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Saturday, 27 October 2018

Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House by M.C. Beaton

Scouring my bookshelves for something seasonal to blog about in the run-up to Hallowe’en, I saw several contenders. I knew that everyone would do Christie’s Hallowe’en Party and, besides, I wanted to read something I hadn’t read before. Of the half-dozen appropriate titles to hand, Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House (2003) looked by far the easiest read.

M.C. Beaton gets a terrible rap at crime fiction conventions, and I’m never quite sure why. She doesn’t write literary fiction, but very few crime writers do. I find the Agatha Raisin books uneven and at their best they are unspoilt conservative fun. She recently wrote in the CWA’s newsletter Red Herrings that writing light, easy reads is as much hard work as writing anything else.

Perhaps this was in my mind as I read, or perhaps it was the fact that I’ve been trying to teach myself to speed-read, but the novel felt remarkably like an abridgement. It reminded me of a university creative writing assignment, turned in by a bright student who has been forced to pare down the sentences in order to get down to the wordcount. Things happen very quickly (‘The game progressed. Paul won easily. They started another.’), giving me the impression that Beaton has worked harder on her prose than one might expect.

Anyway, about the story. Agatha Raisin, not yet over her ex, reads in the local papers about a mysterious haunting in a nearby village. By chance, a silver fox moves in next door and tells her that he’s going ghost-hunting, so she decides to pop along. When they get to the haunted house, they take an instant disliking to its owner, who quickly winds up murdered. One thing I like about Agatha Raisin is that, despite being one of the strongest and most robust of ‘cosy’ detectives, she sometimes makes an absolute idiot out of herself. There is a scene early on, in which she runs out of the house in question, screaming, in the dead of night. She drives back to her village, leaving her friend stranded, because she has seen a ghost. The ghost, we learn on the same page (brevity again) was the house’s owner in a mudpack.

So, yes, nothing very original in this book but it’s certainly one of the strongest entries to the series. Worth reading if you’re looking for something to prepare you for the new series of Agatha Raisin which (coincidentally) someone just told me is airing next month.

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