Friday, May 7, 2010

Love, Lies and Liquor by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin is a pill. A prickly middle-aged woman, she's blunt, says what she thinks--often to the point of rudeness-and she certainly does not suffer fools gladly. Agatha Raisin drinks and smokes, and although, over the course of the series, we've seen her obsess over, chase, marry, divorce, and obsess some more over James Lacey, that doesn't mean we also haven't seen her fall into bed on more than one occasion with her friend Sir Charles Fraith. 
 
James is, in fact, Agatha Raisin's one true blind spot (although she can be said to have a few other spots that are myopic at best), and as Love, Lies and Liquor opens she's agreed to go on holiday with him. She's in for a treat, he tells her, although he won't reveal their destination. How unhappy Agatha, then, to find that it's not the South of France or a Greek Isle, but rather, a cold, dreary, British seaside town aptly named Snoth-on-Sea. Why wouldn't she be delighted, James reasons, since he has so many wonderful memories of the resort from his childhood? But even James is disappointed to find that not only is the town overrun by chain stores and restaurants, not only has the beloved and elegant Palace Hotel of his memory fallen into inelegant disrepair, but the whole town is quite literally crumbling into the sea. And the capper on this wonderful getaway is the caliber of the other guests in the hotel, a bizarre family that includes, among other characters a skinhead and his fat faced, blowzy mother, who immediately catches Agatha Raisin looking at her and screeches at her to "Mind yer own business, you silly cow." To which Agatha, after a bit of banter and an invitation from the skinhead to James to step outside, replies, "I'll murder you, you rotten bitch."  

Too bad the next day Fat Face is found strangled on the beach outside the hotel, Agatha Raisin's lost scarf still around her neck. Agatha and James are hauled in for questioning; afterward, she decides she'd better do some detecting and figure out who the real murderer is.
 
James is in and out of the story, leaving Snoth-on-Sea alone in a fit of pique when Agatha won't go with him, returning when he learns that Charles has appeared, leaving again in another snit later. But Agatha perseveres, and with help from her employees at her detective agency she gets into everybody's business, up and down the coast and in town as well.  

The best thing about this series is far and away the character of Agatha Raisin. Her inner torment is real and mundane, and so believable, and each time she answers James's call or lets Charles have a laugh at her expense the reader can't help but feel it, and squirm in sympathetic discomfort. But hey, she always solves the case.

IF THIS TITLE INTERESTS YOU...

...and you're drawn to the delightful British setting, you could do worse than looking up Nancy Atherton's (American though she is) Aunt Dimity series. Aunt Dimity's Death is the first of these. If you're drawn to the basically unpleasant, but still somehow likeable, character of Agatha Raisin, try Elizabeth George. Her Inspector Lynley and Barbara Havers novels--a much, much heavier series than the Beaton--starting with A Great Deliverance  feature a character, Barbara Havers, who fights her own demons (drink, weight, problems with men) as she's fighting the bad guys.

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