Tag Archives: M.C. Beaton

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

Your Country in Ten(ish) Books…

I don’t want to call this a challenge, or even worse a meme (do you remember when we all did those back in the day?), yet I am thinking that this could be a fun exercise if you lovely lot would like to join in. What the funk am I talking about, well you would be right to ask as once more I assume you dear reader/s get updates from me telepathically. Enough waffle Savidge, just get on with it. So as some of you will know I host/co-host a couple of book based banter podcasts; You Wrote The Book, Hear… Read This and The Readers. My normal co-host for the latter, Gav, is having some time off and so I have been joined by the lovely Thomas and seeing as Thomas is in Washington we have been looking at America and the UK, or even America vs. the UK. A fortnight ago we discussed American classics and I came up with the idea of both Thomas and myself creating two separate lists of the ten books that sum up our countries for us and ones we would give to someone if they moved to their country to ‘read up on it’. So I thought you lot might like to join in…

17451-01Initially I have to admit that I thought this would be stupidly easy. The British Isles are relatively piddly in comparison to the mammoth size of other countries. I didn’t envy Thomas and his 50 states to cover in ten books. As I thought about it more and more though I suddenly realised it was actually much more of a mission than I had supposed. For a start we had agreed to only have authors from our own counties books. So instantly one of my choices ‘The Year of Wonders’ by Geraldine Brooks was discounted, as it is set in Eyam (the only place outside London to get the Black Plague and self sacrifice itself to save others) which is just down the road from my home town in Derbyshire but she is from America. First hurdle.

Second Hurdle. I wanted the book to reflect a current vision of the British Isles, as I went through my shelves I was surprised (especially as I think I don’t like them, clearly I am a liar to myself)  how many of the British Isles books I owned were about WWI or WWII. This then meant a book like Sarah Water’s ‘The Night Watch’, which depicts war torn London, was therefore banished. However eventually I got there, though I have since realised I missed Edward Hogan’s bloody brilliant The Human Trace’ out of it, and found my eleven books – yes I cheated a tiny bit with an additional novel, but I made this game up. I wonder if Mr Monopoly ever tried that at Christmas gatherings, anyway here it is with the book title, author, place and mini summary for you…

The Room of Lost Things by Stella Duffy (London) – Set in Loughborough Junction in South London, this is the tale Robert, owner of a dry cleaners, as he says goodbye to his business and the area he knows. It also looks at the customers who come, from all walks of life, to his shop and the little things they leave behind that they forget yet which tell many a tale.

The News Where You Are by Catherine O’Flynn (Birmingham) – Frank is a local news presenter and personality. Recently he has become rather obsessed both with the people and the places of his city that others seem to forget. What about all the people with no one to care for them, who die alone and what of the bits of our cities architectural and cultural heritage are we all too quick to gloss over or tear down  and cover with something prettier?

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (Norfolk) – Not officially set in Norfolk, that is just my guess, this is the tale of Arthur Kipp as he settles the eerie estate of Eel Marsh House and Alice Drablow. A book which wonderfully conjures the atmosphere of some of Britain’s coastal villages, and the literary heritage of a cracking good ghost story.

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson (Edinburgh) – Possibly not the most evocative tale of Scotland but this is something I clearly need to address. This is set during Edinburgh’s famous festival and really brings the hustle and bustle of that place to life as well as being a great crime novel with a very good sense of black humour, you will laugh.

The Long Falling by Keith Ridgway (Northern Ireland) – Grace Quinn is a woman deeply unhappy living in the rural wilds of the North Irish countryside. However after a turn of events (which will make your jaw drop) she heads to Dublin and the home of her son. Ridgway looks at the differences between city life and rural life in Northern Ireland and also the differences between the generations.

The Proof of Love by Catherine Hall (The Lake District) – One of the most ‘earthy’ books I have ever read, yet if you asked me to explain the term ‘earthy’ I would find it very hard to explain. Set in the infamous heat wave of the 1970’s Spencer Little is a stranger who settles in a village in the middle of nowhere, but why? A tale of suspicious townsfolk and one which also lifts the lid on the secrets behind closed doors, especially as the heat makes people do unusual things.

