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MC Beaton is the pseudonym under which Marion Chesney writes murder-mystery novels. Her most famous creation is probably Hamish MacBeth, whose investigations were turned into a television series in the '90s. Her other detective fiction series features the eponymous Agatha Raisin.
'Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley' is the fourth in the series and available new from Amazon for £5.59, although it's worth looking around for it cheaper. The library is always a good bet for this sort of book, and that's where I borrowed my copy from.
The books in the series can be described as fitting into the 'cosy murder-mystery' genre as carved out by Agatha Christie, but closer to the Miss Marple books than to Poirot.
The setting is always primarily the sleepy [gossipy] Cotswold village of Carsely to which our irascible protagonist, Agatha Raisin, has retired. Agatha was a high-powered ambitious PR woman from an inner-city background, who chose to sell her company and retire early to this idyllic countryside retreat. Her struggles to fit into rural living and be accepted in the village form part of the story arc of each book and the series as a whole, as does her infatuation with James Lacey, her neighbour. At times faces from her past re-enter her life, often trying to pull her back into the rat-race.
While Agatha may have moved into Carsely for a change in gear and lifestyle, it's not a quiet life as she keeps finding herself involved in unsolved murders. These she often sees more as an opportunity to interact with her stand-offish object of desire, Lacey, with whom she investigates matters.
In the 'Walkers of Dembley', Jessica, militant 'right to roam' leader of a group of ramblers conflicts with the owner of a large estate and comes to a sticky end at the end of a spade. One of the ramblers has heard of Agatha's previous investigations and asks her to help find out who the murderer is. Like the baronet and his creepy manservant Gustav, every member of the group has a motive for killing her, as we discover.
Agatha draws Lacey into helping her in the detective work, for which they go under cover as husband and wife, much to her delight. Their bumbling attempts to solve the mystery by infiltrating the rambling society end in a hectic dash to try to prevent another murder.
Agatha Raisin is sometimes difficult to like on the page for the reader as well as in the stories for the other characters; she is by turns arrogant, cantankerous, gullible and over-sensitive, however, she is also a vulnerable and good-hearted day-dreamer. Her flaws make her a more interesting and credible character, while also providing plenty of mileage for humour.
The Agatha Raisin books all have this good dash of humour and a sense of the ridiculous added to the clue-puzzle format of the detective genre.
I would say that this novel is a light - and slight - read. It won't challenge you or make you think, but it is very readable: a burger rather than a steak of a book. While the whole point of a good clue-puzzle type murder-mystery is that the reader should have enough information to feel they could work out who the murderer is, it's a difficult balancing act to get that satisfying resolution or surprise just close enough to the end of the book. Here it didn't quite work, I felt. The storyline was too predictable: I knew who the murderer was well in advance of the reveal. That said, the ending for the Lacey-Raisin plot-line caught me by surprise.
Although it is part of a series, I think that it could be read as a stand-alone; what backstories and references to previous books there are, shouldn't detract too much from the enjoyment of the novel as a whole. But for the full Agatha Raisin experience, it would be better to start from 'The Quiche of Death' and read the books in sequence. I don't think this is the best Agatha Raisin book I've read, but fans shouldn't skip it as it contains a lot of important happenings for the main characters.
Personally I wouldn't *buy* the Agatha Raisin books as they're not ones I'd re-read time & again, but I do enjoy them for a light read out of the library.
Product details (as available from Amazon):
# Paperback: 272 pages
# Publisher: Robinson Publishing; paperback / softback edition (25 Mar 2010)
# Language English
# ISBN-10: 1849011370
# ISBN-13: 978-1849011372
# Product Dimensions: 17.2 x 11 x 2 cm
Agatha has just spent 6 horrid months back in London working in PR. She returns to her beloved Caresly only to be paired up with her neighbour James Lacey to go undercover as man and wife in Dembley to find out who murdered Jessica, a very outspoken teacher who was the self-proclaimed "leader" of a walking group. There are suspects galore as Jessica was a detestable person and soon another murder takes place.
Will Agatha & James be able to solve the case before the body count increases? Will Agatha be able to keep her mind on the case rather than day-dreaming about her crush James? And just what is Gustav's (a manservant who works for Sir Charles Fraith, a Dembley landowner) problem?
Agatha Raisin & the Walkers of Dembley is the fourth book in the Agatha Raisin series preceded by Agatha Raisin & the Potted Gardener and followed on by Agatha Raisin & the Murderous Marriage (which was the first book in the series that I had read).
Agatha is a fictional middle aged PR agent who has retired from London to live in the Cotswolds. She's a rather sharp person who doesn't make friends easily and she's made out to be someone you, as the reader, can related to easily as she is by no means perfect.
Agatha Raisin is the creation of Marion Chesney who goes by the pen name of M C Beaton. Beaton's first novel starring Agatha Raisin was called Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death which was published in 1992 in which Agatha Raisin is supposed to be about 53 years of age. Beaton seems to have published one book a year since the first one in 1992 in this series but a year does not seem to have passed in time between each book.
Apart from Agatha Raisin, our main character; there are several other characters in the book I thought I'd summarise for you:
James Lacey - in this particular book he is Agatha Raisin's love interest but we see him as someone that she has a crush on for the most part rather than someone who reciprocates her feelings. He is described as someone very attractive to the opposite sex be they in their 20s or much much older. He is supposed to be in the same age group as Agatha Raisin from what I can gather. When Agatha first returns from working in London for six months he doesn't seem to be too fussed to see her which puts her nose out of joint somewhat. She is quite excited to be going undercover with him as his wife as she hopes they'll get close but it doesn't seem to stop him being rather flighty with other women.
