Thursday, October 20, 2016

Nobody ever died in the village before you arrived

M.C. Beaton's nosy, prickly and lovable heroine Agatha Raisin has been featured in 27 novels, so it is high time that she made the transition to our TV screens.  Acorn Media is releasing Agatha Raisin: Series One so that we can finally get to see Agatha and the idyllic village of Carsely in the English Cotswolds. Series one includes the 2014 pilot episode, Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death, as well as 8 additional episodes that were shown on UK TV in 2016. There are also some charming behind-the-scenes featurettes about Carsely, the casting and actors.

We meet Agatha in "The Quiche of Death" when she decides to finally chuck in her successful Public Relations job in London and move to a small town in the Cotswolds.  She had paid a firm of interior designers a fortune to make her home look "homey" so she's pleased with the results.  Now her next order of business is to go out and get involved in her new community.  When she hears there's an annual quiche competition coming up, she thinks that will be just the thing to allow her to get involved in village life.  Unfortunately, Agatha lives on microwave meals and has no idea how to bake a quiche, but that's what high-end London bakeries are for, no?  She shows up with her creation, certain of a win, especially after she invites Andy Cummings-Brown (who will be judging the competition) and his wife out for a pricey meal in the local upscale pub.  Therefore, Agatha is shocked when Ella Cartwright wins yet again.  To make matters worse, Agatha comes home and discovers her new cottage has been burgled.  She calls in local police DC Bill Wong and DCI Wilkes, but they don't seem too optimistic that the thieves can be tracked down.  But dark days weren't finished with Agatha, because the next night, Andy is found dead in his home.  He had been eating Agatha's leftover quiche when he collapsed and died.  The police quickly determined it was murder, and that he had been poisoned by deadly cowbane.  At the inquest, Agatha has to admit in open court that she didn't actually bake the quiche that she entered into the competition.  Poor Aggie!  And she endears herself even less to the locals of Carsely when she steals away the cleaner, Gemma Simpson, from her neighbor.  Cleaners are apparently hard to come by in the Cotswolds, so pinching someone else's is just not done!

But things are not all gloom and doom.  DC Bill Wong has a massive crush on Agatha, which means he's often stopping by with gifts, including a kitten and official police investigation notes.  Agatha begins her investigation into Andy's death to clear her name, but soon finds out that she has a talent for it.  Also, her friend Roy Silver is a frequent visitor from London, usually with his latest unsuitable boyfriend (or "boyf" as it's apparently called these days) in tow.  Even better, a hunky next-door-neighbor, James Lacey has taken up residence.

After managing to solve the quiche murder, Agatha is back for Episode One, the Walkers of Dembley.  In this episode we are introduced to Sir Charles Fraith, owner of a large estate, and boss to the gloomy butler Gustav.  When some local ramblers insist they have a right to walk through Sir Charles' fields, Gustav tries to convince them otherwise (using a gun).  Charles arrives on the scene and tells them they are welcome to walk on his land, just not on the crops.  This doesn't sit well with the outspoken leader of the group, Jess Tartick, who claims an ancient right of way goes right through
the fields.  A few days later, she is hit over the head and murdered while walking in these same fields.  Naturally, Charles is a suspect.  Sarah Bloxby, the vicar's wife, brings Deborah Camden to Agatha and they ask her to investigate the death.  Deborah has her heart set on marrying Charles, so she needs to clear his name (Charles may have other ideas about the marriage, though).  Further complicating Agatha's life, Roy Silver has been dumped by his long-term partner and is drowning his sorrows with wine, Pringles, and a naked yoga teacher -- in Agatha's house.  Even more annoying, James Lacey seems to have taken up with the insufferable Mary Fortune.  Although Jess and most of the ramblers were teachers, Agatha soon discovers a hot-bed of infidelity and scandal among the ramblers.

In Episode Two, Hell's Bells, Agatha again tries to fit in with the local community by getting involved in the local bell-ringer's society.  The bishop is coming for a visit soon, and the bell-ringers need all the practice they can get to be able to play something recognizable.  The head bell-ringer, Amanda Ballard, is spending an awful lot of time with the vicar, much to his wife Sarah's annoyance. When Amanda is found hanging in the church with an apparent suicide note nearby, the police are only too quick to accept the death at face value.  Agatha tries to get James to investigate the death with her, but when he refuses, she presses Gemma (her cleaner) and Roy into service as her assistants.  It turns out Amanda wasn't the wealthy widow she claimed to be, but did her death have something to do with Reverend Bloxby being investigated for irregularities in church finances?

