recordings offering the perfect balance of mystery, drama and humour. I shall definitely be putting Volume 2 of the Agatha Raisin mysteries onto my list of requests from the library.
Agatha Raisin and The Quiche of Death - In her first extended radio appearance, Agatha Raisin determines to make her mark by winning the local baking competition. When the judge is poisoned by her efforts, she investigates and uncovers a web of extra-marital sex and pastry-based favours.Agatha Raisin and The Vicious Vet - A handsome vet is found stabbed with a syringeful of tranquiliser. Was it an accident or did someone put him to sleep? Agatha and James are determined to find out who killed the village vet - but they resort to barefaced lies, burglary and badger watching.