Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham
M. C. Beaton
Constable and Robinson, 2006
After a home dye job ruins her hair, Agatha Raisin, the prickly yet lovable amateur sleuth, turns to the wonderful new hairdresser in the neighboring town for help. And as Agatha soon learns, Mr. John is as skilled at repairing her coiffure as he is at romancing her heart.
But the charming Mr. John isn't all he appears to be. According to gossip around the salon and the village, some of his former clients seem to be afraid of him. Could Mr. John really be a ruthless blackmailer? When a murderer strikes at the busy salon, Agatha must discover the truth and the killer's identity before it's too late.
It's well-established by now that these books are my comfort reads: easy, light, and a fun little foray into the surprisingly criminal Cotswolds. However, I found this one to be disappointing. Agatha's sidekick in this book is Sir Charles Fraith, a character I found to be less likable, and certainly less warm, that Agatha's previous crime-solving partner and sometime love interest, James. I actually enjoy it when Agatha is sleuthing alone, but the addition of a sidekick seems perhaps inevitable.
The mystery was less satisfying that previous Raisin books I have read. The case - a murdered hairdresser who may or may not be a blackmailer on the side - is taken up by Agatha and Charles because they're bored, and that sentiment seems to remain with the case the whole way through. I found it to be rather repetitious: frequent visits to different hairdressers by Agatha, Charles chatting up young girls, and lots of tenuous evidence, including quite a few huge leaps of thinking that miraculously propelled the case forward, which I found to be lazy and not particularly fun to read about.
Although the detective work takes on much the same form as it does in the other books in this series, the mystery seemed a little bit flat. There was a lot of driving out to places, and not much in the way of village life, which I always find to be part of the 'charm' of these books, however fictional it may be in its own way.
There were, as ever, some nice touches. The meetings between Agatha and Mrs Bloxby I enjoyed, and the reaction of Mrs Bloxby's husband, the vicar, to Agatha's visits was funny. The glimpses into Agatha's private feelings - towards James and Charles, but also her anxiety regarding her friendships with Bill and Roy - were also a nice touch, and what makes the character, for me, worth returning to. Another light and enjoyable read, but one that lacked too much in the crime department for it to be a favourite of the series. I will no doubt return to these books in the future, though, as Agatha and the residents of Carsely are too much fun to revisit!
Overall rating: 5/10
Book source: Borrowed from the library.