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Review – Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death, a Cosy Mystery by MC Beaton

Series: Agatha Raisin Mysteries #1

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I never realised quite how many Cosy Mysteries I read. There are certainly people who read significantly more–I can think of at least one person who curates quite an impressive database of Cosies–so maybe I fall somewhere just beyond the shallow end of the pool. If I read a glut of them all at once, I begin to feel guilty and/or boring (I used to read other genres!) but it’s so ridiculously easy to breeze through five or six of them in a relatively short time. And Cosies tend to go on as some of the most prolific series you’ll ever see.

Agatha Raisin is one of the long runners that had been on my list for some time. I was already familiar with the author, and accustomed to consuming her work at an exhaustive (possibly unhealthy) pace. The titular character is a snarky middle-aged woman who retires from the cutthroat business of PR to a cottage in the Cotswolds. This could have been a fairly pedestrian setup, if it weren’t for Agatha’s particular quirks of character. She is rude, selfish, an inveterate cheater (in the non relationship way) and she has a painful knack for doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. Agatha’s insecurities and negative traits make her compelling, while her redeeming qualities make her worth getting to know as a character.

Intending to establish herself in a positive position in her new home, she finds out about a quiche-baking competition and sets out to win it by underhanded means. First she softens up a judge by taking him and his wife to dinner, and then she buys her potentially prize-winning quiche from a shop in London.

Of course it backfires. The quiche kills the judge and not only is Agatha under suspicion for murder, but the whole village knows she cheated.

One thing to look forward to in Cosy Mysteries that doesn’t always pay off for me is the cast of supporting characters. Agatha Raisin has a fair balance of forgettable but serviceable side characters and long-running acquaintances. My absolute favourite is Bill Wong, the detective who becomes Agatha’s first friend in Carsley and generally tells her not to investigate even when he benefits from her investigation. Bill is in his twenties, idealistic about people, and shows most of his maturity through insight. He and Agatha genuinely enjoy each other’s company, and I love seeing their friendship develop over the series.

Cosy Mysteries tend to either rely on a gimmick (witchcraft, knitting, baking) or the main character’s charisma or archetype (older woman, dog-walker, chef–food is kind of a baseline standby for Cosies), however, I’m not sure if that’s the case for Agatha Raisin. She is the centre point of entertainment and I suppose Village Life could be the gimmick/hook. It feels more like a series based around this character who happens to solve mysteries.

The books are all light, quick reads that guarantee some laughs and heartfelt moments. I highly recommend this series for reading in times of stress or depression. Wonderful pick-me-ups.

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Review – Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, a Mystery by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It seems funny to say that there’s a lot going on in this book, since it isn’t particularly fast-paced. When pressed, I would call it a Mystery, but that’s an oversimplification. It also works as Women’s Fiction and Indian Fiction, and possibly even Literary Fiction. There’s even a romance, although it’s more of a subplot than a contribution to the multiple genres. The mystery itself takes a backseat most of the time, as the characters’ relationships and emotions are prioritised. I loved it all, from every side. This was the first of the books I managed to read in Recovery, and I’m sure it’s part of the reason I recovered so quickly.

Nikki is a modern sort of woman who struggles with her Sikh heritage. She carries a lot of guilt over her perceived failure to live up to the life her parents wanted her to have, which was made worse by the death of her father. Her life decisions show her desire to break away from tradition and embrace a more western philosophy of living–she left the family home to live in a flat above the pub she works in, lost her virginity long ago, and finds the idea of arranged marriage to be antiquated and undesirable.

When her sister asks Nikki to post a notice on the marriage board in the temple at Southall, Nikki soothes her own opposing views (“It’s against my principles,” she says) by finding the most obscure, covered part of the board. This is a great character establishing moment for Nikki. She isn’t so much lacking in conviction or particularly infused with it. More like opinionated and pigheaded about it, but not confident or secure enough in herself to make a clear stand. She talks a big game, and yet can be cowed by women she considers to be authority figures.

After accomplishing her unwanted task, Nikki comes across a flyer that appears to be requesting a creative writing teacher for a women only class. It appeals to her sense of feminism and drive to be a good person who does good works, and also promises supplementing income. She jumps right on it.

There are many other women whose story this is, particularly Kulwinder Kaur, and they are all strongly informed by past tragedy.  Most have managed to overcome it with a mix of humour and pragmatism. They join the class with the understanding that they’ll be learning basic literacy, and in an effort to escape the dull preschool-like curriculum that Nikki comes up with, the ladies start telling stories about sexual escapades. At first one of them transcribes while the others talk, but over time Nikki provides more streamlined and higher tech aides, such as a tape recorder.

It’s hard to talk about the mystery without getting into spoiler territory. It was one of the things I wasn’t completely aware would be a Thing before reading, although it somehow became one of the things I looked forward to the most. There’s a kind of rhythm to how everything comes up, which meant (for me) that some of the pacing could get a bit too slow while reading through a different subplot and wishing for more information about whatever I was more invested in at the time. While this could be almost frustrating, it did not result in any dropped plot threads.

