Be warned, Agatha Raisin is my personal new fad. So I’m tempted to be all-forgiving about this book, the first of a series of light (you could say lowbrow) mysteries set in the Cotswolds. Agatha Raisin’s mystery is strongly inspired by another Agatha, and Miss Marple’s shadow comes immediately in the picture, but there is no real comparison.
Agatha Raisin is a feisty P.R. businesswoman of 53 who, at the top of her professional success in Mayfair, realizes her lifelong dream of buying a cottage in the Cotswolds and retiring to a (supposedly) idyllic country life. Very soon, she is brought down to earth, lonely and unsettled by her gruff neighbors, and doesn’t know how to keep busy far from the hectic city life. In order to socialize (and with the ulterior motive to impress those country bompkins), she enrolls in a local quiche competition, undisturbed by the fact that she doesn’t know the first thing about cooking, and without a pang of guilt, buys the quiche from a favorite London caterer. But not only doesn’t she win (someone had the local judge in her pocket already), but on top of ego bruising, there are murder accusations! The judge is found dead the next day, poisoned by Agatha’s quiche. This double whammy (public humiliation of being recognized a cheat, and public suspicion of being a murderer) sets her on the killer’s tracks.
As you can see, Agatha Raisin is no Miss Marple, but all the traditional ingredients of the cozy British mystery (the vicar’s wife, the gossip, the quiet hatred simmered by years of local grudge, even the cardboard characters) are present. She lacks Marple’s discretion and experience of decades of village secrets, but she makes up for that with city cynism and daring. I doubt it’s a portrait of real life in the Cotswolds (I didn’t meet anyone like that there and there was no poisoned quiche either), but the setting is enchanting enough and the characters suitably endearing. This is pure escapism, and I won’t promise it is all very plausible, but it was a lot of fun. And I got the next two ones in the series from Bookmooch, so Agatha is coming back soon!
Note to interested readers: I’m not sure whether the mysteries are supposed to be standalones, but I guess it’s better to follow the order with that series, as there are strong recurrent storylines and characters.