Category Archives: Constable & Robinson Publishing

Agatha Raisin Round Up; Curious Curates, Haunted Houses and Christmas Crimes

So my Christmas holidays started with the news that I had a stomach ulcer, which put paid to much merriment then and there (snowballs etc) and then I got a stonking cold within two days. Bah humbug, was how I was feeling. So what did I do? I ordered in plenty of ginger beer (Gran swore by this and it does kill a cold and sore throat honest) took to my bed and dusted off my Agatha Raisin series. I say dusted off because I have almost the whole series yet shockingly, I am actually a little bit disgusted with myself, I have not read any for TWO YEARS?!?!?  Well, to make up for it I binged.

For all those snobs out there who might think my love of Agatha Raisin is bonkers or a step into cosy crime I say you are all fools and good day to you. Firstly, Agatha Raisin books have become New York Times Bestsellers, though so did Fifty Shades of Grey I am aware. Secondly and I think most tellingly, M. C. Beaton is the most borrowed author in libraries in the United Kingdom with the Agatha Raisin’s being the most borrowed and I can see why. You know what you are going to get.

Constable Books, 2003 (2010 edition), paperback, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Within turning the first few pages of Agatha Raisin and the Curious Curate I knew I was back in a world that is familiar and going to give me just what I want, some escapist fun. The faithful characters who live in the fictional Cotswold village of Carsely are all waiting for me from the off. Agatha as usual is a bit bored having solved a case, maybe having been and done a PR freelance job in London for her gay best friend Roy, and now being back with her cats and pondering about why she is single, probably whilst eating a microwave meal and thinking something saucy about her male neighbour of something bitchy about one of the women in the Carsely Ladies Society.

Yet there has been a change in Carsely of late, there is a new curate and the ladies in the village are all besides themselves for Tristan Delon is a dish. Agatha has decided, after her second failed marriage and rebuff of her handsome crime writing neighbour John, she is off men for life. Yet when Tristan comes round and invites her for dinner she practically swoons. After dinner she can almost see her life ahead with a toy boy, until the next day when the potential toy boy is found dead.

Whilst she has sworn of her amateur detecting, when the eye of suspicion turns on the Vicar though Agatha knows she must clear the name of her best friend’s (Mrs Bloxby) husband she starts to do some digging, the initial clues coming from her dinner spent with the man himself. What follows is, as always, a wonderful darkly funny bumbling investigation where you may just guess that Agatha will solve it all (badly and possibly by fluke) whilst causing more mayhem (one scene with a suit of armour had me laughing, and then coughing) for about ten minutes.

Constable, 2003 (2010 edition), paperback, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Next up was Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House where initially there is no body to deduce but some ghost hunting. As usual Agatha is bored having solved a case, maybe having been and done a PR freelance job in London for her gay best friend Roy, and now being back with her cats and pondering about why she is single, whilst having a fag and trying to ignore the new handsome neighbour Paul Chatterton.

Yet when she hears of a haunted house in a neighbouring village she, with Paul who she initial fobs off, turns ghost hunter to no great results other than embarrassing herself. However several weeks later the owner of the house, Mrs Witherspoon, is found dead with a broken neck and something seems suspicious. So naturally Agatha starts to investigate yet soon discovers with a woman like Mrs Witherspoon, whose daughter describes as ‘an old bitch’, there are many, many people who might have liked to have killed her. Yet which one did, and for what reason?

Again, I raced through this one which actually seemed to have a slight change in its formula, for once it isn’t Agatha who is so hapless and also there is a really interesting historical link to it all, there are the return of an old face or two, none of which I will say more about it for fear of spoilers. Suffice to say I loved it and was thrilled at the end where, and this is not a major spoiler as it in the blurbs of the later books, Agatha is setting up her own detective agency. Hoorah!

‘I hope you’re not doing anything to interfere with our investigations,’ he said.
‘Simply paying our respects.’
‘A word of warning to you Mrs Raisin. It’s only in books that old biddies from villages can help the police. In real life, they’re a pain in the arse.
‘Just like you,’ said Agatha savagely. ‘Sod off.’