The Claude Glass by Tom Bullough (Wales) – Set in the Welsh Countryside this tells the story of two very different neighbouring farms and the sons of which who make friends. One, Robin, from a hippy family the other, Andrew, from a family so impoverished he is almost feral – why does he choose to sleep with the farm dogs rather than his family?

Agatha Raisin & The Quiche of Death – M.C. Beaton (The Cotswolds) – A bit of light relief amongst these books with the no nonsense former PR Director now come amateur sleuth as she moves from London to the idyllic Cotswolds only sometimes people don’t welcome an outsider… Murder and mayhem ensue in the most wry and cosy of mysteries with a thoroughly modern Anti-Marple.

Rough Music by Patrick Gale (Cornwall) – A book that celebrates Cornwall and also a sense of everyone’s nostalgia from younger years. We follow Julian back to a fateful summer holiday in Cornwell which leads to many family secrets being revealed and how we see things differently as adults.

My Policeman by Bethan Roberts (Brighton) – Going back in time a little and looking at the place no deemed the gay capital of England, and a celebrated seaside resort, when it had a much more underground and shady sense of place. We follow Marion and Tom who are both in love with the same man and how society at the time informs their decisions and their lives.

Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma by Kerry Hudson (Great Britain all over) – My slight cheat as I think this book, which travels all over England and Scotland, really looks at English society from the 80’s which is very similar to today and the real sense of what it is to grow up working class in our country rather than the often emphasised ‘Hampstead’ view.

So there you have it, that is my list of books that encapsulate the British Isles for me. I know that Thomas is working on his list of ten books which as soon as it goes live I will link to, its is now live here. I can say I have read two of them (one a major hit, one a bit of a dud with me) and am really excited about trying all of them. In the meantime you can hear us talking about them on this fortnight’s episode of The Readers.

What do you think of the list? I know it might not be the most conventional but to me it seems the truest for me personally. Which of them have you read? Who fancies giving this a go themselves? I would so, so, so love if some of you did be you in the UK, America, Australia, Japan, Canada, India, France… anywhere, and spread the word. Basically have whirl, over a few days (it took me four) and link back to it here so I can come and have a nosey, go on, you know you want to…

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I’m Sick… But The Cats Are Blogging!

Since the excitement of a few days in London (which I have realised I took almost no photos during) and the rollercoaster thrills and spills of judging the Not The Booker I have come down, quite literally from all those highs, with a really nasty cold. I don’t want to say flu as its not quite there but it isn’t far off. So I have actually been spending more time being grumpy, feeling a bit sorry for myself and listening to audiobooks as my eyes were so sore.

Well, I am still feeling pretty crap but my eye ache has moved to my throat and nose so at least I can read again and this morning I decided I would grab some books of the shelves that would be perfect reads and this was the haul I managed very groggily and swiftly before disappearing into the depths of my duvet once more…

Ill Books

Before we discuss them, yes you’re right that is an ebook in the mix of all of these treats. I have discovered, begrudgingly, another perk in the world of ereaders that if you are stuck in bed and ache too much to do too much a few swipes and there is your next read. Last night I simply couldn’t resist a new Susan Hill ghost story in the form of this ‘Kindle Single’ perfect for the time of year ‘Printer’s Devil Court’. I am very much looking forward to it. As I am also looking forward to reading the next, for me not actually the newest, Agatha Raisin mystery ‘Agatha Raisin and the Curious Curate’ (I have let Agatha for too long). I also have Victor & Rolf’s ‘Fairy Tales’ which sounds amazing with tales like ‘Disco Hedgehog’, Flowerbomb’ and ‘The Fifth Perfume Bottle’. Finally, but by no means last, I thought as the nights are getting darker (well the days are in my sick suite as I have not allowed the curtains to be opened) it was time for some crime and I need to catch up with my favourite duo Rizzoli & Isles. So that should see me through a day or two while I get this out my system.

