on 13 January 2010
The wonderful Penelope Keith stars once again as the feisty Agatha Raisin in two adaptations of MC Beaton's popular books. The episodes are easy to listen to, and I find that they make a welcome relief from the radio or music CD's.
In "The Terrible Tourist", Agatha goes in search of her beloved James, whom jilted her in the previous episode. Following him into Europe, she finds him on the island where they were supposed to take their honeymoon. Whilst she is there, a fellow tourist is murdered and Agatha sets about finding out who killed them and why, discovering that things are not what they seem with her fellow hotel guests.
In "The Fairies of Fryfam", Agatha decides that she needs to get away from Carsley, and James, and takes a holiday to Cornwall. There, she rents out a cottage with some suspicious lights dancing at the end of her garden. Agatha decides to investigate if these lights are connected somehow to the murder of a local millionaire.
Penelope Keith plays Agatha beautifully, encapsulating Agatha's strong, fiery attitude, which masks Agatha's underlying vulnerability, with ease.
I have always enjoyed the Agatha Raisin books, they are comfortable, curl with a cup of tea and a cat, sorts of books. Usually set in and around Agatha's home village in the Cotswolds they seem to blend murder most foul with the parochialism of village life in a quaint old fashioned way. Agatha, however is not the most likeable of sleuths, rude, over bearing and a tough cookie, she is definitely not a Jane Marple. Her long suffering neighbour, lover, some-time fiancée and now ex, provides a fantastic dynamic and sounding board.
These two BBC audio recordings are both set away from Agatha's village of Carsley and provide the opportunity for some nicely drawn one off characters. The first sees us on a fairytale Mediterranean island where James and Agatha were to have spent their honeymoon, and the second in a very insular Cornish village. As well as loving the books I have always enjoyed the BBC dramatisations and whilst physically, Penelope Keith could not be further from Agatha, vocally and performance wise she is spot on. Malcolm Sinclair's James is a delight and in my mind I seem to have a vision of Oliver Stirling from the Archers. Its not the same actor, but there is something about the character!
I often think that for gentle, British who-dunnits, abridged dramatisations work better than straight forward readings and these are a great example. I really look forward to more and hope that Agatha is back in Carsley soon.
As a huge Hamish Macbeth fan, I have previous form with M. C. Beaton. I really enjoy her style of writing and although I think the Macbeth books are better than the Agatha Raisin series (especially Death of a Macho Man (Hamish Macbeth)), she still creates a feisty and entertaining character.
I enjoy a lot of the BBC's radio productions, they have an excellent track record of quality casting and production values and with The Terrible Tourist and The Fairies of Fryfam, this is continued. Penelope Keith is perfect as the wrinkly Raisin who has bucketloads of attitude, and the other vocal performances are all excellent.
Unfortunately, this dramatisation is let down (hence the three stars) by the somewhat over-zealous adaptation of the source material. These are incredibly short stories and are pretty much over before they've begun. The writing is tight and there are some great lines which will have you snorting into your coffee (or something stronger if you're a bit like Agatha) but it's just too short.
The formidable Agatha Raisin is brought to life with gusto by Penelope Keith, who I quite liked in the role [probably having not read the books, I had no preconceptions about how Agatha would sound]. Agatha is the frustrated but endearing politically-incorrect star of the Agatha Raisin murder mystery books, set in the friendly Cotswold village of Carsely. These are full cast plays with 5 or 6 other voice actors, rather than Penelope Keith just reading the books out aloud. The stories are black comedy drama, and are quite funny, with middle aged Agatha having no difficulties in expressing herself, with sarcasm rather than swearing, e.g. male hotel porter: 'Bonjour Madame', Agatha: 'And the same to you'. Her first book is charmingly entitled "Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death". After a successful career in PR, Agatha sells up and chooses the Cotswolds to live in as it was the only place her unemployed drunken parents ever took her for a holiday (the one long weekend highlight of her deprived inner city Birmingham childhood).