There’s also a mystery element in getting to know all of the women. More and more come to the class, drawn by the rebellious fun of sharing dirty stories. Sometimes they tell more about the storyteller than a long conversation might ever have done. Everything from the prose to the pacing shines brightest when the narrative is focused on the characters.

The multiple crossing genres in this book make it an engaging read no matter what you’re looking for coming into it. The emotions are genuine and beautifully expressed. The characters are impactful. This is a book that stays with you.

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Review – An Unseen Attraction

An Unseen Attraction, Gay Historical Romance by KJ Charles (also counts as Mystery)

Series: Sins of the Cities #1

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I don’t quite have auto-buys when it comes to authors because I tend to take forever to buy books that I desperately want. It drives Hubby crazy. But whatever my own weird equivalent of an auto-buy is, KJ Charles is one of them. Not only does she write gay historical romance as though it is not a gimmick or in a novelty in comparison to heterosexual historical romance, she’s also an excellent storyteller and damn classy.

Clem Talleyfer is an Indian-Englishman who doesn’t quite belong anywhere. He doesn’t speak Hindi and he was otherwise denied that half of his heritage, so he has trouble fitting in on that side, and being dark-skinned and illegitimate are enough to keep him from being considered truly English. He’s also clearly on the autism spectrum, which comes with its own social difficulties. I adored Clem. He’s sweet and self-aware, compassionate nearly to a fault, and loyal. His support network was also lovely.

Clem runs a boardinghouse. One of his tenants is Rowley Green, an intense, bespectacled taxidermist who sees his profession as artistic. The two begin with a quiet friendship of sharing tea and conversation in the evenings. They’re each crushing on the other, but neither is quite ready to risk making a move.

Then one of the other tenants, a massively unpleasant drunkard, turns up on the front steps dead and showing signs of torture.

It’s difficult to articulate what I liked so much about this particular book. There are tonnes of things that I wouldn’t have thought of beforehand that I apparently needed in my life. Polish Mark the PI, Rowley’s artistic musings on the art of stuffing animals, trips to see occasionally cross-dressing acrobats. The romance is a slow burn, which I mightn’t have expected to like, but did. The mystery is amazing, so the less said about it the better: Go Read This is all I have to say on that score.

In fact, just Go Read This.

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Friday Book Review – The Unfinished Clue

tuc

NOTE: This review is slightly edited/enhanced/betterised from the original posted on Goodreads. All reviews from now on will be betterised.

Georgette Heyer is just amazing. Incredibly prolific authors tend to fall into two categories: universally adored, and marvelled at for the work volume but not much else. Like Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer is in the first category.

The first Georgette Heyer book I read was The Talisman Ring, which shot me into severe love with the way her characters spoke to and treated each other.  Seriously, I was on the second page when I had to shove the book at my husband and say, “THIS. THIS.”

THIS

But we’re not here to talk about The Talisman Ring. We’re here about General Thingy and The Unfinished Clue. It’s not as humorous or witty, but it definitely does not lack the Heyer tang.

One thing that Agatha Christie has taught me is that I like mysteries with unpleasant victims. The General is a blustering brat of a man, and though his death isn’t a relief, there was no immediately clear view of just who murdered him. The harried second wife? The emotionally excitable son? The list covered just about everyone.

Including the bizarre Mexican dancer, Lola de Silva. Some context is necessary. I’m half-Hispanic. Third generation American from Mexico on my mum’s side. And I thought this character was equal parts hilarious and obnoxious. She’s so very clearly a British idea of a Mexican, that I thought she was a sort of shout-out to Lola Montez, who was Irish. So I saw no reason at all to be offended.

bitch please

How could you not want her in your novel? She is also in Royal Flash.

Sometimes the pace slows down too much, particularly after the murder. That’s always a risk with this style of mystery–house guests accused of murder, real DIs don’t solve mysteries overnight. It didn’t bother me. The book is not overly long, and the slow pace is not a neon sign blinking PADDING PADDING PADDING. And Dinah was funny. I wish there had been a bit more of her, since she’s basically the bright young thing who is smarter than the average bear girl. But I guess there was technically enough. Her romance with Inspector Harding was cute and unobtrusive.

When I first realised how the ending was going to go down, my eyebrow went up, but then (spoiler, highlight to read) they read the confession letter, and I could kind of understand why the murderer committed suicide. The only reason it bothered me was that I have seen it in quite a few mysteries. It has to be done well or I get twitchy. I still don’t know if I think this one was done well or not.

This is only the second Heyer book I have read, and it’s the first murder mystery one, so I can’t really recommend it among the greater body of her work. I liked it, but it’s not one I would gush about like The Talisman Ring. Seriously, go read The Talisman Ring.