Now I mentioned the cats were blogging. Well they aren’t blogging here. In fact, as part of a special ‘Cat Day’ in honour of the ‘The Big New Yorker Book of Cats’ they have blogged for Windmill Books and you can see it here. I think they believe that book offers will be flying in. They are acting like they are really chilled about it…

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…But we know the truth. Do have a look at them discussing ‘Living With A Book Lover’, they are quite cute after all, if incredibly naughty for not letting me know a think about it, ha!

Hope all of you are well? What are you reading at the mo? Is it good or bad? Which books do you turn to when you are poorly? How cute are cats reading?

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The Case of the Missing Servant – Tarquin Hall

Not being funny but I would never have thought I would be recommended a book by both Gav of Gav Reads (his review here) and also my Gran, yet in the case of ‘The Case of the Missing Servant’, the first Vish Puri mystery by Tarquin Hall, these two recommendations came most highly. Had Gavin not chosen this book for The Readers Book Club earlier this month I would definitely have ended up reading it on their recommendations and the fact that this was a crime series set in India, a country I am rather fascinated by though I have not had the pleasure of visiting yet.

Arrow Books, 2010, paperback, 312 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Vish Puri is one of India’s leading private detectives, well that is what he would have you know although occasionally you are left to wonder how much of that is truth and how much is pomp. In the main Vish’s line of detection is that of families wishing for one of their offspring’s betrothed to be investigated for their background and if they might be an ideal addition to the family. It isn’t the most glamourous or exciting investigating but occasionally there are instances with twists. However off and on Puri gets a real mystery and in ‘The Case of the Missing Servant’ Puri is hired to find the maid servant of Ajay Kasliwal, a prominent lawyer, who he has been accused of murdering since her sudden disappearance. It is cases like this Puri thrives on, they are also the kind of cases where one might make enemies which might be why someone is trying to get Puri killed.

One of the things that I most admired about ‘The Case of the Missing Servant’ was how Hall created a genuinely intriguing mystery that managed to really look at Indian society and how it treats the classes/caste system in many ways. He looks at how things have changed in India over the decades and how the modern world is changing time-honoured traditions for everyone living in the country. It gives the book an additional depth, on top of the intrigue of the mystery that is at the forefront of the book. From the judicial system, or lack of it, to the situation with arranged marriages Hall manages to really encapsulate a country in a time of great change.

“In the old days, there would have been no need for Puri’s services. Families got to know one another within the social framework of their own communities. When necessary, they did their own detective work. Mothers and aunties would ask neighbours and friends about prospective grooms, and the families’ standing and reputation. Priests would also make introductions and match horoscopes.
Today, well-off Indians living in cities could no longer rely on those time-honoured systems. Many no longer knew their neighbours. Their homes were the walled villas of Jor Bagh and Golf Links, or posh apartments in Greater Kailash. Their social lives revolved around the office, business meetings and society weddings.”

Another thing that I really liked about the novel was that it is really a book of team detection. Puri might be the lead detective yet really he can, to a degree, be rather bumbling and without a team around him it would be highly unlikely that he could solve the puzzle by himself, though he would have you think the contrary. I mean without Facecream, who he sends to pretend to be a maid and spy on the Kasliwal family, or Tubelight and Flush who do some of the menial hunting (and truly dangerous and physical things) he wouldn’t be able to solve everything that came his way.

“Puri had positioned two of his best undercover operatives, Tubelight and Flush, down in the street.
These were not their real names, of course. Being Punjabi, the detective had nicknames for most of his employees, relatives and close friends. For example, he called his wife Rumpi; his new driver Handbrake; and the office boy, who was extraordinarily lazy, Door Stop.”

I also greatly admired Hall’s way of interweaving several mysteries all at once. In some crime novels we simply get one criminal on the run doing all sorts of horrendous things. With Vish Puri we not only get ‘The Case of the Missing Servant’, we also get three investigations into future spouses of families (one is ending at the start of the book, one sort of peters out and vanishes, one has a brilliant twist which I loved) and on top of that we get Puri’s own mother investigating who has tried to shoot her son. This strand for me, and indeed Puri’s mother, really stole the show for me and I loved every single chapter with her in it, in fact I am hoping that she gets her own standalone series.

 “Puri had learned from hard experience that it was impossible to hide dramatic elements in his life from his mother. But he would not tolerate her nosing about in his investigations.
True, Mummy had a sixth sense and, from time to time, one of her premonitions proved prescient. But she was no detective. Detectives were not mummies. And detectives were certainly not women.”

This I suppose is a positive way to tap into some of the flaws that I found in the book. Firstly I wasn’t sure if it knew what sort of crime novel it wanted to be. In some ways, particularly with its sense of humour and the bumbling and pompous Puri at the helm, it felt like it was a cosy crime novel (which as a fan of M.C. Beaton I have no prejudice about at all) yet with its additional depth and uncovering of Indian society it also felt like it was trying to be a more thought provoking novel too – yet in being both something was lost from both parts. I do wonder if having read Kishwar Desai’s Witness The Night’ first some time ago, which was the latter but very funny with its darkness, might have had something to do with this, maybe.

I also didn’t really think (and I wonder if this is why the Poirot comparisons have been made) that Hall liked Puri very much and was actually using him as a figure of fun in more than just a ‘ha, ha’ way. It could be, as Gavin mentions on The Readers Book Club (and we have a small tiff about it) that it is a debut novel. This could also link into the fact that I don’t think anyone could guess the culprit, as it felt a little bit like a triple twist thrown in at the end last minute, whilst I don’t expect to guess every crime novels denouement (I’m not that clever) I want to at least be able to try.

‘The Case of the Missing Servant’ leaves me a little conflicted. On the one hand I loved the fact that the book gave me so much more (I haven’t even touched on the fascinating bits about the history of Indian detection) than I was expecting and met the eye, all done without trying to prove a moral point or bash me over the head with research. Yet occasionally I didn’t connect and I am wondering if it was with Puri himself? Overall though I enjoyed it, see I am puzzled.

I think I will have to try another one to make my mind up about this fully which shouldn’t be difficult to do as they have become so popular. With two more already published, another on the way, and mentions in this book of Puri’s past cases like ‘The Case of the Missing Polo Elephant’, ‘The Case of the Pundit with the Twelve Toes’ and ‘The Case of the Laughing Peacock’ it looks like there will be plenty more to choose from, though as I like to read a series in order I should try the second, ‘The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing’, next – though I do know the ending having read some of it to Gran in hospital. Hmmm.

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Filed under Arrow Books, Review, Tarquin Hall, The Readers Podcast

Other People’s Bookshelves #13 – Simon Savidge

Okay, so I thought I would do something a bit different with Other People’s Bookshelves by taking part in it myself. My thoughts behind this were that a) no one likes to be number thirteen (and indeed I am really, really superstitious about the number myself) and b) as it is my birthday tomorrow I might as well make the whole weekend all about me. I am half joking with that last comment, sort of. Ha! So today I will share with you my shelves and indeed my book boxes and who knows you might even get to know me a little better. How weird to be interviewing myself…

Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I used to keep every single book that I read, yet this all stopped when I was living in London as after a few years I simply didn’t have the room and so I had to get tough. I have to admit I did use to keep books on my shelves that I didn’t really love but just wanted people to see that I had read, so was good to be tough. However now I have much more room and indeed have bought lots more bookshelves so I can see my old ‘hoard everything’ tendency is creeping back. That said though when the new shelves were sorted I rearranged everything and did get rid of ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘The White Tiger’ so maybe the habit won’t die out. You do have to be careful of mood though, some books you love some days and less the next. It is tricky. Excuses, excuses, excuses.

