Second in the Agatha Raisin series by Marion Chesney (writing as M.C.Beaton). Agatha, retired PR guru (and she would emphasise that she retired early), returns to her archetypal Cotswold village from an abortive Caribbean holiday to discover a dishy new vet has set up shop there. Perhaps he'll prove an easier catch than James, her nextdoor neighbour. However, life expectancy in the archetypal villages of cosy mysteries can be somewhat abruptly concluded.
Agatha Raisin is an ironic take on Miss Marple - she's less syrupy than Christie's sleuth, more abrasive, and she's decidedly sexually predatory. Agatha is a determined but gauche sexual being - she devotes more attention to dressing right, slapping on the right amount of warpaint, getting the ambience right, than to actual detection. She likes her food, she likes her booze, and she likes her cats. She's bright and resourceful and quite likeable. Bur her detective skills are hardly the cerebral powers of detection exemplified by Holmes, Marple, or Poirot - determination and bloody mindedness are more her forte, with just a soupcon of intuition. Agatha has her police collaborator, in the form of Bill Wong - I confess to feeling let down by the description of his home and family. And there is an ensemble cast of village folk, from vicar's wife to unmarried mother, ironic little sketches of characters who contrast with their counterparts in a Marple mystery.
It's an entertaining book - the Agatha Raisin series is written with genuine humour and charm - and there is an intriguing mystery to be unravelled here, with plenty of suspects and not a few red herrings. Where the book falls down, however, is in the method of deduction. The way some of the evidence is obtained is just too far fetched - it's a bit deus ex machina, 'with one bound he was free' simplicity. The strength of the Agatha Raisin series lies in the humour and insightful characterisation which trips off the pages - the weakness is in the detection side. With the detection side made a touch more real and gritty, this would be a very fine series - but maybe this is partly satirising the superhuman powers of deduction and convenient presentation of evidence found in many cosy mysteries?