Sunday, 31 July 2011

Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham - MC Beaton (1999)

I really hate being disappointed in a book. Not that I don't get annoyed at a disappointing movie or album or whatever, but there's something particularly unexpected and irksome about a poor book from a trusted writer. Note - not a disaster from a favourite writer; that'd be a cause for real concern, not my current feeling of vague irritation. Don't get me wrong, this is not John Irving's descent from the majesty of A Prayer for Owen Meaney to that dull one about tattooists (or, on a muscial note, Bowie managing to go from Scary Monsters to Never Let me Down in a few short years), but still I found myself turning each page with an almost audible grunt of dissatisfaction and a sense of being very ineptly mugged.

It'd be too tiresome to go into some sort of line by line breakdown of what's wrong with this book (and besides, it's fairly clear no editor ever bothered such an analysis prior to publication, so why should I?), but it'd be facile to just shrug and say 'it didn't work for me' when there is actual stuff which can be pointed at accusingly.

It's not very well written but anyone coming to one of Beaton's cosy mysteries expecting scintillating dialogue and subtle characterisation is in for a nasty shock. As with all the other Agatha Raisin mysteries, every character uses the exact same voice, the heroine and her coterie of friends and admirers are so sketchily, well sketched, that were it not for someone occasionally baldly stating their ages the reader would struggle to pin them down to within a couple of decades. At times even that doesn't really help much - Agatha herself is at times described as a pensioner and middle-aged and jumps in and out of bed with the gay abandon of a teenager, while I still have no idea what age her occasional paramour, Charles, is supposed to be.

More importantly though, the actual solution to the mystery is both extremely obvious from the very beginning and, crucially and disappointingly, is solved by Charles taking 'a lucky guess' and thus discovering the murderer. Throw in a small village in which - because it suits the plot - there lives a sound engineer who can also set up bugs on people, about fifty unhappily married and easily seduced women and a seeming innocent who just happens to have connections in the Glasgow underworld...oh never mind. I can already feeling myself considering looking up a few examples of utter stupidity and I said I wasn't going to do that.

Suffice to say that usually Beaton turns out uninspired but comfortingly cosy mysteries - this, however, falls well below even that standard.

Like Agatha and any of her tediously uncaring lovers I'm horribly disappointed...

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