Monday, February 9, 2009

The Quiche of Death

M.C. Beaton’s Quiche of Death not only introduced her now beloved heroine Agatha Raisin but it also kicked off my 2009 reading year. It did both with a bang.

For over eighty years readers and TV fans have shown a love for the idea of a spunky mature woman solving murders between baking pies for the church social or county fair. From Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple (1927 – 1976) to Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher on CBS’s Murder She Wrote (1984-1996) fans eagerly awaited the next book or episode featuring their favorite unofficial detective. Perhaps it is the charm of the ladies, and their ability to outwit the “professionals” who continually underestimated the silver hair sleuths.

Now the female crime solver arena is a little more crowded. Readers enjoy such tough cookies like JD Robb’s Eve Dallas to likeable, though perhaps not the best crime fighter, Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum.

The series was launched in 1992 with Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M. C. Beaton. The books are a part of the “cozy mystery” genre. Cozy mysteries are described as:

“The cozy mystery usually takes place in a small town or village. The small size of the setting makes it believable that all the suspects know each other. The amateur sleuth is usually a very likeable person who is able to get the community members to talk freely (i.e. gossip) about each other. There is usually at least one very knowledgeable and nosy (and of course, very reliable!) character in the book who is able to fill in all of the blanks, thus enabling the amateur sleuth to solve the case.”

Agatha has finished a career in advertising and plans to retire to Carsley, a picture perfect village. Everything is carefully planned, boxed and shipped but after spending a lifetime pushing press and the clients around Agatha has no idea how to unwind and enjoy retirement. She immediately hatches a plan to win friends, by cheating in the local quiche contest. But as Agatha’s luck would have it, the judge dies after eating her quiche. Naturally she is humiliated when she must disclose to the police that she lied about baking her own quiche. You can imagine how long that little secret stayed between Agatha and the police in the picturesque village. So, Agatha realizes to regain any dignity she must find the killer.

The mystery aspect of the book is entertaining, once they finally settle down to it. However the first half of the book focuses more on establishing the characters and setting for this series which with the debut of a new title in May 2009 includes nineteen books.

An aspect of the book I really found interesting was Agatha’s inner turmoil when she reflects on how little she has to show for a lifetime focused on career, not people. Beaton does a great job of tackling this topic and I was surprised to find myself thinking about such a weighty topic in what I thought was simply a lighthearted book. Agatha is a woman readers can relate to because yes she is smart but she is also rude, vulnerable, overbearing when in control but frightened and lonely at heart.

Eventually Agatha gets her bearings in her new home and finds her killer. I enjoyed this book so much, I immediately read book two in the series: The Vicious Vet.

I highly recommend the Quiche of Death with 3.5 stars I and look forward to reading all nineteen books, probably this year.
By the way, in the UK the books are referred to as Agatha Raisin and The Quiche of Death, etc. The cover at the top of this post is from the UK edition and the cover on the Amazon link below is the US version.



  1. Congratulations on your first review for the 100+ Reading Challenge! :) It's a great on too. :)

  2. Fantastic review.I love cozies and have a soft spot for them. I will definitely look this one up at the library or order online.

  3. Thank you J. Kaye & Caspette - I need the motivation to keep going, so really appreciate your commments.