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Author of the Month

Name: M.C. Beaton

First Novel: Death of a Gossip

Most Recent Book: Agatha Raisin and a Spoonful of Poison

'Rather like Agatha Christie on acid...'

Synopsis:
The vicar of Comfrey Magna, Arthur Chance, has pleaded with Agatha Raisin to wave her P.R. magic over the coming fete which is only a week away. The main attraction is the jam tasting competition, so Agatha has her work cut out for her. After pulling out all the stops to arrange a well known pop singer to attend the fete, Agatha is pleased to see hundreds of people attend. But, being Agatha, she is feeling smug far too soon and in no time one old crone has jumped from the church tower thinking she can fly while another flings herself in to the river. With both women dead, it transpires that someone has put LSD in to the jam!

Always on the trail, Agatha the Bloodhound is determined to track down the killer, especially as everyone in the village blames her for the disaster. In her own inimitable way, Agatha bumbles, blusters and downright barges her way through this investigation to find the killer whilst also wrapping up a few other cases along the way. And as for James Lacey... the news isn’t good!

Review:
This is the 19th adventure to feature Agatha Raisin and it is surprising that she has been around for so long. Despite her longevity, thankfully Agatha has not become stale and - thankfully - Beaton does not seem to have tired of her creation either. If anything Beaton seems to like to torment her character and tie her up in several knots just to see how she deals with getting herself out of yet another sticky situation.

The Raisin series seems to have grown in stature over the series and appears to receive an almost ‘cultish’ reverence from readers. Throughout the series certain characters come and go, some stay a while and others thankfully grace each book - like my favourite, Sir Charles. As for James Lacey – Beaton throws in a little grenade about him to shake up the box!

With such an immensely likeable cast of characters, Beaton seems to have fun putting them in situations that are sometimes preposterous and downright dangerous. However, that is the whole majesty of this series – we revel in the whole tongue-in-cheek absurdity of the stories. You have to giggle about an old dear flinging herself from the church tower wired on LSD. In fact it is highly appropriate as there are times when the entire Raisin cannon seems rather like Agatha Christie on acid... Beaton has a strange, warped sense of humour which goes hand in hand with Agatha’s ‘interesting’ personality.

We are all enamoured of Agatha despite being bullish and cantankerous when the mood takes her. The Raisin books are short and sweet and easily gobbled up in one sitting. Indeed their appearance is greeted by fans like a little ray of sunshine - or a high tea of scones and jam (with or without the LSD). But don’t tell Agatha – she has enough problems keeping her waistline down!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating



Questionnaire

1) How would you classify your writing, and do you consciously try to write to a certain style or genre?
The genre is obviously detective stories. I do not consciously try to write in a certain style. To try to write in a style other than my own would spoil my writing.
2) What type of crime or thriller novels do you like to read? Do you prefer series or standalone?
I like both series and stand-alone. I have gone off very sadistic-type detective stories. I like the classic detective story; the crossword puzzle kind.
3) In this latest chapter in Agatha’s hectic life we find her investigating murder by someone putting LSD in the jam at a village fete. How did you get the idea for such an outrageous form of murder?
I agree with George Orwell that the crimes we remember are those of the middle class – respectability gone bad. I think that must be why I thought up putting LSD in the jam.
4) You have created a colourful cast of characters from the village of Comfrey Magna. Whilst living in the Cotwolds do you come across such people who somehow make their way in to your novels?
All the characters in the Agatha Raisin series are figments of my imagination. I do know some wonderful eccentrics in the Cotswolds, but if I put any of them in my books, people would just not believe them. No, I’m not telling you who they are, for the true eccentric considers himself perfectly ordinary and normal.
5) Agatha Raisin is a very complicated woman who can in turn be generous and can then turn on a coin and become quite brutal. Dare I ask if there are any attributes of yourself you have given Agatha?
A lot of Agatha’s bad traits come from myself although I am much too polite to come out with any of her remarks and behave in the way she does. Her romantic obsessions are dreamed up by me. I wanted to portray a woman made vulnerable by them, locked in a sort of perpetual adolescence because a life of hard work stopped her from growing up emotionally.
6) There is a hiccough with regards to Agatha and her ingénue, Toni Gilmour. Will we be hearing more of Toni in future books?
Yes, I think Toni will be around for quite a long time.
7) In the new book you manage to come up with a bombshell regarding James Lacey. I suspect this isn’t that last we will hear of the Raisin/Lacey relationship. Can we expect more of a bumpy ride for these two? Do you secretly smile and have a giggle at Agatha’s expense when you put obstacles in her way?
I really don’t know what is going to happen to Agatha and James. I really never know until I start to write each book. No, I don’t smile at Agatha’s expense. I don’t set out to be funny in case I fall into the mistake of producing forced humour.
8) With the smoking ban now strongly in place, are we going to get an Agatha Raisin on a keep fit mission?
I don’t think Agatha will give up smoking until I do. Agatha is the kind who signs on for a gym, pays the fee, goes for two sessions and finds excuses never to go again. Like me!
9) Without giving away the plot, which book - yours or by another author - included your favourite plot twist of all time?
Journey Into Fear by Eric Ambler. The twist at the end was worthy of Somerset Maugham.
10) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime or thriller novel?
Topkapi by Eric Ambler. I think the book is called The Light of Day. Peter Ustinov was brilliant as the small time crook who gets caught up in a scheme to rob the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul.
11) Would you describe yourself as a crime fiction or thriller fan in general and, if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
I think I would describe myself as writing crime fiction. I admire – oh, there are so many – Dorothy Sayers, Simon Brett, Peter Lovesey, Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, Ann Granger, Eric Ambler – sorry, can’t think of them all.
12) What is your favourite crime/thriller read of all time?
The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey.