Hiss and Hers by M.C. Beaton celebrates the twentieth anniversary of the Cotswolds village sleuth Agatha Raisin with another humorous mystery, this time involving a very attractive, then very dead, local gardener (available September 18, 2012).
Ponce de León, searching for the Fountain of Youth, ironically discovered Florida. His course would have been truer had he been sailing through a mystery novel. Lots of mystery characters don’t age—not even over 20+ years. Some writers, including Karin Slaughter, Janet Evanovich, and Sue Grafton, work around this by having their plots take place a few weeks apart. Others, like John Sandford, slow down the aging process. M.C. Beaton’s characters, however, like butterflies in amber, never age. In Hiss and Hers, Agatha Raisin, in her 23rd appearance, is forever fiftyish.
Fiftyish seems like a pretty good time to stop aging. Agatha should be content. Retired from the helm of a very successful PR firm, Agatha has plenty of money, a cottage in the Cotswolds village of Carsley, and owns a successful detective agency. But content she is not. Though lucky in life, Agatha has been unlucky in love. If she only had a man, she thinks, life would be swell. She lives next door to her ex husband, James Lacey, and sometimes still pines for him. Her friend of many years, Sir Charles Fraith, when he’s not on the prowl for a rich wife, flits in and out of Agatha’s life and bed. It's Agatha’s obsession over having a good looking man at her side that leads to trouble, trouble that everyone but Agatha sees.
Her good friend, the vicar’s wife, Mrs. Bloxby, thinks that “Agatha Raisin, private detective, was in the grip of a great obsession,” and “that Agatha, a normally shrewd woman, seemed to lose her wits when she fell in love.” And fall she does, for the village gardener and odd-job man, George Marston, “ex-army . . . over six feet tall with green eyes and thick blond hair streaked with grey.” Agatha hires him to work on her garden, and when it is perfect, she destroys her bookcases just to get George back into her house. But Agatha has fierce competition from the other women in Carsley. However, Agatha has determination in spades and decides to organize and foot the bill for a charity ball just for the opportunity to snag him. George, however, fails to show, and Agatha decides to find out what happened to him.
George is not Agatha’s only man problem. Her ex, James Lacey, seems to always be leaving on a trip just when she needs a friend to talk to. Her employee, Simon, instead of working the case of George, is mooning over the television star living in Carsley. Near to solving the mystery, Agatha is drugged, kidnapped, and nearly killed, and her venomous venting is directed at the closest man at hand, Sir Charles Fraith, who happens to be sleeping in her guest bedroom.
And where had her fair-weather friend been when she had nearly been murdered? Snoring his dilettante head off, that’s what.
She was suddenly consumed with rage. Why couldn’t she have a real man around, a man who would look after her and protect her? Well, she was going to start anew. Right now!
Agatha crashed into the spare room, shook the sleeping Charles awake and shouted, “Get out!”
He blinked at her. “What’s got your knickers in a twist?”
“Nearly getting murdered, that’s what. I don’t ever want to see you again.”
The reader is fairly certain that Sir Charles will be forgiven, but it is kind of fun to see the cheerful freeloader slapped down.
Although this is not the best entry in the series, devoted fans will find Agatha’s antics fun. For twenty years, Agatha Raisin has been a self-centered, outspoken, no holds barred, stubborn woman. She exasperates her friends and drives mad the police. But she’s also funny, loyal, and generous. It’s a good thing for the reader that she can never seem to find the right man; it gives her and us a reason to come back for more. We’ll be a little bit older, but the intrepid Agatha Raisin will be forever fiftyish.
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Susan Amper, author of How to Write About Edgar Allan Poe, still mourns the loss of her Nancy Drew collection.
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