Now the amateur detectives in you out there will notice I mentioned Christmas crimes. This is because by the time this goes live I may well have read two more Agatha Raisin stories since then, Agatha Raisin: Hell’s Bells and Agatha Raisin and the Christmas Crumble which are both Christmas specials and *mumbles* are also ebook short novellas. ALSO (as if this wasn’t enough Agatha Raisin delight) on Boxing Day, my favourite day of the year, there will also be a new adaptation of Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death (the first one) on Sky 1. (All trailers here.) More below…

I have to say the jury will be out for me on Ashley Jensen as Agatha but M.C. Beaton has said on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour that she is amazing so we will see, I am very much looking forward to watching it over Chrimbles though. Anyway, if you haven’t given Agatha a whirl then please do and if you have tell me all about it…

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Filed under Agatha Raisin, Constable & Robinson Publishing, M.C. Beaton, Review

Tom-All-Alone’s – Lynn Shepherd

I have always been a little dubious about books that are sequels, prequels or tales that combine a great classic in them. I have tried a few spin offs in my time and firstly there is the question of if they can live up to the classic itself and secondly can they provide anything original to the world we most likely already know, this has also made me wonder how limiting it can be or is it just an author regurgitating another authors ideas? So when Gavin chose ‘Tom-All-Alone’s’, or ‘The Solitary House’ as it is known in North America, for the latest Readers Book Club, I have to admit I went into it with some trepidation, especially as I had not read Dickens’ ‘Bleak House’ which this book runs alongside.

*** Corsair Books, paperback, 2012, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

As ‘Tom-All-Alone’s’ opens in 1850’s London we meet Charles Maddox, a former policeman and now private investigator in the days when ‘the Detective’ is a role that is just forming. Maddox has just been given a second case to track down the writer of some threatening letters by the eminent and feared lawyer Edward Tulkinghorn, a new case being just what Maddox needs as the only other case he has got, finding a long lost girl in London (rather like finding a needle in a haystack) is dragging, even if the new case seems a small one. However as Maddox investigates people start to die and he realises that there is much more than meets the eye of these letters and indeed the man who hired him to solve the riddle.

The premise of the book is an intriguing one. I have to admit though that I was thrown from the start by the narration of the novel initially. The voice we get is a modern one and one that tells us the tale in an all-seeing and all knowing way. If a character misses something, the narrator points it out and the fact the character misses it, there a quips and factual asides and whilst there was no denying it was readable it initially jarred with me a bit. Who was this narrator, why were they so all knowing, was I being patronised, was I being played with? I couldn’t work it out, which initially annoyed me but then intrigued me. Then suddenly everything changed again and we were being told a completely different story from a completely different perspective in the form of a young woman named Hester. Stranger and stranger as I read on and found Dickens himself appearing in the book I found myself thinking ‘blimey, Ms Shepherd likes to take a risk with her readers’.

“As we wait for the slow dark hours to pass, we might do no worse than stand, as Dickens himself once stood, in the irregular square at the crossing point of the seven narrow passages that give this place its name. Dickens talked of arriving ‘Belzoni-like, at the entrance’, and if you’re thinking that you’ve heard that name before and recently, then you’re right. It was this same Giovanni Belzoni who brought back the sarcophagus that holds pride of place in Mr Tulkinghorn’s labyrinthine collection. It was the same Belzoni, moreover, who was the first to find entrance to the inner chamber of the second pyramid of Giza, and the first to penetrate inside. Hence, I suppose, Dickens’ choice of analogy. It is certainly true that Egypt can hold no darker ways, no more obscure secrets, and no more foreboding, claustrophobic tunnels than those that confront us here. In the brightest daylight it’s hard to see far, the air is so dense with grit and coal smoke, and even a ‘regular Londoner’ would hesitate to come here by night, as we have. So let us explore a little, while we wait for Charles.”