This audio CD is an adaptation of the following two Agatha Raisin murder investigation books, and they were first broadcast on Radio 4 in November 2006.
- Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist: The sixth in the Agatha Raisin murder mysteries. "Spurned at the altar, she follows her fleeing fiancé James Lacey to Cyprus, where, instead of enjoying the honeymoon they'd planned, they witness the killing of an obnoxious tourist in a disco."
- Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam: The tenth in the Agatha Raisin murder mysteries. "Angry at being jilted by new husband James, Agatha follows a fortune-teller's advice and rents a Cornish cottage in pretty Fryfam. There, she hopes, true love will come chasing after her. But her romantic notions are dispelled by a series of odd goings-on in the village: strange lights start appearing in her back garden; there are thefts of paintings and pottery; and her beloved cats vanish."
Total run time is two hours, and the two CDs are in stereo. At times the audio delivery is a bit flat with 'eee Luv' accents, and one can get the impression Penelope Keith is reading a script rather than talking to anyone, but she's still an asset, and I quite enjoyed listening to these two stories when ripped to the iPod, so 4*. There are at least eight other BBC Agatha Raisin audio CDs in this series. Marion Chesney [under the pseudonym M. C. Beaton] also writes the acclaimed Highland policeman series of books 'Hamish Macbeth', a murder mystery series set in Lochdubh, Scotland.
I must admit that I am a huge fan of the Agatha Raisin novels, but until now this is the first time I have heard any of the radio plays that were produced for BBC Radio 4. I must say that I don't often hear any radio plays, but when I do I have found some good ones, and these definitely rank as good. These were dramaitsed by David Semple, and Penelope Keith stars in the title role. I should point out that these two radio plays aren't in the order of the books, after all The Terrible Tourist is the sixth novel, and The Fairies of Fryfam is the tenth novel, and also there have been changes made. You should also be warned that due to these originally being broadcast in half hour episodes there is a break on both the cds where we get the cast, closing music, etc still left in.
The Terrible Tourist
After the fiasco that occured when James Lacey and Agatha tried to get married, James takes himself off to what would have been their honeymoon destination. Agatha in pursuit of James also makes her way to the island (Corsica) and tracks him down. Of course wherever Agatha goes there is a murder, and the two set out to solve the crime.
The Fairies of Fryfam
When Agatha sets out on a trip after being hurt by James once again she ends up at Fryfam. With mysterious lights at the bottom of the garden, and other mysterious goings on, could there really be fairies? As yet another murder takes place when Agatha is around, she sets out to solve the case.
Both of these are great fun to listen to and will appeal to fans of Agatha Raisin, and M C Beaton. If you like comedy-dramas with crime you should love these, Penelope Keith as Agatha Raisin is absolutely fantastic.
In common with Hercule Poirot, Agatha Raisin chances upon murder pretty much wherever she goes. And in this instance where she goes is on holiday - firstly to a Mediterranean island, and secondly, a Cornish cottage.
At the former location, instead of enjoying a Corsican honeymoon, Agatha is put to work hunting down the murderer of a Gracie Fields enthusiast (I kid you not!), whilst in story number two, down in the West Country, a dot.com millionaire pops his clogs whilst Agatha tries to discover the source of mysterious lights at the bottom of the garden.
This was my first experience of Beatons' middle-aged amateur sleuth, and initially, I was a bit put off by the stereotyped characters surrounding our heroine, and her slightly condescending observations about them. Whilst the author had probably intended this to come across a loveable English eccentricity, instead it felt somewhat patronising and uncomfortable. However, as the plots unfolded, I did warm to Agatha, and particularly started to enjoy her acidic exchanges with love-interest James.
Regarding the murder-mysteries themselves, the suspect lists never run to more than 2 or 3 characters, so very little sleuthing is ever involved. Hard evidence and witnesses are much lacking, with Agatha relying more on feminine intuition than forensic examination.