Sir Charles Fraith - a titled Dembley landowner, described as being in his mid 30s. Not at all a snob and seen as a fairly likeable character for the most part. It is amusing to see his dating activities with Debbie as his idea of taking her out to dinner involve going to Burger King and his behaviour with his manservant Gustav is quite amusing too.
Bill Wong - the local arm of the law in Caresly who is in his mid 20s and is the first friend Agatha Raisin has ever had. He's a nice enough character but he seems to be rather a mother's boy and reference is made to his girlfriends only staying with him until they get to meet his family before they suddenly get put off him. He seems to let Agatha do a lot of the detective work in this book, one wonders how he got into the police force...
Gustav - he's Sir Charles' manservant who is extremely rude to his master's guests unless they are also titled. I found it rather amusing whenever he was mentioned as he is so overtly rude that you want to punch him in the face.
Jessica Tartinck - school teacher and a bit of an aggressive feminist. She is very bossy and loves to cause trouble on walks by finding out rights of ways which haven't been used for years and then stomping through landowners' crops and plants just to make a point. She discovers a right of way on Sir Charles' land and although he amicably offers the walking group the opportunity to come to tea with him, she insists on forging ahead in her own way and when none of the other walkers from the group go along with her, she goes ahead alone but ends up a murder victim. We see her upsetting an awful lot of people shortly before her character is killed off so there are no shortage of suspects for her murder, including the characters already mentioned above and:
Terry - Jessica's boyfriend, who dumps her just before she is murdered. He seems to be accepting of her overtly bossy ways and an advocate of feminism but we find out that really he is a typical male chauvinist and not very likeable at all.
Deborah - a very meek school-teacher who Jessica always bullied in going along with her plans, she starts dating Sir Charles and is not happy that Jessica is trying to cause trouble for him.
Alice and Gemma,a couple; one of whom is fairly sure that Jessica is attracted to her partner and obviously she's not happy about it.
Several other individuals from the walking group who refuse to put Jessica up when she is kicked out by Terry and has nowhere to stay (mainly because Jessica is so nasty to everyone; they don't want to take her in and put up with her bossiness).
Various other landowners that Jessica has upset during her "trespassing" over their properties in the name of public rights of way...
I have to admit I had my suspicions very quickly about who the murderer was and nothing that I read really made me change my mind. Basically I was rather disappointed to find that I was right as I felt it was too easy to guess the motive and the correct murderer - I want more of a challenge for a murder novel - no matter how easy the rest of the book is to read, I want to be proved wrong. Comparing Agatha Raisin to Hercule Poirot or Jane Marple (both creations of Agatha Christie, my favourtie crime author) - I rarely, if ever, guessed correctly the murderer or perpetrator of the crime (where no murder was involved in the mystery) or the method or motive. This being the third Agatha Raisin book I have read, I found myself guessing the murderer quite quickly in the second book I read too.
I also found that you either like or dislike the characters in the book - I found them too one-dimensional to be happy about them and possibly because the book is so short you don't get a real feel for the characters. At no time in the book did I change my opinion about any of the characters as it really was a case of "first impressions count"! Something I found extremely bizarre about one of the characters in this book was that they is clearly described as being in a certain age group in this book but 2 books later they have somehow aged a decade whilst Agatha has only aged maybe 6 months. I felt this was a huge faux pas on the part of the author. It bugged me so much so that I went back to the other book and double checked that I hadn't made a mistake - and I hadn't!
After saying all that, Agatha Raisin & the Walkers of Dembley was an enjoyable enough read - something light to get into and good enough to recommend for a holiday read. Like the other books I've read in the series, this took me just a couple of hours to finish, although I didn't read it all in one sitting as I did with others. I must admit didn't enjoy it as much as I enjoyed The Murderous Marriage which I gave 8 out 10 to.
The book is written in a very easy to read style, both literally and in appearance - actually in rather a large font - probably Times Roman 12 point which seems quite large to me. The book is about 250 pages in length and basically I feel it can be finished in one sitting. Beaton is a modern day writer and she writes with a style which doesn't need the reader to pay too much attention to the finer details of the plot. Also as with the other books I've seen and read so far, the book has a pleasant looking cover which depicts what seems to be tranquil village life...
The cover price of Agatha Raisin & the Walkers of Dembley is £5.99 (at June 2008), it was published in 1995 in the USA and first published in the UK in 2005 by Constable & Robinson. The ISBN number is 978-1841197760 and it can be purchased from Amazon for the discounted price of £4.79 or you could try ebay for a second hand copy.
Books in the series in order of original publication:
* Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death (1992)
* Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet (1993)
* Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener (1994)
* Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley (1995)
* Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage (1996)
* Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist (1997)
* Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death (1998)
* Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham (1999)
* Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden (1999)
* Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam (2000)
* Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell (2001)
* Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came (2002)
* Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate (2003)
* Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House (2003)
* Agatha Raisin and the Deadly Dance (2004)
* Agatha Raisin and the Perfect Paragon 2005)
* Love, Lies and Liquor: An Agatha Raisin mystery (2006)
* Kissing Christmas Goodbye: An Agatha Raisin mystery (2007)
* Agatha Raisin and a Spoonful of Poison (2008)
I think I'd be content to give this Agatha Raisin book 6 out of 10 overall. It is worth a read; but not one of the better books from the series as far as I am concerned.
NB: M C Beaton is also well known for writing the Hamish McBeth stories which were televised starring Robert Carlyle.