Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener
Agatha Raisin Mystery series #3
By M C Beaton
I read the first book in the Agatha Raisin Mystery series, Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death, and one other short story tacked onto that one. Now I’ve finished the third book in the series and have had my fill. Actually, though I hate to quit before the end of any book, I was ready to toss this one several times before I discovered whodunit.
The setting in interesting; the plotting, pacing and writing are excellent, but the main character is so disagreeable. Back in London she was a hard-nosed — and pretty much friendless — business owner and she carries this personality into her retirement years. She may want to make friends in her new home town and does mean well — at times. Overall, though, she’s self-centered and defensive. I was hoping to see Agatha mellow in this peaceful Cotswold village as the series progresses. She doesn’t.
Pugnacious and mulish are the adjectives the author often uses to describe Mrs Raisin. Belligerent and snarky would also fit. She lies constantly, swears, staggers home tipsy from the village pub, insults almost everyone, and has a real temper. In one story she invites the neighbours for a Christmas dinner, but bashes one lustful old guest over the head with a Christmas pudding.
Always competitive, she cheats in village contests. In The Quiche of Death she’s newly arrived and wants the acceptance of the villagers. She sees her chance when she discovers there’s to be a village baking contest. Culinarily-challenged herself, she buys a quiche from a great little bakery in London and submits it as her own creation. Unfortunately someone adds a bit of poison and serves it to the judge. So the truth must be confessed.
In this third book she wants to impress certain gardeners and win the local flower show, but she’s hopeless at growing things. Supposedly she’s learned her lesson with the quiche, but weakens and buys a nursery-grown rose to enter as her own. Forgetting to take off the tag. Again her deception is exposed, but village folks are amazingly tolerant.
One big plus for Agatha is that she’s made friends with Mrs Bloxby, the curate’s wife, who is a saint for sure. Sanguine, welcoming, accepting, charitable, always thinking the best, she saves and soothes Agatha’s pride several times in this story. Agatha is also friends with her bachelor neighbour James, a retired army colonel — on whom she has a serious crush as this story starts. (I gather they work together in several stories to figure out whodunit.) However, Agatha insults him, too, petulantly calling him a male chauvinist pig when he scolds her for throwing a lit cigarette into the tinder-dry grass.
Like all amateur sleuths in all cozy mystery stories, she’s nosy. When the local CID inspector Bill Wong, who has taken a liking to Agatha, tells her to stay out of the investigation, she slips on her halo and nods a meek “Yes.” As soon as he’s out of sight, she and James are off hunting for evidence and interviewing suspects. In this book she’s trying to find out why a lovely divorcee, Mary Fortune, a newcomer and enthusiastic gardener, has met a sad end in her conservatory.
Because this is fiction, the writer is able to say that in spite of Agatha’s abrasive character she’s well liked by the villagers. Some characters testify that “Mrs Raisin has many good qualities.” In real life this would be highly unlikely. I know a woman much like this: not as insolent or combative as Agatha but just as self-centered and flexible with the truth. Her friendships and relationships are all short-lived.
I have some sympathy for Agatha Raisin because she is so lacking in interpersonal skills, but find her lack of conscience hard to take. Since the villagers of Carsely are stuck with her it’s a good thing they like her. And since it’s such a popular series — as I gather from the reviews — a lot of readers are willing to tolerate her faults, too.