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Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

I have always had them in alphabetical order on the shelves of books I have read in the lounge. Until the weekend before this I did actually have crime on separate shelves from fiction and non-fiction, I think I was playing at having a bookshop in my head, now though everything is mingled together genre wise, but in author surname order.

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

I think the first book I bought with my own money wasn’t actually until my twenties because I had relatives that bought me books and I was hooked onto the library at an early age thanks to my mother. I also had a spell from my mid teens to early twenties where I went completely off reading and didn’t pick up a book for, wait for it, six years. Can you believe that? The first two books I bought then were Agatha Christie’s ‘4.50 from Paddington’ and ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier, both of those are definitely on my shelves.

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Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

I did used to have my Agatha Raisin books, and indeed my favourite childhood books, hidden away in the bedroom because I thought people would judge me. Now they too are mingled in with everything else since the new shelves have come in. I have decided that I am not going to feel to feel guilty about books anymore, especially if they are a pleasure to read, life is too short. Yet I think I might start to tell myself off if I don’t get better at giving up on books I am just not enjoying. I am guilty of that quite often and it causes reading funks.

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

Funnily enough Simon, it would be the Conan Doyle book of short stories to which you refer. I also have lots of books that my Granddad, Bongy, made for me when I was younger. Those are both to be found stored away by the bed just in case.

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What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

It was ‘Perfume’ by Patrick Suskind and it was indeed one of the first forays into adult fiction that I had. My mum was always keen to let me read whatever I fancied really, she vetted everything but only with a quick glance and I think, like with my much younger siblings, she just wanted us to embrace reading without forcing it down our necks. Best way to do that was just to let us all read pretty much what we want and never refer things as adult, young adult or kids fiction. I have read ‘Perfume’ twice now, the second time – back in my early mid-twenties – I felt I was reading a completely different book, I don’t think I got all the nuances at a younger age which only added to the initial delight of the book second time around. Oh and yes, it is on the shelves now.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I am lucky in the fact that I get a fair few books free through the blog and work. That said I am amazed at the fact that no matter how many books I have there are always more and more books that I want. I have the library for those books, or indeed charity shops though the library is now my place of preference, and if I really, really, really loved them then I would definitely want it on my shelves.

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What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

I am going to cheat with two. ‘Chocolat’ by Joanne Harris which I finished a few days ago and adored, I now want to read EVERYTHING she has ever written. I have also just popped ‘The Life of Pi’ on the shelves, I leant it to my other halves mother (who I talk about books with a lot) but I don’t really like lending books and so when I spotted a pristine second hand one bought it to go back on the shelves so I don’t have to ask for mine back. It is a weird tick I have, I know she will look after it, and yet… Ha!

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

Hmmmm, I would sound spoilt if I said yes. If you mean on my ‘books I have read’ shelves in the lounge there are a few books I have loaned and never seen again, especially swapping my tie in edition of ‘Wicked’ for the stunning American import I had, and a few that have gone missing in my many moves. If you mean in the ‘books to be read’ shelves and boxes in the bedroom I should say no with over 600 of them – yet Deborah Levy’s ‘Black Vodka; Ten Stories’ and Chris Ware’s ‘Building Stories’ are calling out to me. I am hoping I get some vouchers tomorrow and can get those. Oh and all the Persephone books that I don’t have of course. No rush though, a good library is built slowly.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

That it is an explosion of eclectic tastes and voices from someone who reads widely and clearly can’t decide what genre of book they really love or what their particular taste or penchant is in books… something I am getting more and more comfortable with as I get older.

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Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to) in the Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of my responses and/or any of the books I mentioned?

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Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came – M.C. Beaton

I have backdated this review; I am not posting it on the 23rd of April but actually on the 26th. This is for no other reason than the fact I have a huge pile of books which need reviewing and I want them out in the world. Being an over thinker, about everything it is ridiculous, I thought that people might think I was hiding these books away in the blog in a slightly guilty manner. The Agatha Raisin novels are indeed deemed a ‘guilty pleasure read’, yet I feel no guilt reading them at all. They are a delightful escape especially seeing as with this one, which is the eleventh in the series, M.C. Beaton seems to have changed things a lot.

