Book Featuring An Amateur Detective

What a year 2019 has been so far! Super busy and we’re not even thru the first month yet! I have managed to read a few books, but one in particular is a favorite.

Maybe you aren’t a person who enjoys mystery genres, but believe me when I say you need to read or listen to these books! Agatha Raisin is a character you need to meet. Written by the sublime M.C. Beaton, The Dead Ringer is Agatha Raisin’s 29th mystery. With a new book once a year, I have an annual visit with this irascible lady. She makes me laugh, she makes me cringe, she gives me hope, and, by the way, she also solves mysteries along the way in a cozy Cotswold village.

I first came across Agatha in Y2K when I noticed Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam on the new book shelf of my local library. Intrigued by the title alone, I read the dust jacket and realized I needed to backtrack. I wandered upstairs and found Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death, the first of her adventures, published in 1992. Not only had I found a potentially great new series, but there were many already published which gave me a reprieve from that dreaded gap we face when in between books of our favorite authors.

Agatha is in her 50s, a successful owner of a public relations firm who grew up in a hard knock London childhood with drunken parents. Her dream becomes reality when she retires early to the Cotswolds, a place she visited as a child. As you can imagine, city folk don’t always adapt quickly to country life and Agatha, who has always had to bite and claw her way to the top, never quite becomes the village paragon she hopes. And we don’t want her to. Agatha is surrounded by a cast of characters who adore her, but our Aggie has never really had friends before and never quite knows the thing to say or do. She wants to impress and can’t just “be.” As in, be still, be calm, be settled. Don’t get me started on her love life! We keep rooting for Agatha and she ends up with self-sabotaging behavior that is equally amusing and heartbreaking. The mysteries? Well, they give Agatha notoriety and keep her busy, but the real draw is Agatha herself and the other relationships in the Cotswolds. The books are quick and funny and endearing. You’ll find no pages of prose like Stephen King or Diana Gabaldon, but every author has their own charms and Beaton’s Agatha Raisin is a favorite of mine! Hence my statement earlier – you won’t need to be a true mystery buff to enjoy these stories because the mystery takes a back seat to the characters.

For The Dead Ringer, Agatha tackles the quintessential British church volunteer job, the bell ringer. When one is found murdered in a neighboring village, Agatha uncovers a sketchy, skirt-chasing minister, creepy twin spinsters, a fundraising problem, and a handful of suspects. Agatha has keen instincts and a blundering, bulldog-like manner that serve her well, much to the chagrin of the local police. All the while, she juggles her work and her love life. Remember, Agatha is a career woman at heart, so her work instincts are great, but her love life? Not so much. Plus, Agatha is dealing with life in her 50s, a fact I have come to appreciate more in the 19 years I’ve been reading her books. She and I have come closer in age and I can appreciate her struggle more than ever!

The reading list for Agatha Raisin is long, as I stated earlier, and M.C. Beaton also writes other series and under other names. In the last couple of years, Agatha Raisin has been adapted as a British television show. There are a few changes and modernizations to Agatha. As with most of these types of book-to-screen leaps, there is much to appreciate in both formats and I approve of the television project very much.

Also, you know my penchant for audiobooks! I discovered that the awesome Dame Penelope Keith reads the audio versions, so I have started the whole series over so I can listen to her interpretation. I like them that much! (Plus, if you’re an Anglophile like me, catch Keith’s Hidden Villages for an insider look at life in British villages, including the Cotswolds!)

While this one is not my favorite book in the series, I’m always happy to visit with Agatha! Plus, this book certainly leaves us with a cliffhanger ending and I can’t wait to see what Agatha will be up to next!

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Book In a Series

Heart Trouble by Mary Kay Andrews is fifth in this mystery series, which starts with Every Crooked Nanny. It continues the story of Callahan Garrity and her merry band of housekeepers who solve crimes. Callahan is a former police officer who quit to become a private detective. Detective work didn’t pay the bills, though, and Callahan bought a house cleaning business and gave up detecting work – or so she thought. Every Crooked Nanny is Callahan’s foray back into the detecting business when she runs into a former sorority sister who needs a house cleaned and a thieving nanny found. Jump several books forward, and Heart Trouble has Callahan dealing with her irascible mother’s heart condition and doing divorce work for a disgraced Atlanta socialite who is divorcing her heart surgeon husband. Callahan is working through her own emotional heart troubles as well.

This book could fit several categories for my reading list, not the least of which is reading a book set in your home town or state. Atlanta was a home to me for many years and this series gives shout outs to many of my favorites – kudzu, the Varsity, the Braves and Dale Murphy, and the University of Georgia. This is a new series to me, but was written and set in the 90s, shortly after I left. Everything mentioned as far as landmarks are familiar and part of the reason I like it so much. The other reason is, of course, Callahan Garrity . She’s a great female protagonist – sarcastic and tough and funny and vulnerable. Her business, House Mouse, is run by her and her mom and has side characters who provide comic relief, but Andrews does not shy away from grim and divisive storylines surrounding the actual mysteries and Callahan’s daily life. Throughout the series there are major health concerns, complexities of relationships, racial tensions, and other heavy topics that weave in and out of the plots.

The ability for Callahan to use the cleaning business as a ruse for her detective work is believable especially when you think about the time period these books take place – ubiquitous cell phones and social media were years away. It also helps provide some lighter aspects to the story. I would categorize this beyond a cozy mystery but not as violent or graphic as the grittier mysteries out there. It’s a pleasant, entertaining read and great for anyone who thinks they don’t like mysteries. So much of the story is about relationships, the reader can sometimes forget the mystery altogether to focus on the Garrity clan and their quirky entourage! Mary Kay Andrews originally wrote these under the name Kathy Hogan Trocheck, so you might find them in a used bookstore under that name, but most are rebranded under the Andrews name if you are looking in the bookstores or libraries for this series.

(A note on the audio versions: I’ve listened to all of these on audio so far. They are really good productions and I like the narrator, Hillary Huber. My only complaint is that some of the local place names or words are mispronounced, but it’s probably not noticeable to anyone but a local. It’s a little “nails on a chalkboard” to me, though. I did notice that in this book, Huber focuses more on a version of a Southern accent, too. Haven’t decided if I like it or not, but, again, that’s a local quirk. Fair warning to any of my Southern brethren who may take a listen!)