After six gruelling months back in London, Agatha Raisin returns to her beloved Cotswold village of Carsely - and to the charms of her neighbour, James Lacey. True, James is less than thrilled to see her, but Agatha is soon distracted by a sensational murder.
The victim, found in a lonely field, is hiker Jessica Tartinck, who spent her life enraging wealthy landowners by insisting on her walking club's right to hike over their properties. Now she has been found in a cornfield, battered over the head. Agatha lures the reluctant James into helping her with her informal investigation, and there are many leads to follow, for Jessica's fellow walkers all seem more than able, even eager, to commit murder. And of course there are the enraged landowners...
Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley is the fourth instalment in the Agatha Raisin series. In it, Agatha has just returned for a six month stint in London, where she briefly resumed her PR career as a favour to a friend. Relishing the thought of being back in Carsely, where she can potter about in sensible clothes and see to her cats, it isn’t long before Agatha finds herself embroiled in yet another murder mystery. The inhabitants of cosy Cotswold villages are never safe for long once Agatha is on the scene.
After a rambler is murdered, Agatha and her neighbour James (who Agatha is a little bit in love with) pose as a married couple in order to infiltrate the rambling group and get to the bottom of the mystery. Haring around the countryside interviewing suspects and gathering clues, Agatha juggles her feelings for James with the need to solve the murder before they have any more victims on their hands.
The appeal of these books, for me, is in their ease. They're easy to read, but they're also easy to get sucked into. They aren’t taxing, but rather like visiting an old (if somewhat cantankerous) friend. The image of the Cotswolds that Beaton creates makes for an enjoyable setting - rural village life is undercut by gossip, poverty, scandal, and quite a lot of murder.
What I enjoy most is Beaton’s characterisation of Agatha – at times, she is unlikable and rude, and as a protagonist she isn’t always sympathetic. Yet for all her unflattering points, as a reader you gradually warm to Agatha, and appreciate the less-than-perfect image of village life that shines out of the cracks. The way a lot of the characters are described remind me of how my grandmother might describe someone to me: broadly and somewhat stereotypically, so the thin, pale "shopgirl" is as meek as you might expect, and the gay couple are described as being "effeminate", but there are sparks of cleverness in the conversation, and while the secondary characters often seem to adhere to easily recognisable "types", they are reasonably well-observed within their limits.
The Walkers of Dembley ambles along nicely enough, and rather than try and decipher all the clues, it’s nice just to go along for the ride, waiting for Agatha inevitably to unravel the whole thing, probably whilst getting a few people’s backs up along the way… Perfect as a weekend distraction!
Overall rating: 7/10
Book source: Borrowed from the library.