Constable and Robinson, paperback, 2006, fiction, 224 pages, from my personal TBR

My love for the Agatha Raisin escapes I allow myself sporadically (well you don’t want to read a series too quickly do you) is strong, yet I am not the sort of person who is so blinded by the enjoyment I can’t see their faults. All of them so far have been great, but dare I say that the Agatha, James Lacey and Sir Charles love triangle has become a little formulaic. On one hand you know where you are, there is a certain familiarity to it, on the other it can be a little predictable. Well in ‘Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came’ there is a big change. If you are reading the series in order you might want to skip the next paragraph or two though for some spoilers…

You see Agatha and James are getting a divorce and Sir Charles has met someone else. So now, along with possibly the darkest murder in the series yet, we have some new characters coming in, such as crime writer John Armitage, and we see a slightly new Agatha too. Agatha has been away in the South Pacific taking a break from life to lick her wounds post divorce and also to get a bearing on her life. When she returns she witnesses the sighting of a drowned women dressed in full bridal attire. Agatha being Agatha decides that she must find out more and so we know we have a new case of amateur detection on the go.

What I particularly liked about ‘The Day the Floods Came’ was the fact it seemed so much darker than the previous novels. It still has that comfortable village life feel, the bumbling characters and waspish wit, and yet there is a real unease here. Agatha finds herself, sometimes to comical effect, submerged in the world of clubbing and drugs (something which normally turns me off a book) and youth culture. Despite her being quite a brittle character she also seemed warmer and more empathetic and yet even more no nonsense at the same time, she really is a woman after my own heart. Most importantly, I didn’t have a clue who the killer was.

So all in all, ‘The Day The Floods Came’ is one of my favourite Agatha Raisins yet. Still escapist, funny and familiar, so I can get lost in the world of the Cotswolds that I like so much, and yet with a certain freshness and even slight edge to it that makes me want to pick up the thirteenth (hopefully not unlucky) in the series very soon. Lovely stuff!

It’s nice to have a favourite series and get the comfort and the surprise element isn’t it? Which series do you love? Are you and Agatha fan or can you just not see the point? What are your thoughts on ‘guilty pleasure reads’? You can hear myself and Gavin talking about just such a thing on The Readers here.

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

Why Does Literature Seem To Snub Genre?

I seem to have a backlog of random posts on my thoughts about the book world and reading at the moment. It seems I am having a phase where every book I read sparks a question about my reading habits or reading in general. I hope you all enjoy these posts because there is going to be quite an influx of them over the next few weeks. The first of these that I want to talk about came from my review of Penny Hancock’s ‘Tideline’ yesterday when I said it was ‘the sort of thriller that I want to put in the path of anyone who doesn’t deem thrillers as literature’ because this is something that seems to be a common misconception in the book world or in bookish circles. Why can’t a crime novel, and indeed any work that is deemed genre, also be deemed ‘literature’?

My initial line of thinking is the fact that on the whole crime novels are not particularly known for being flowery, you can’t really make a dead body picturesque can you – though you can make it haunting and atmospheric, yet flowery prose doesn’t mean that a book is literary either does it? Crime novels, and I am focusing on these as they are the genre I read the most outside what people deem ‘literary novels’, by their nature have to focus on plot and they have to have pace. This doesn’t have to come at the expense of good writing though as I find with authors like Kate Atkinson or Susan Hill the writing that they use in their ‘crime’ novels (atmospheric, observational, vivid) is the same as they use in the novels that would be put in the ‘fiction’ section and which are deemed to be much more literary because they lose the crime tag.

