I've heard quite a bit about Agatha Raisin, here and there. Everyone loves her, from what I've seen, and I've read a little bit of M.C. Beaton's other series, so I paperbackswapped the first Agatha.
It always irritates me when the blurb on the back reveals the first victim, and often details of the murder. I understand the need to pull a reader in, but – especially in this case – it seems to obviate the need to read the first seventy-five pages or so.
The idea is that Agatha Raisin, socially inept public relations mogul, sells her company and fulfills a childhood dream of moving to the Cotswolds (because it's so pretty there), but finds that her high-powered tight-focus personality is much less comfortable there than it was in London; her alienation from other people is much more obvious to her now that she has removed herself from the hectic lifestyle she's always been used to. She has no friends, and doesn't know how to make them, as any social skills she ever had have atrophied. Her first efforts to start to break into the society include entering a ringer into a village cooking contest: hearing that Mrs. ( ) always wins, and not quite grasping the implication behind that that Mrs. ( ) is the judge's mistress, she returns to London, buys a quiche from a shop renowned for same, rewraps it, and enters it in her own name.
The gist of all of this is included in the blurb. Also included? The quiche that Agatha enters is snubbed, and then the judge dies, poisoned by the losing dish.
There has to be some amount of information about the case in the blurb; there has to be some reason for someone to pick up the book and start reading. This seemed excessive, though: there's a fine, fine line between "intriguing" and "thanks, I don't need to read it now". I think this is part of why I nearly put the book down several times in the first 75 pages.
That, and I just don't like Agatha Raisin.
I'm not supposed to, obviously; she's horrid, and is written that way. I tend to be impatient with main characters like that; I don't ask that every protagonist be warm and cuddly, but there has to be some attractive or interesting trait to keep me involved; I have an obscene number of books on my TBR list, and why should I spend time with someone I don't like? If Agatha was a bitch on wheels but bitchily funny, I think I'd be happy. If there was just some redeeming quality, it would be better… instead, though, she decides to pull a tacky, petty cheap trick, and is angry when it doesn't work – and grouses about it.
I get it – she's supposed to be socially inept, and this was the way she's learned over the years to deal with situations in her job in London: she has made her way through life and business forcing her will upon others. And the idea is that her retirement and new environment work changes on her, as she decides how to go about the rest of her life. Got it. By the end of the book I in fact didn't dislike her nearly so much, so – well done, both Agatha and M.C. Beaton. But still.
If this is an example of the sort of mystery the series will feature, that would be another reason I won't make strenuous effort to expand the Agatha Raisin section of my library. It was muddled and confused; it's standard operating procedure in a mystery story for one suspect after another to come to the fore and be discounted – see any episode of almost any tv show featuring a cop. But this was a meandering sort of is-it isn't-it hit-or-miss investigation – which I suppose it was intended to be given that Agatha wasn't supposed to be and didn't intend to be investigating – with one vital piece of information withheld until nearly the end. I usually read mysteries more for character than the puzzle, and in this case I enjoyed neither.
I really should be happy I didn't love it; I have enough books on my to-be-read list now, I didn't need to add this whole series to it.
(Right after finishing, I posted the following on Goodreads:
I disliked the first half; I didn't expect to rate it as high as three stars, but it picked up in the second. I'm still not a fan, though; the writing isn't what I had expected: if Roy had "shrieked" (or "shrieked with laughter") or his friend Steve had said something "ponderously" one more time *I* would have shrieked. I will say that the eminently unlikeable Agatha is redeemed a bit by the end, by natural degrees and not completely, which is to say rather realistically - which is good, because I wanted to stuff several poisoned quiches down her throat at the beginning. Actually, with the possible exception of Bill Wong and the kitten I think I would have happily poisoned everyone in the book... It was curiosity and a great apathy for the other book I was reading that kept me going to the end, and I have a feeling those are the circumstances under which I'll pick up another M.C. Beaton.)