EXCERPT: The scream came again.
This time, there was no mistaking the direction. It had come from behind the tall hedge bordering the path along which Agatha was walking. She ran towards a black wrought iron gate set in the hedge, thankful that she had changed her fragile office high heels for more robust low wedges before taking her walk. Bursting through the gate, she found herself in an area of flat open lawn. There were three people there dressed in white. One was a grey-bearded man lying on the grass, one was an elderly lady collapsed in some distress and the third was an old man, tending to the woman. Agatha rushed over to the woman, who was breathing heavily, clearly distressed, her eyelids fluttering.
‘What happened?’ asked Agatha, kneeling to talk to the man, who was cradling the woman in his arms.
‘My wife collapsed,’ he explained, then nodded towards the figure lying on the grass, ‘when she saw him.’
‘I’ll be fine….’ the woman gasped, looking up at her husband, ‘a little thirsty…’
Agatha reached into her handbag and handed the woman a small plastic bottle of mineral water that was to have been part of her calorie controlled lunch. She also grabbed her phone, calling for an ambulance while heading towards the man spread-eagled on the grass.
‘Yes, an ambulance, please. Mircester Park at the…’ she glanced up at a sign above the door of a neat pavilion that overlooked the lawn, ‘Mircester Crown Green Bowling Club. One woman collapsed and one man…’ she looked down at the grey-bearded man on the ground, ‘looks dead.’
ABOUT ‘DOWN THE HATCH’: Private detective Agatha Raisin, having recently taken up power-walking, is striding along a path in Mircester Park during her lunch break when she hears a cry for help. Rushing over, she finds an elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. Swinburn, in the middle of the green–with the body of an old man lying at their feet.
The man, who the coroner determines died by poisoning, was known as the Admiral, a gardener notorious for his heavy drinking, and Chief Inspector Wilkes writes the death off as an accident caused by the consumption of weedkiller stored in a rum bottle. Agatha is not convinced that anyone would mistake weedkiller for rum but carries on with her work at Raisin Investigations, until she receives an anonymous tip that the Admiral’s death was no accident.
Local gossip points to the Swinburns themselves as the killers, spurred by a feud at the club where they, as well as the Admiral, were members. Distraught at this accusation, they turn to Agatha to clear their name, and she takes the case–despite the warnings of Chief Inspector Wilkes.
Agatha encounters one suspicious character after another, becoming further enmeshed in the Admiral’s own dark and shady past. And when she’s run off the road, narrowly escaping with her life, and then another attack occurs, it becomes clear that someone doesn’t want the case closed–and will stop at nothing to prevent Agatha from solving it.
MY THOUGHTS: This is the 32nd book in the Agatha Raisin series and it’s a lot of fun. If the fact that it is the 32nd book is a little daunting, let me reassure you that there is absolutely no need to have read the previous books to enjoy this. Each book works perfectly well on its own.
I read the very first in this series, The Quiche of Death, many years ago and didn’t like it at all. Then a few years ago I came across another Agatha Raisin, I can’t remember what it was called, but I quite enjoyed it and have been dipping in and out of this series ever since.
Down the Hatch is a classic English mystery set in a village in the Cotswolds, and the first death occurs at the local bowling club. Who knew bowlers were such a feisty lot?
There is plenty of misdirection in the form of red herrings and plenty of suspects at whom to point fingers. Not only does Agatha have a murder or two to solve, but also exotic animal smugglers to catch, which almost proves to be her undoing.
The majority of characters might best be described as bucolic, with the exception of Agatha and her sidekick Toni. Agatha upholds her standards with her high heels and handbags, the latter of which came in jolly handy in this story.
I thought the action leading up to the resolution was rather clever, and I enjoyed it. I will certainly be picking up more in this series to read.
Dame Penelope Keith narrated the audiobook of Down the Hatch. I could listen to her all day. She narrates Agatha beautifully, although she did slip back into her own voice occasionally when narrating long passages of other characters. It really didn’t seem to matter, though.
There was a rather interesting foreword by R.W. Green, who has taken over the writing of the series since M.C. Beaton’s death in 2019. There is also an introduction by M.C. Beaton in which she explains how the Agatha Raisin series came about.
This was a fun mystery, which I almost got right.
I: @mcbeaton12345 @blackstonepublishing
T: @mc_beaton @BlackstonePublishing
#audiobook #contemporaryfiction #crime #murdermystery #privateinvestigator
THE AUTHOR: Marion Chesney was born on 1936 in Glasgow, Scotland, UK, and started her first job as a bookseller in charge of the fiction department in John Smith & Sons Ltd. While bookselling, by chance, she got an offer from the Scottish Daily Mail to review variety shows and quickly rose to be their theatre critic. She left Smith’s to join Scottish Field magazine as a secretary in the advertising department, without any shorthand or typing, but quickly got the job of fashion editor instead. She then moved to the Scottish Daily Express where she reported mostly on crime. This was followed by a move to Fleet Street to the Daily Express where she became chief woman reporter. After marrying Harry Scott Gibbons and having a son, Charles, Marion went to the United States where Harry had been offered the job of editor of the Oyster Bay Guardian. When that didn’t work out, they went to Virginia and Marion worked as a waitress in a greasy spoon on the Jefferson Davies in Alexandria while Harry washed the dishes. Both then got jobs on Rupert Murdoch’s new tabloid, The Star, and moved to New York.
Anxious to spend more time at home with her small son, Marion, urged by her husband, started to write historical romances in 1977. After she had written over 100 of them under her maiden name, Marion Chesney, and under the pseudonyms: Ann Fairfax, Jennie Tremaine, Helen Crampton, Charlotte Ward, and Sarah Chester, she getting fed up with 1714 to 1910, she began to write detectives stories in 1985 under the pseudonym of M. C. Beaton. On a trip from the States to Sutherland on holiday, a course at a fishing school inspired the first Constable Hamish Macbeth story. They returned to Britain and bought a croft house and croft in Sutherland where Harry reared a flock of black sheep. But Charles was at school, in London so when he finished and both tired of the long commute to the north of Scotland, they moved to the Cotswolds where Agatha Raisin was created.
DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Blackstone Publishing via Netgalley for providing an audio ARC of Down the Hatch by M.C. Beaton and R.W. Green and narrated by Dame Penelope Keith for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.
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