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Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate    by M. C. Beaton order for
Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate
by M. C. Beaton
Order:  USA  Can
St. Martin's, 2003 (2003)
* *   Reviewed by G. Hall

M. C. Beaton has entertained mystery fans for many years with first her Hamish Macbeth series set in Scotland, and more recently the Agatha Raisin books set in the Cotswolds. Beaton has accomplished what many writers of humorous mysteries do not. While the amusing characters and situations make readers laugh, her books always also have satisfying plots for those who believe a mystery still needs a puzzle to be solved.

Hamish Macbeth loyalists, such as myself, were a bit slow to warm to Agatha Raisin. In contrast to the down to earth, scruffy but amiable, Hamish, Agatha is definitely not lovable. She is a middle-aged London businesswoman who has taken early retirement and settled in a scenic small Cotswold village. Grumpy, opinionated and self-centered, Agatha is a bit of the proverbial bull in a china shop and supremely unaware of her effect on others. But eventually one realizes, that although she certainly does not have a heart of gold, there is at least a bit of a soft center inside the prickly exterior.

As often seems to happen in these charming English villages, all is not as happy as it might seem. In this newest book (number thirteen in the series), all the women are agog at the arrival of very attractive young curate Tristan (of course) Delon. The divorced Agatha joins the group of those who fall under his spell. But then he is found murdered the morning after he and Agatha share a private dinner.

Suspicion falls on the vicar - villagers believe he was jealous of the crowds the curate attracted to the church and so killed him. Agatha's good friend, the vicar's wife, asks her to investigate. As she has in a surprisingly large number of previous murders in the small village, Agatha uses her London-honed business skills and connections to ferret out unsavory details of the curate's life. Eventually she barges her way into a dangerous situation and is fortunate to escape with her life.

Anglophiles will enjoy the small down ambience and village dynamics as well as the periodic London venues. With more than thirteen Agatha books in print and an equal number of Hamish Macbeths, Beaton knows how to entertain her readers and keep them coming back for more.

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