Having read MC Beaton’s Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death I forced myself to read another volume from the same series, just to see if it really was that dreadful. And it was. If anything Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden was even worse. In fact I would go so far as to say these books have no literary merit whatsoever. Poorly delineated characters fail to rise above the level of caricature and the plots are ridiculous – there’s no suspension of belief , willing or unwilling.
I might be able to forgive all that if the books were well-written, but they’re not. The language is dull, pedestrian and uninspired and the vocabulary limited. Worst of all I can’t decide whether these are supposed to be serious detective novels, comedies or some kind of spoof.
MC Beaton is the alter ego of Marion Chesney, whose work is, apparently, enormously popular, but popularity has noting to do with worth: Agatha Raisin has been dramatised on Radio 4 starring Penelope Keith in the lead role, while the Hamish Macbeth books were televised back in the mid-nineties.
Anyway, I suppose I had better give some kind of resume of the stories. In the first book our heroine Agatha Raisin (named, I assume, as an homage to crime queen Agatha Christie) has sold her London PR company and retired, in her early fifties, to the kind of Cotswold village that exists only in Sunday night feel-good TV series.
Determined to fit in with rural life Agatha, who is peculiarly charmless, enters a bought quiche in a competition at the village fete - but the judge dies after eating it, and tests reveal he was poisoned by cowbane. No-one knows how the plant got into the quiche, so an inquest returns a verdict of accidental death but Agatha, exposed as a cookery cheat, sets about sleuthing in the hopes that if she finds the murder she will gain the respect of the villagers.
In The Witch of Wyckhadden Agatha is staying at an out-of-season seaside hotel when she once again comes under suspicion when a witch she’s consulted for a hair tonic (after a hairdresser seeking revenge applies depilatory in place of shampoo is found battered to death. Once again she sets out to find the culprit and clear her name: but the body count begins to rise...
In the course of her investigations Agatha stumbles across the answers she seeks by accident rather than design. She lacks Miss Marple’s razor-sharp wit and knowledge of human nature, or Hercule Poirot’s ‘little grey cells’, or Cadfael’s warm humanity and attention to detail. Tenacity is her greatest attribute. She may not give up on her cases, but I certainly wanted to give up on these books.
Verdict: Don’t bother.