Readers Review: MC Beaton’s The Blood of an Englishman

The latest instalment of MC Beaton’s huge popular Agatha Raisin mysteries, THE BLOOD OF AN ENGLISHMAN sees heroine Agatha grappling with an ungenial giant, a violent blacksmith and some highly amorous amateur dramatics.

The scene opens on the Winter Parva pantomime. Forced to sit through an am-dram mash-up of every fairy tale ever told, Agatha only rallies when the unfriendly giant gets himself killed mid-show: Machinery is sabotaged, a scream goes up – and local man Bert Simple finds his dramatic hopes spiked.

This is the cue for Agatha – and her delighted readers – to set off on yet another murderous romp through the Cotswolds. As ever, the most respectable of characters prove certifiably insane; the prettiest villages host the most macabre of murders. THE BLOOD OF AN ENGLISHMAN ends with a reveal that should have readers swearing off meat pies for life!

Food is in fact a theme for Agatha Raisin – whether she’s tucking into yet another dinner-date she’ll end up paying for (in more ways than one) or slinging endless meals-for-one into the microwave. (Chez Agatha, it’s only her cats who eat like kings). In the first book, QUICHE OF DEATH, Agatha was newly arrived to Carsely, and trying to ingratiate herself with the local women by passing off a shop-bought quiche as a home-made marvel. Murder and mayhem ensued – and have been following her ever since.

Now on her 14th adventure, Agatha has earned her sleuthing spurs. When we first met her, she was languishing in early retirement from a lucrative job in public relations. Now she’s successfully segued from PR to PI – complete with office, employees and a revolving doors of curious Cotswold cases.

While her investigative career takes off, however, Agatha’s character remains delightfully stalled. Gifted with a sharp brain – and a good pair of legs – Agatha remains a victim of her neglected childhood. Having worked her way out of a Birmingham slum, she’s yet to shake her sense of inferiority in the face of the classy Cotswold set – particularly the men. She seeks loves as zealously as she sabotages it. Though her long-held crush on handsome neighbour, military historian James Lacey did end in marriage, a few books back, their union failed to survive her first (and very extant) husband crashing the wedding, and James subsequently deciding to become a monk.

THE BLOOD OF AN ENGLISHMAN shows Agatha has learned nothing from previous disasters. When it comes to sizing up men, she’s still failing to remove her G&T goggles. She takes on the case in the first place only to please Gareth Craven, the dishy panto director. When Gareth starts casting lascivious eyes on leading light Gwen, Agatha performs one of her vigorous rebounds – this time, landing on an attractive actor (and much younger man). Is handsome teacher John Hale playing more part than one, however? Meanwhile, a familiar cast of male characters keeps action lively on the home-front: Best friend, policeman Bill Wong, is still being sabotaged by his loathesome mother; ex-husband James is living back next door. Her old PR pal, unreliable Roy, picks her up only to drop her again, while aristocratic chum Charles continues to climb into the spare bed…but only after Agatha has booted him from hers.

Agatha’s love-life thrives on incongruities however – as do the plots. Chocolate-box villages harbour the most savage of crimes; politely-spoken psychopaths harbour no regrets as they kill. With no smile innocent, no sitting room safe from a decapitation scene, it’s like ‘Midsomer Murders’ on acid (or an awful lot of sherry).

In BLOOD OF AN ENGLISHMAN, Agatha Raisin continues to cut her unmistakable furrow through the English countryside. Avenging angel, undignified dynamo, G&T enthusiast, dewy-eyed romantic, sharp-tongued virago…– like every one of us, Agatha is a bundle of contradictions. I just wish my flaws were half as funny, gripping and gratifying as hers. All power to Aggy. Long may the Raisin reign!

A former TV producer and presenter, Tash Bell has channelled her murderous media experiences into her first book. DEATH ON DAYTIME is available on Amazon. You can find out more at tessdarlingmysteries.com.