I think that excerpt shows both sides pro and con of the prose style whilst you are getting used to it. There is the all knowing, the factual references and yet there is a sense of mystery and also the atmosphere of the city at the time. This is a Marmite technique though as people will either love it or hate it. I have to admit that if ‘Tom-All-Alone’s’ had not been a book that I was reading for the Readers Book Club then I think I probably would have stopped reading at this point as I was feeling so thrown by it all even though I was loving the world Lynn Shepherd was creating. However, as with any book group read I encounter no matter how tricky it is I do read on (yes Elizabeth Gaskell and that ‘Mary Barton’ I am thinking of you) and in this particular case I am really glad I did because I would have missed out. As the book went on I stopped noticing the style and found myself completely immersed in the era and the twists and turns in the tale.

Lynn Shepherd clearly loves the Victorian era and that comes across in every single page and becomes contagious. It was some of the observations of London at the time, and the aside stories of prostitutes, unwanted babies and what happened to them, grisly murders etc, and little set pieces off the central story that really hooked me in. I also thought the fact that she weaves several mysteries, as there are really four at the heart of this book, so cleverly and so confusingly (in a good way) really added to its charms.

So what about its relation to ‘Bleak House’? Well, whilst I have not read the book I decided – in the name of research and so we could have a more rounded discussion with Lynn for the podcast, I would watch the BBC adaptation (which The Beard oddly adored) so I could compare. I was amazed how little of the whole story she used though Tulkinghorn and an important thing that happens to him in ‘Bleak House’ does very much become part of the mysteries here. Speaking to Lynn, which know not every reader will be lucky enough to do, did make sense of the narration in the book though, that is how Dickens’ does it in ‘Bleak House’ and makes me think that while it stands alone, as Gavin’s review will tell you as he had not read ‘Bleak House’, I think having read the classic might help you get into the book better.

Overall I enjoyed ‘Tom-All-Alone’s’ yet like another Victorian based book I read recently I would have liked it to have been longer as so much is going on, and I am not saying that because ‘Bleak House’ is a monster book. I was happy with what I got out of the book yet I would have liked more of Charles Maddox’s domestic story, how he moves in with his uncle (another crime mastermind who reminded me of an elderly Holmes, also called Charles Maddox) who is in the start of what I hazarded was dementia and the relationship between Maddox and Molly. I would also have liked longer for the threads to build up and a slightly more drawn out ending which all comes so quickly, the book suddenly revs up about two thirds in and that bit is addictive. This is all, though I am worrying it doesn’t sound it, a compliment to Lynn Shepherd’s writing… I wanted more of it over a longer tale. I loved the atmosphere and her characters, so I am hoping a Maddox standalone of any literary nod is on the cards, though I will be interested to see what he does with the Shelley’s next too. Oh and biggest compliment of all – I now want to read, and have indeed bought, ‘Bleak House’ all for myself. I never thought I would find myself saying that.

You can see Gavin’s review here and listen to us talking to Lynn here. Who else had read ‘Tom-All-Alone’s’ and what did you think? If you read it without reading (or watching, cough) ‘Bleak House’ how did you find it? What about if you had read (mumbles again, or watched) ‘Bleak House’ what was your reaction? Did anyone wonder how Dickens might have reacted to Shepherd’s twist on Tulkinghorn’s character at the end? Are you planning on reading this at any point? I would highly recommend this as a book group choice as it would be sure to create some lively discussion. All thoughts welcomed as always.

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Filed under Constable & Robinson Publishing, Corsair Books, Lynn Shepherd, Review, The Readers Podcast

Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell – M.C.Beaton

I was talking about the Agatha Raisin novels the other day and some people were really shocked that I liked them (aka judged me). ‘I think they must be your guilty pleasure’ one of these new acquaintances said (though how long we will be acquaintances after Raisin-Gate I am not sure), my response was ‘well maybe… only without the guilt’. For me Agatha Raisin is someone, I know she isn’t actually real, who I turn to when I am feeling a bit down in the dumps or when I need a break for some of the more thought provoking literature I might have devoured. I seem to have tripped myself up there and accidentally sounded like a snob, I am not a snob, I love these books and part of reading is about simple escapism and reading pleasure and that for me is Agatha Raisin.