And yet despite all this, I really enjoyed these simple, uncomplicated tales and Penelope Keith's interpretation of the lead. Gentle and genteel entertainment!
I have always appreciated & greatly enjoyed Penelope Keith's television work, so looked forward to listening to this CD. One of her biggest assets has always been her unmistakeable, marvellously plummy, rounded voice, & it's put to great effect here. Her comic timing is so precise too, & that adds to the enjoyment & helps these two stories zip along. I'd never heard of Agatha Raisin before & didn't know what to expect. What I found was a very human, but flawed, heroine with everyday problems & excesses like the rest of us: a broken relationship, a smoking habit & an addictive reliance on caffeine to name but three! I don't know how these radio broadcasts compare with the books, but I now want to purchase one or two to find out. I'm assuming that the books are more 'fleshed out': more twists & turns, more red herrings, more development of plot & character. Don't get me wrong though, the stories here flash by quite quickly, but are no less enjoyable for that. Easy listening experience is what you get here. It is excellently acted & produced, & it may just lead to me becoming a fan of the books, & that can't be bad.
Agatha Rasin is played very well by Penelope Keith and if you remember Audrey Fforbes-Hamilton in 'To The Manor Born' then you'll not be far off. Agatha is generally loveable with occasional periods of obnoxious behaviour making her that little more realistic and entertaining. I'd say this was more a comedy than a mystery. That's not to say the mysteries weren't good, there were a few twists in there but it's nothing complicated. There are other voices but the one you hear most is Penelope Keith, and from her you get a decent range of stereotypical middle-class English prejudices, from French waiters who don't understand tea to West Country fold who believe in fairies. There are too many murders to make her world one you'd want to visit, but these are a nice collection of stories, very well acted and produced to a high standard. I think I'll buy the rest too.
I have an especial fondness for Agatha Raisin and the "Fairies of Fryfam" since it is the first BBC Radio 4 programme that I discovered (by accident) while surfing the web several years ago; and I have been listening to R4 ever since.
M.C. Beaton's feisty detective, who perpetually stumbles upon murder mysteries, is played with panache by Penelope Keith. This delightful double CD set includes two mysteries: "The Terrible Tourist," an adventure for Agatha on the sun-drenched island of Corsica, and the "Fairies of Fryfam," which takes the sleuth to Cornwall where she is ill-met by moonlight. Both plays are well-acted by an ensemble cast; the characters are enjoyable; and the mysteries are laced with comedy.The audio is clear, as might be expected from a BBC radio production. The CDs are well worth keeping and listening to again. Enjoy!
These 2 CDs are dramatized full cast recordings of two of M C Beaton's very popular Agatha Raisin stories first broadcast on BBC Radio 4. I thought the dramatisations were well done as they cut out virtually anything that wasn't essential to the mystery and left a coherent story. Penelope Keith makes an excellent Agatha and her voice is just perfect for the part. The sound quality - as with any BBC audio book recordings - is excellent.
In `The Terrible Tourist' Agatha follows James to Corsica where they were supposed to have their honeymoon and stumbles across a murder. As James remarks it seems as though corpses follow her wherever she goes. Naturally Mrs Bloxby - the Vicar's wife - keeps in close contact with Agatha while she is away.
`The Fairies of Fryfam' sees Agatha escaping to a ramshackle cottage in Cornwall to think about her relationship with James and whether it is going anywhere. The locals are extremely strange and when a millionaire is found dead in his converted lighthouse Agatha finds herself compelled to investigate.
Each CD is split into 2 episodes - each lasting for about 30 minutes - which make for convenient listening. Malcolm Sinclair is a suitably irritable James Lacey with just the right amount of snobbery and exasperation at what he sees as Agatha's erratic behaviour. Though I've read all the Agatha Raisin books I had not listened to any of the dramatisations but I found these 2 CDs really entertaining.