This weeks I found the book challenge harder than anticipated, far harder than simply reading a book should be, but perhaps because of that it was all the more satisfying. The book I chose this week was Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M. C. Beaton. I noticed a whole collection of Agatha Raisin books whilst Christmas shopping at The Works on offer at 3 for £5. These books all have quirky titles and fun covers (naturally I would not dare to judge a book by its cover) and having read the blurb for a couple decided to buy the first 3 of the series. The books are light hearted murder mysteries set in the Cotswolds (English countryside). The lead character, Agatha Raisin, is a newly retired business woman who is finding retirement extremely dull, and fitting into the village nearly impossible before she then ends up at the centre of a local death.
I started this week’s book earlier in the week than previous books, and yet as I mentioned I struggled. The reason I struggled was that I was struggling to want to read the book. The reason I was struggling to want to read the book was that I detested Agatha Raisin herself. I don’t know if you have ever tried to read a book when the protagonist is dislikeable and not in the ‘everyone loves a good villain way,’ or a ‘here’s a flawed character who will be redeemed’ kind of a way, but more in a ‘this person is self-centred and rude and I shall avoid them’ kind of a way. Anyway this was how I felt about Agatha Raisin. On top of this I felt the writing style of the book to be quite odd; strangely, to my mind, it had echoes of Enid Blyton. For example in a passage of Agatha’s internal monologue is written ‘Now if she, Agatha Raisin, won the quiche competition, they would sit up and take notice’, several times in fact the idea of ‘that will make them sit up and take notice of me’ is brought up. It may just be me but it brought to mind all the St Clare’s books and Mallory Towers books which I love and yet in the context of this book it jarred.
Not one part of the book lover, the story lover or murder mystery lover in me wanted to continue reading this book. But I did. The stubborn, tunnel visioned, project focused part of me demanded I plough on, so by reading one chapter in the bath each evening I made slow progress until the end of my book week arrived. Sunday dawned bright, my book was only half read and I hated Agatha Raisin, so I switched focus to some of my other projects and hobbies.
When Monday evening arrived the book stared challenging at me and I decided it was time to just get it over with. And low and behold by the time I was about two thirds of the way through the book I had actually warmed to Agatha, I liked the setting, the writing seemed to have settled into a more natural style and I was loving the story. I read from about 9 until 10 pm finishing the book and by this point enjoyed it so much I immediately read the second book Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet, which I liked even more as I didn’t have to spend all that time warming to it all. I stayed up far later than is sensible finishing the second book and even considered starting on the third, but I won’t have the chance of buying the others until Thursday so I have decided to wait a little.
As a review I would say, the writing style is a little awkward at first in a trying too hard kind of way. The protagonist is not likable for a good half of the book, and the overall murder mystery is not the greatest. However, if you are willing to put in the time and effort to get through the first two thirds of the book you, like me, may find you love it. Agatha remains a flawed protagonist but a much more relatable and vulnerable one, the rest of the village inhabitants have all the characters and fishbowl village sort of secrets you could want and there’s a huge series of these books, so if you get to the point of liking them you’ll be set for an easy, fun bit of escapism for a while to come.
As a bonus bit of information for you, there is a radio series of these which stars Penelope Keith who is one of my favourite actors in the world, and now also a TV series based on this series of books. I haven’t seen it, I know nothing about its reception, but I do know it stars Ashley Jensen, who I generally like in things. I will have to investigate further.
So there you have it, a most unexpected twist to this tale of a book I was not at all enjoying. In general I feel if you don’t like a book by the time you’re a quarter of the way through then it’s not worth the effort. Nothing but my innate irrational stubbornness would have made me finish this book and that would have been a great shame. Perhaps those books we have given up on in the past may be worth another go.