Sunday, October 7, 2018

Agatha Raisin and the Dead Ringer by M.C. Beaton: Reading Room Review

What I continue to enjoy about the Agatha Raisin mysteries is the sheer fun of them. Predictability is a good thing in these delightful stories about Agatha, a retired owner of a London public relations firm and now owner of a private detective agency in the Cotswolds. Agatha will always become involved in a murder mystery, always dress for the attractive man in the room, be dissatisfied with her friends' attentions, and be one of the most generous people in her world. The characters know their parts and play them well. Agatha's best female friend is Mrs. Bloxby, the wife of the vicar of her small Costswold village of Carsley, and this friend astutely sees beneath the somewhat annoying antics of Agatha to a well-meaning, loyal person of worth. There are the usual men from Agatha's past, her ex-husband James Lacey and sometimes lover, Sir Charles Fraith, and, of course Roy Silver, a past employee from her London days who shows up when the lime light is shining. Her detective agency is full of additional characters whose interactions with Agatha provide much entertainment. Toni is the bright, competent, beautiful young woman who seems to always overlook Agatha's jealousy of her to come through for Agatha when she needs someone. Patrick is the retired cop with some helpful connections. Simon is the young man who would love to impress Toni, but it's unlikely that will every happen. Through all of the seemingly wrong approaches and mishaps in solving the murders that Agatha is hired to investigate, she somehow comes out on top, although the police are always reluctant and stingy in giving her any credit. 

In Agatha Raisin and the Dead Ringer, the 29th in this series, it's the handsome Bishop Peter Salver-Hinkley who is visiting the nearby village of Thirk Magna and its historical church of St. Ethelred that catches Agatha's interest. Attending the welcoming service for the bishop with Mrs. Bloxby, they come into contact with the bell ringers for the church and the vicar's wife, all who are a rather squirrelly bunch. Two of the ringers, middle-aged twins Mavis and Millicent Dupin, are especially enamored of the bishop, despite his shady history with women. Fiercely competitive, these two women let Agatha know that she is an unwelcome kink in their plans to woo the handsome, yet unpredictable priest. Agatha herself learns soon enough how Peter can turn the charm off and on, according to the woman with the most promising bank account. When one of the twins turns up dead at the belfry, romancing the bishop takes a sinister turn, and as Agatha digs deeper into the world of the self-serving man of the cloth, her own life becomes a danger zone.

One of the aspects of this series I enjoy is Agatha's love life, her constant pursuit of the perfect man to complete her life. In spite of her immense success as a professional and providing for herself quite nicely, Agatha feels true happiness lies in finding a husband, a soul-mate. She does try to reason with herself at times, admonishing her need for a man when she has done so well for herself, but she always falls back into her old habits of zeroing in on a target and becoming obsessed. She once again falls in love in this story, and, once again, it's fraught with complications. Her antics when she is in the throes of this myopic vision can be some funny material, and there is always the hope that she will learn from this disaster, but will she. Sir Charles Fraith is the one constant man in her life, and they both have genuine affection for one another, but they are always out of step with their feelings, and Charles is always on the look-out for a young heiress to solve his money problems. There is a good amount of Agatha and Charles in this book, and I was pleased to see that.

I do have one complaint about this book, and that is the almost constant bad mood of Agatha, which affects her likeability. She has always been capable of rude behavior and telling it like it is without filters, but in this story, Agatha seems to be a lot gumpier and careless with her words. Those around Agatha know she can be a difficult person, but she is usually able to redeem herself. Not so much in this book. To put it bluntly, I hope Beaton make Agatha less of a bitch in the next outing. Having stated this displeasure, I still recommend reading Agatha Raisin and the Dead Ringer, as her personal life may be taking a turn, and you won't want to miss that.

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