I have just recently given up on a very ‘literary’ novel because while the writing was stunning the book itself wasn’t going anywhere. The plot was there but it was fizzling out, it was dragging, and I was getting increasingly bored. So I gave up. That very rarely happens to me with a good thriller. With literary novels you often here the phrase ‘a multi layered novel’ have any of these people read the aforementioned Kate Atkinson (whose use of small coincidences to twist a tale is fantastic) or Sophie Hannah by any chance as both these authors created tales which are definitely multi layered, whilst being gripping reads with big stories at their heart, and I do think every reader loves a good ‘story’. Many people will say that genre fiction is train station or airport reading, but isn’t that in itself interesting that when people go away they want those sorts of books? Here we could go into the dangerous territory of ‘readability vs. literature’ so lets move swiftly on…

The other misconception I have often heard is that crime novels, or any genre novel actually, often feature one dimensional or rather stereotypical characters. I always find myself wanting to shout ‘what about Sherlock Holmes, people actually wrote to the man, they thought he was real’ to this, but I suppose that’s classic crime so doesn’t fit in with my discussion on modern crime now, though it was deemed literature in its day. If I was discussing chick-lit I would here use the Jane Austen argument and how at the time it was not deemed as ‘literature’ and look at how she is hailed now, Charles Dickens is another one, paid per word as a regular newspaper serialisation, now heralded as one of the greatest writers ever to have lived by many.

Let’s get back to the characters in modern crime though. I think we could find the ‘stereotypical’ characters in almost every novel we read, does ‘stereotypical’ therefore actually mean the true to life people who live next door or you might pass by on the street? What of one dimensional characters? I read few crime novels where this is the case, they wouldn’t work for me as a read if they were. Again there are a number of authors, including the above, where I could say this statement was untrue; Tess Gerritsen (I read the Rizzoli and Isles series because I want to know what they are up to, I like them, I feel I have gotten to know them over a series) and Val McDermid (Jacko Vance might be my favourite serial killer ever, if one can have one) for starters.

Val McDermid once said to me ‘it’s not the crime that’s the really important thing to me, it’s what crime or murder does to the people surrounding it that truly motivates me’. I have paraphrased there, sorry if you read this Val, but I think is one of the true signs of why crime can be counted as literature, it looks at how humans are conditioned to react, emote and deal in extreme circumstances. People say ‘oh but crime stories are so farfetched’ but they happen and often it’s the most bizarre crimes that have us sitting watching the news and saying ‘oh you couldn’t have made that up’ and ‘how would you deal with that, can you imagine?’ With a book you can from the safety of your sofa, just as you can being in a war torn country, having been bereaved, experiencing dictatorial leadership or simply being in a very dysfunctional family. All these things people are experiencing all over the world but just because it’s not happening to us or those we know doesn’t mean it is ‘farfetched’. Also thanks to crime in translation we learn about other cultures through the subject matter dealt with by the novels of the likes of Henning Mankell or Natsuo Kirino.

Of course there is some badly written and one dimensional drivel out there on the crime shelves, but the same applies to literature doesn’t it. We also all have different tastes. I have always found it interesting when I have reviewed an M.C. Beaton and then had emails saying people won’t read my blog any more as they thought I only read ‘proper’ books. What constitutes a ‘proper’ book I do not know, any ideas?

I am fully aware that I can fall prey to the same issues with other genres (aliens… like they exist) though I have just read a stunning werewolf novel (no, really) and indeed I have been umming and ahhhing about reading Jojo Moyes ‘Me Before You’ because I have heard rave reviews from people I trust and think the premise sounds interesting, but from just looking at it my mind says ‘chick-lit’ and I switch off, this has happened whenever I have been recommended Marian Keyes, which has happened a lot. Am I then adding to the literary snobbery myself, I hope not, and may now rush and get ‘Me Before You’ just to prove a point.

This might be one of those posts that often appear on Savidge Reads where I start with a question that has been buzzing around in my head, write about it and end up asking more questions than I can answer and coming out the other side without a conclusion. It is a subject that interests me and one I would love to have a good old natter with you all about, so your thoughts please…

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