MC Beaton’s Beating About the Bush

M.C Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series has been around for decades, and has permuted into both the television and radio series. The titular character, a public relations expert who finds herself increasingly drawn into crime solving, serves as an intelligent but odd and entertaining lead. The latest volume in this series is Beating About the Bush featuring the rather clever hook of the lead and her associate Toni finding fake body part disguised to look like that of a real woman, it is a volume that continues on a comic detective vein which Beaton has proven so well able to tap.

The two are working, at the time, on an industrial espionage and arson case, wherein the R&D department for a certain battery company,has burned down. There is a good deal of drudgery involved, however the idea that the object may have been planted to discredit them comes up between the sleuths, and the situation escalates until a real corpse turns up.

Overall it was an entertaining,  if not quite cozy, mystery. Yet it is hard not to notice in any mystery novel when  a counterfactual clue appears. A logical error occurs on page 56, when Agatha wonders what a man was doing for six years between university and getting a job at that company at 27 since he should have finished university “around twenty one.” However on page 41 that very same character notes he has ” a PhD in human resources management.” The simple fact is that a PhD requires significantly more time investment than a standard bachelor degree. This would, assuming average to slightly fast paced progression, account for all of the six years Agatha seems to think are missing. The ppossibility exists that this is a character error, however her partner does not question it.

I cannot say that this is ideal, but it is not a large enough error to ruin the book. The character’s backstory is suspect for other reasons, and the reader can clearly see that these comments are spurred by existing suspicion. It is an unfortunate, and largely unnecessary diversion. Simply giving him a lower degree would have produced much the same is the focus upon him, in comparison to other suspects, make payment clearly a key part of the story.

The humor is always a treat in Beaton’s work, with such treats as the contextually sensible ” sounded like rural Glouceser overlaid with Brooklyn slum and screech owl”  Agatha uses in judgement of an accent on page 60. As someone who has hurt all manner of accents, both real and contrived, this was both relatable and an extremely amusing way of putting the issue. The fact Agatha has a background in P.R. only makes it more so.

The biggest potential impediment to reading this volume comes from continuity. That is to say that the history between Agatha and her titled friend Charles is important, yet the reader of this as their first volume might not understand the depth of this history. The closest relationship Agatha has, the one she shares with her assistant/partner Toni, and the two have a relationship both seem to realize borders on mother and daughter without quite pushing over the edge. 

Overall this was a very enjoyable little mystery, with M.C Beaton’s usual charm and wit. The characters are as believable right one comes to expect from this style of story, the mystery as a logical solution, and if the personal character drama is kept entertaining without intruding into the maudlin. It’s easy to recommend this to existing fans of the series, as well as fans into more comedic side of the cozy mystery genre.

(Monorail 2019)

About Warner Holme

Born in the mid-south and keeps getting dragged back there. Warner Holme is well studied in fantastical and mysterious fiction.