You know what you are getting when you open an Agatha Raisin. People are going to get murdered, most likely in Carsley where Agatha lives (unless, as is her want sometimes, she has taken us on holiday with her) and that Agatha is going to somehow end up snooping and trying to solve the murder whilst getting the backs up of all the police, suspects and loved one surrounding the case of the deceased, generally through offending with her blunt personality and endless sarcasm.  We have all this once more with ‘Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell’ only this story has even more of a personal twist for one of the suspects, who promptly disappears, is James Lacey, Agatha’s husband.

Constable and Robinson Books, paperback, 2006, fiction, 224 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

In fact the whole Agatha and James thing, which has been going on throughout the eleven books so far and I am guessing will continue to do, is in many ways the heart of this book. Things have not been marital bliss for Agatha and James, they live in separate houses though next door to each other for one, and after James thinks Agatha has had an affair with Sir Charles (another recurring character in Agatha’s life) he has an affair with Melissa, a local bit of stuff, who then ends up dead and prime suspect number one, James, vanishes. Of course the reader knows where but it is up to Agatha to find out and clear his name whilst doing so and of course I am not going to spoil this one any further.

I will be honest and say that ‘Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell’ wasn’t my favourite of the series so far but I did really enjoy it. I enjoyed going back to the Cotswolds and catching up with the acidic and very funny if heartbroken, Agatha and also seeing Mrs Bloxby, Roy Silver and Bill Wong and how they were all getting on. I also enjoyed following the trail of clues and red herrings and not having a clue who the killer was until just the right moment. It’s was just the escapism I was craving and reminded me why I have an Agatha on the bedside at all times, you never know when you might need that comfort read one dark winters (or summers, or any evening really) night.

Are you a fan of the Agatha Raisin series? Have any of you read the other series by M.C.Beaton, or the stand alone novels and how did you get on? I haven’t ventured yet. And what, if you have one, is your guilty free guilty pleasure read?

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Filed under Agatha Raisin, Constable & Robinson Publishing, M.C. Beaton, Review

A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

Every so often I read a book and wonder if I simply ‘don’t get it’ that I know everyone else seems to be loving, and that was the feeling that I had about a quarter of the way through ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ by Jennifer Egan and again somewhere not long after the middle and a little bit after I had finished it. Everyone has been calling it ‘original’ and ‘vibrant’ and I was thinking ‘really?’ Yet I did get through and finish reading this ‘very modern’ book, and rather a huge struggle of a book, in a ‘very modern’ way with the help of apps and audio’s. Yet before I get onto all that malarkey I really ought to try and set out the book and its premise and modernisms first really shouldn’t I?

Before I even opened the first page of ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ I had the impression that this was a book I would either be utterly won over by or would become the arch nemesis of. Interestingly having had some space and time to think about it I have managed to fall into both camps, and no that doesn’t mean I am sitting on the fence either. I should mention that myself and Jennifer Egan had fallen out with each other a few years ago, not in the flesh I hasten to add, in 2008 when I tried and failed to love her ‘modern ghost story in a castle’ novel ‘The Keep’, a book I never reviewed as back then I was more inclined to do so about books I loved not the ones that I didn’t. So imagine my surprise, and it was genuine, when I read the first chapter of the book and loved it.

As ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ opens we meet Sasha who is debating stealing a woman’s purse whilst also being on a date with a man called Alex in a rather nice hotel in New York City. It turns out that Sasha is a kleptomaniac, this in itself as we hear her discuss it with her psychoanalyst (or such like), and this filled me with hope… a character that I was really interested in. Imagine therefore my slight annoyance where after chapter two, in which she appears as the music mogul and gold eating addict Bennie Salazar’s PA, she vanishes for a few chapters. You see ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ is one of those novels that is a collection of short stories where characters interlink through time and places (and I don’t mean that in a mouthed/said behind the back or your hand/under your breath way) with one similar vein, in this case music, at the heart of their correlation to each other.

The thing was I was hoping after chapter three that another music mogul, this time a bit of a seedier one, Lou and the narrator Rhea wouldn’t turn up again. Where oh where was Sasha? I couldn’t bear the way that Rhea told her story, it grated on me, ok, I admit it, I wanted to give her a polite push and tell her to shush for a while. It was how she reported people’s speech back to the reader via ‘so he goes, and I go, and she goes and I go’… and I went ‘arrrrrghhhh’ and almost hurled the book at the wall a page or two into the chapter.

