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A Silly Story Lacking Continuity -- You Can Skip This One If You Want
on 1 September 2007
If you haven't read any of the Agatha Raisin stories, start with Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death, and continue in order. In doing so, you'll be disappointed when you come to this one.
It appears that M. C. Beaton went on holiday for this book and asked an aspiring novelist to take her place as author. Just kidding! But Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House is almost a satire of an Agatha Raisin mystery rather than the real deal, and there's an inexplicable lapse in continuity concerning Sir Charles Fraith that makes you wonder if M. C. Beaton reads her own books.
Agatha has yet another new neighbor in James Lacey's old cottage: This time it's Paul Chatterton, a handsome computer consultant, whose wife prefers to live in Madrid. Paul has heard that Agatha has a reputation in Carsely for affairs, and he's interested in finding out the facts. Needless to say, Agatha is soon dreaming of being Mrs. Paul Chatterton and hoping that James Lacey will see the wedding announcement in the Times. At Paul's insistence, the pair plans to spend a night at the "haunted" house of Mrs. Witherspoon. After a mysterious mist appears, Agatha is frightened by seeing Mrs. Witherspoon with a face mask on, and Agatha flees . . . annoying both Paul and Mrs. Witherspoon. Their future watching has to be done outside, but Agatha trips over a trash can and scares off whoever is there.
The detecting duo swears off any most ghostbusting until they learn that Mrs. Witherspoon was found dead with a broken neck in her cottage, an unlikely event given the state of the stairs and her health. After the police decide that Mrs. Witherspoon's son may be the murderer, the son and daughter invite Agatha and Paul to investigate. But the police don't want to have anything to do with the amateur detectives who snoop around on their own anyway. Unlike some of Agatha's investigations where she doesn't pick up much that the police haven't or wouldn't, the police in this case seem woefully weak: Without her investigation, the killer would have gotten away.
So why do I say the story lacks continuity?
1. Agatha Raisin in the past has been attracted to men who are attracted to her, but she hasn't come near a married man. It doesn't seem like she would now as her increased self-esteem has risen due to her detecting success and restarting her PR career with occasional assignments.
2. Sir Charles Fraith reappears in Agatha's life as though this is the first time she has seen him since he got married, even though he reappeared once before in an earlier book. This time, he claims to have had cancer and to be the father of two children (the earlier book claimed the pregnancy was a myth and that he was seeking a divorce).
3. Agatha swears off confronting possible murderers in favor of calling in the police. I don't think so.
4. Agatha becomes totally inept in hiding her illegal activities, even failing to wear gloves while breaking in by using a stolen key's duplicate.
The other major story line involves Agatha and Mrs. Davenport developing a humorous vendetta as Mrs. Davenport false believes that Agatha is having an affair with Paul Chatterton. Perhaps the funniest part of the book involves Agatha preparing a dainty dish for Mrs. Davenport.
The mystery's solution doesn't make a whole lot of sense because the motive is an improbable one. That's not the only improbable in this book which relies on humor that doesn't always satisfy . . . mostly because the humor is telegraphed too far and too much in advance.
By the end of the story, Paul Chatterton is off for Spain with his wife. We have a new neighbor to meet in the next book in the series.
But unless you feel compelled to read every story in the series, you can skip this one. Nothing happens that you really need to know about Agatha, her friends, or Carsely.