I’ve read some of the author’s Regency romances, but this is a very different animal, a cosy murder mystery in the style of Agatha Christie, the first in a long series featuring grumpy middle-aged Agatha Raisin, a London PR executive taking early retirement in the picturesque Cotswolds and finding it deadly dull, until a murder crops up. This is very much a formula book, where the key is not so much the crime itself, but the nature of the detective (or amateur sleuth, in this case) and colourful setting. This one does well on both counts. Agatha herself may not be the most accomplished social animal (translation: she falls out with pretty much everyone), but she’s still someone we can sympathise with and root for when her quiche poisons the local bigwig. And having lived in a small village myself, the descriptions of rural life and attitudes struck a chord with me. The first half of the book I found very readable, as Agatha tries, and mostly fails, to fit in with village traditions, and the author describes these twee Cotswold villages very well. Non-Brits might find it hard to believe just how stuffy these small English villages can be, but I found Agatha’s experience totally plausible.
Many of the characters were no more than caricatures, and the irritating Ray was quite implausible, but there were one or two with some depth - Agatha herself, and the vicar’s wife, Mrs Bloxby, in particular. I liked the young policeman, Bill Wong, as well. As for the murder - the most likely suspect and motive were obvious, so it became a question of working out how it was done, and frankly, anyone could have come up with half a dozen different ways of achieving it. Not the most challenging exercise for the little grey cells, but neither the police nor Agatha could manage it, it seems. And then at the end the book descended into farce. Nevertheless, this was an enjoyable light read. Three stars.