Normally this is the point at which I would have given up the ghost, however, I had also been sent the ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ app for my iPhone which not only comes with the book in digital form and lots of little additional gadgets, it also comes with the audio book and so I carried on listening through the bits that it sort of pained me to read and then reading again properly when it became interesting and digestible again. Which I have to admit it did, for example there is the story of Dolly/LA Dolly and her rise and fall and another favourite section towards the end, when the novel suddenly goes all dystopian and futuristic in 2020, when you need to read it as it is a 75 page, yes 75 of them, PowerPoint presentation.


It was things like the PowerPoint moment, or the 75 of them not that it bothered me you understand and in fact sort of worked as a character is telling a story to their autistic sibling (yet at the same time kind of spoiled what could have been a much more poignant), plus the way the book hoped over time and people (which can work wonders in books like ‘Great House’) and the futuristic parts of the book which made me think how ‘very modern’ Jennifer Egan’s ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ was trying to be and also made me wonder if this an author who is genuinely following her creative path or doing something much more calculated and planned? I am hoping it’s the first of the two options and that maybe I am just missing out on the Goon Party and simply don’t get it.

Whilst I can see this books merits and the fact it bucks the trend for being quite innovative I would be lying if I said I was desperate to read a book like this again. I do think great books should be readable (which doesn’t mean easy), and whilst I loved the fact I could listen to this book when it all got a bit much, I shouldn’t have needed to turn to that if the prose had worked for me from the start as it did just sadly not throughout. It’s hard to give this book a rating, in parts I could say it’s a 7/10 with characters like Sasha and when the innovative style works, more often than not it was a 3/10 and I found myself frustrated and like the author was playing a game which I always lost (not that its always about the winning… it’s the taking part) so all in all a 5/10.

The book and the app were both kindly sent by the publisher.

I do feel despite the pitfalls of the novel that ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ has given me and interesting experience of flitting between book, app, audio, extras and back again. I am not sure if I will repeat the experience, and I certainly couldn’t read a whole book on my phone, but at least I can say I have tried it. I wrote this post a few weeks ago and my opinions sadly havent changed so I have to admit I wasn’t shocked (like half the world seemed to be) or that sorry that this wasnt on the Orange Prize shorlist though I know nearly everyone else who has read it has loved it. What am I missing? What about all of you? Who has read ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ and what did you think? Have any of you tried any ‘book apps’ and if so how was the experience?

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Filed under Constable & Robinson Publishing, Corsair Books, Jennifer Egan, Orange Prize, Review

Agatha Raisin & The Busy Body – M.C. Beaton

(Oops this should have gone live earlier but for some reason didn’t!) I don’t know about you but the ideal Christmas themed read for me (not Christmas time read full stop – I am debating a few giant books for that coveted role) is something that I can escape into, pick up and put down every so often when last minute shopping or potato peeling is required and then step straight back into. It needs to make me laugh, have me hooked and be a good excuse to remove myself from the family now and again (apologies if they are reading – but it’s true). So this year I plumped for the latest Agatha Raisin novel ‘Agatha Raisin & The Busy Body’, and broken my ‘ must read a series in order rule’ just as I did last year with ‘Agatha Raisin and Kissing Christmas Goodbye’. I had high hopes I was in for a treat and was proved right!

Agatha has only been away a few days, on a very unsuccessful trip to Corsica to avoid Christmas only she realises she misses it, and in that time John Sunday a new resident in Carsley has been driving everyone in the village and the villages nearby mad with his health and safety rules and regulations. John Sunday is one of those terrible jobs worthy types who takes everything too far and makes everyone’s life a misery. He bans the Christmas Tree from the roof of the church as it may fall on someone, original Victorian wooden shelves from the local shop for fear of splinters, candles in church as they may burn people… the list goes on. So when he is killed in front of Agatha’s very eyes not only is everyone very relieved they are also all suspects and so while the police take on finding his murderer so of course doe Agatha.

