Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet (by M C Beaton)

Apparently MC Beaton is the pseudonym for a prolific writer of historical romances, although I don't think I have previously come across her work. Indeed, I doubt if I would have done so but for glowing reviews which I have read in various places of the 'Agatha Raisin' series, supposedly about a modern Miss Marple. I imagine that the name Agatha was supposed to remind people of the originator of the light crime genre, and thus make the association.

So I was pleased to find a copy of 'Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet' inexpensively our local thrift store. I've just read it in a couple of days; it's not a long book (238 pages) and the text isn't small. However, the rapid reading does not mean that it was so gripping that I could scarcely put it down. Rather the reverse. It was because I wanted to get to the end so I could find something more interesting to read.

The protagonist, in my view, is nothing at all like the modern Miss Marple. Instead, she's an arrogant, predatory and eminently dislikable woman, who seems more eager to attract the attentions of a personable man - any man - than anything else. The plot rushes along with no character-building at all. So we have to believe that Agatha (and others - for the viewpoint switches constantly) change their minds for no apparent reasons, and behave in the oddest of ways.

There's a murder mystery in the book, although it was hard to feel much interest in it. A great deal of time is spent in attempting to investigate it, but even then, Agatha's motives are not to have a criminal put behind bars, nor even curiosity; she simply wants to spend more time with the chap who actually is interested in solving the crime. Even he isn't really all that keen; he just wants a distraction from the book he is trying to write.

There are lots of minor characters, most of them women; they were all unremarkable and almost impossible to tell apart. There's a (male) police officer, too, half Chinese, who is possibly the least dislikeable person in the book. However, he is featured in an unpleasant (and entirely unnecessary) scene when his parents' lifestyle is caricatured and demeaned.

I thought Agatha Christie's characters were flat, but at least they are distinguishable from each other. And the Agatha Christie books are usually extremely well plotted, with false trails, careful summaries of events and motivation, and a final logical analysis of the case which makes it obvious who was the perpetrator of the crime in question.

None of that applied in this book. There were no false clues or trails, no indication as to motivation (other than vague suggestions of money or blackmail), very little discussion of events, and no working by deduction. Since even the two characters involved were not actually all that enthuiastic about solving the crime, I had no interest in it at all. And in the end, the 'mystery' is solved by an unlikely and minor clue, not by any clever logic.

Having said all that, I did keep reading. The writing as such isn't bad, and there was never any point at which I considered abandoning it altogether. It reminded me more than anything else of the ongoing and unremarkable 'Turnham Malpas' saga by Rebecca Shaw, which have an oddly addictive nature to them despite being rather dull. And they're extremely popular, too.

I really don't recommend this book - but don't take my word for it. Perhaps there was some hidden humour or pathos in this book which I missed entirely. Plenty of other people like it very much... but I can't see myself reading any more in the series.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, February 2012

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