I of course can’t tell you ‘whodunit’ as that would ruin the book for you. I can tell you that in getting to the cosy yet thrilling dénouement  Agatha gets herself in trouble, a muddle and a little bit of danger – so business as normal then. Only I always forget about the business and I can’t work out if I like it or not. Sorry, slight tangent diversion there but in the latest books  Agatha has her own detective agency and as I am reading further back in the series when she goes it alone a lot more I am unsure of how much I like this because I haven’t seen it naturally emerge yet. Not that this means you cant read Agatha Raisin at any point as a standalone novel, but why would you want to when there are 20+ books in the series and they are all so lovely (in a slightly murderous fashion).

I think out of all the Agatha Raisin books that I have read so far this might be the quickest one in which we get thrown instantly into the story and taken on a whirlwind of secrets and twists and turns as the tale unfolds in all its directions. If you want some fun and thrills over Christmas from the comfort of your own chair, and we all know how that feels after one too many mince pies, then I would suggest you give this book a whirl. I thoroughly enjoyed it! 8.5/10

Anyone else giving Agatha a Christmas airing at all? What Christmas reading have you got stuck into so far, any with festive themes?

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Filed under Agatha Raisin, Constable & Robinson Publishing, M.C. Beaton, Review

Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden/Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam – M. C. Beaton

I don’t think I have ever multiple reviewed in a blog post before but I thought I would make an exception today and write about not one but two books. Last week I was having dreadful sleeping problems and it just leaves you feeling in a real funk. I had some big books I really wanted to read before my reading life is taken over for a few months and yet I simply wasn’t in the mood. All I wanted was crime, and on one specific day I needed it cosy and lashings of it so I greedily read ‘Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden’ and went straight from that to ‘Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryam’ sometimes you just have to be a glutton and these were perfect for the lethargic mood I was in though one of them more so than the other.

I like to read any series in the correct order (though I did jump ahead of myself reading the festive ‘Kissing Christmas Goodbye’ last December) and so first up was ‘The Witch of Wyckhadden’. After her last involvement in solving a murder leaves her looking some what less than her best, Agatha Raisin runs away to a seaside village by that famous old tradition of closing your eyes and putting your finger on the map. Wyckhadden is one of those seaside town that during the summer months can be ‘the place to be’ and yet in the autumn isn’t such a delectable place to stop, in fact it’s a bit of a ghost town and seems to be filled with old people who despite not actually being that much older than Agatha she doesn’t want to be associated with. Yet when one of them recommends a ‘local witch’ to help with a hair problem who ends up dead the next day Agatha needs to befriend them in order to try and solve the mystery by herself.   

I love M.C. Beaton’s wit and this novel was brimming with it. Agatha is her normal sharp and snappish self, and yet manages to attract the attention of one of the local policeman in a rather romantic way. I could just be reading far too much into it but this book did seem to be saying something about old age and how you, or Agatha, might think that old people are past it they most certainly aren’t they do still feel young and quite naughty at heart and you should never judge people on instant appearances. There is a brilliant makeover scene though which had me smiling away to myself. This is a book that will have you itching to read the rest. 7/10. (Which is why I then went and grabbed the next one almost instantly.)

‘Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam’ sees Agatha heading to Norfolk, again with her ‘wherever a finger lands on the map’ routine on the word of a fortune teller she saw in her previous adventure in the seaside town of Wyckhadden. Once there she finds that really maybe she should have stayed back in her home in the village of Carsley, especially when rather ominous twinkling lights start to appear at the bottom of her rented garden. However when the lord of the manor is murdered Agatha decides to stay on before being forced to when police discover a draft of a book Agatha started (to show off to all new acquaintances in the village that she is a budding author) has the exact same opening murder scene as the one they found at the manor. Agatha therefore feels she has no choice, or so she tells herself, but to clear her name by finding the real killer.

I don’t really know why but this one didn’t work as well for me as Agatha’s adventures in amateur detecting normally do with me. There seemed to be too many characters and strands, which didn’t even become red herrings, and yet nothing really happened either – oh apart from a Stubbs painting getting stolen. Then when the murderer was caught the motive felt a bit ‘meh’ and it didn’t all seem to make sense. It lacked something and sort of, and I feel mean saying this because I do love this series despite how uncool or unliterary it may make me, felt rather like a filler in the series. Yet something happens towards the very end, rather too hurriedly if you ask me, that if you missed this book you might feel thrown between the books on either side of this one. I am hoping this is just a small blip in a rather wonderful cosy crime series. 5/10

You know if I did a ‘suggestions for perfect prose partners’ it would only be me saying start from the beginning of the series if you haven’t, so I won’t suggest anything other than that. Are there any other Agatha addicts out there? Any new converts to this series? Has anyone heard the radio series as I am absolutely desperate to I think Penelope Keith must be wonderful in it. Oh and there will be a BIG Agatha Raisin competition coming up on the release of the 21st book in the series in October so keep your eyes peeled then!

I have just spotted a revamped series of M.C. Beatons ‘Edwardian Mysteries’ are coming out, which were originally published under her real name Marion Chesney, with delightful titles such as ‘Snobbery with Violence’ and ‘Our Lady of Pain’ has anyone read those, as I am now desperate to?

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Filed under Agatha Raisin, Constable & Robinson Publishing, M.C. Beaton, Review

A Life Apart – Neel Mukherjee

Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow! That was my initial reaction to Neel Mukherjee’s ‘A Life Apart’ and is still the reaction that I am left with a week or two later. In fact this book left such an effect on me and took me on such a journey I had to have a short reading break afterwards and then leave writing about it until I could think on it more. Yes it is one of those books that will leave you feeling a little differently about life, does that sound too grand?

‘A Life Apart’ is a book of two stories and one with many, many themes but don’t let that daunt you before you have read on. The book is in part the story of Ritwik a man who survives a childhood living on the breadline in Kalighat, India. His childhood is not a happy one filled with horrendous abuse from his mother whose funeral opens the book. After his mother’s death Ritwik moves to Oxford in the early nineties to study and find himself. In doing so he finds himself and in doing so starts thinking over the past and finding who he really is as he explores his sexuality and enters a dark underbelly of cottaging (quite graphic), drugs and alcohol leading into the world of illegal immigrants. There is a saviour in all this who is an elderly woman, Anne Cameron, and the relationship between her and Ritwik is one so moving and touching I can’t do it justice in words, it took the book to another level.

Alternating between Ritwik’s tale is also the story of Maud Gilby. Maud is a middle aged woman who moves to the British ruled Bengal of the 1900’s and aims to liberate Indian women at the time and so becomes a teacher of English to rich Indian men’s wives. Initially you think ‘how on earth can these two tales have anything to do with each other?’ Well this is where I felt Mukherjee showed he was even more accomplished as the reader has to do some work to link the two, I shall say no more other than the result is a wonderful one.

It is hard to believe that this is a debut novel as to read it feels so accomplished. Unlike other books that could have made you feel almost too much is going on everything is measured and paced, themes are explored but not overly so. No puddings are overegged by Mr Mukherjee here where some authors might have gone into melodrama or overkill. The prose is both lush and stark in parts and has a wonderful flow to it. The only slight tiny niggle I had was that Maud Gilby’s tale is all in bold which played a bit with my eyes, as I said a small niggle though.

This book has also won India’s prestigious Vodaphone Crossword Book Award under its original title ‘Past Continuous’ and I believe, though I could be wrong, it beat Salman Rushdie. It’s a new award to me and one whose winners I will now definitely be looking to read. This win came as a surprise to some for the way it graphically portrays a hidden homosexual life in the early nineties but Mukherjee didn’t write this book to shock its part of making this particular story ring true, it is also by no means the be all and end all of the novel itself. I think actually the tale of child abuse is the one most people will find the hardest part of the book to read.

Not only, as I mentioned above, is it a book that leaves you feeling a little differently about life, not on a grand scale but in subtle ways and haunts you after you finish the last sentence. I have absolutely everything crossed that this book ends on the Man Booker Longlist as it truly deserves to win so I am hoping its eligible and the publishers put it forward. A must read, a full ten out of ten from me, a book I would whole heartedly recommend to all of you. In fact I am tempted to say that you have to get this book right now and I don’t say too often.

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Filed under Books of 2010, Constable & Robinson Publishing, Neel Mukherjee, Review