Two sets of village residents are at each other's throats in Episode Three: The Wellspring of Death.  Robina Toynbee owns the land where an ancient spring sits.  She has agreed to allow a company called Ancombe Water to collect the water for sale.  The problem is that the village is small, and the heavy, loud and dangerous trucks thundering through the area are disrupting village life. The parish council is going to vote on whether or not to allow the trucks access to the spring.  The council is evenly divided, with Robert Struthers having the deciding vote.  Both sides are hoping to influence him, but he is found dead at the spring the morning of the meeting.  Due to the negative publicity surrounding Ancombe Water after the death, the company hires Agatha to manage the PR surrounding the product launch.  She's able to convince the head of the company, Guy Fremont, to work closely with her (personally and professionally).  James Lacey doesn't seem to be paying much attention to her domestic arrangements, much to  Agatha's annoyance, because he and Mary Fortune have decided to out-detect Agatha and investigate the murder themselves.  DCI Wilkes, meanwhile, has learned some new investigation techniques from watching "Morse" so there is no shortage of sleuths trying to trap the murderer.

Just because Agatha didn't win the quiche competition doesn't mean she's not willing to compete in other areas.  In Episode Four: The Potted Gardener, Agatha is getting her back yard ready for the upcoming Open Gardens Competition.  Just as well that she's going for something modern and zen, because nearly all the flowers and plants in her competitor's gardens are vandalized a few days before
the competition.  Could it have something to do with the noisy joyriders who have been terrorizing the villagers in the middle of the night?  When one of the gardeners is found "planted" upside down in her own garden, Agatha has many mysteries to solve:  the murder, the vandalism and the joyriding.  It seems like she's on to the killer when she finds out the dead woman's daughter might be in need of money, but could it be more complicated than that?

Carsely has a new handsome vet in Episode Five: The Vicious Vet.  It's a good thing there's nothing really wrong with Agatha's cat Hodge when she takes him in for a visit, because every other female in town is in the waiting room with a healthy pet in need of an urgent exam by the vet.  Paul Bladen, the vet, asks Agatha out to dinner.  She's flattered, but is somewhat taken aback when she calls his house and his "wife" answers.  When Paul makes excuses, she's ready to forgive him, but then he turns up dead at Lord Pendlebury's horse stables.  Paul was going to operate on a horse, when he somehow managed to inject the horse tranquilizer into his heart.  Once again, the police see no reason to investigate this tragic accident, but Agatha sets out to find out who might want the vet dead.  Since James (an ex-army man) has some shared colleagues with Pendlebury, he comes along to give Agatha an introduction and a chance to snoop around the estate.  Agatha and crew do manage to find an important clue, but James is distracted by the prospect of a date with Lord Pendlebury's daughter Cilly and the clue goes missing.  Things go from bad to worse when Agatha discovers that someone has "catnapped" Hodge and demands that she stop investigating if she ever wants to see the kitty again.

Although Sir Charles Fraith certainly doesn't need the money, he's started a lucrative sideline in renting out his estate for weddings in Episode Six: The Day the Floods Came.  Couples are lining up to hold ceremonies there until new bride Kylie Leeson is found floating the the river the day after her
wedding.  Even though business is suffering, Charles doesn't want Agatha to investigate.  This demand is easy to meet, since none of Kylie's friends are eager to speak to Agatha.  That is until she comes up with the idea of having Roy pose as the producer of a new reality program about the village youth that they are currently scouting talent for.  Agatha soon finds out that Kylie was having affairs and blackmailing people left and right, which certainly doesn't help to narrow down the list of suspects.

In the Witch of Wyckhadden, Episode Seven, Agatha makes a somewhat understandable error. She's booked into a spooky castle for a Spa Retreat, only it turns out that SPA stands for Special Paranormal Activity.  The reason she needs to get away for a while is that she's had an unfortunate
hair disaster, and needs to hide out until she can rectify the situation. One of the other guests at the hotel tells Agatha about Francie Juddle, the local witch, who, in addition to doing palm and Tarot readings also has a booming sideline in potions of all sorts.  Agatha visits Francie for a hair tonic and after returning to her room, becomes alarmed at the caustic nature of the product.  She storms back to Francie's caravan to demand a refund, only to find her dead.  When Roy, Gemma and James read about the murder in the newspaper, they all come to the castle to help Agatha find the murderer.  When there is another death during a seance in a locked room, it turns out the paranormal might be involved after all.

Episode Eight: The Murderous Marriage, finds Agatha about to go through with a wedding.  She's finally managed to snare James Lacey and has sold her cottage in preparation of moving in with him.  On the day of the wedding, as she and James are exchanging their vows, everyone is shocked when Agatha's husband, Jimmy Raisin, turns up and says she's already married.  It turns out Agatha had never bothered to get a divorce from Jimmy when he disappeared soon after their marriage many years earlier.  It seems Jimmy has been living rough, and he's only too happy to agree to a divorce -- but it will cost Agatha.  When she argues with him, they are spotted by a villager.  Jimmy is discovered strangled to death soon after that.  Agatha would seem to have the strongest motive for murder, so she is quickly arrested.  James also has a motive, so he soon joins Agatha in the cells.  After they are bailed, their investigations determine that Jimmy had been sent to rehab by a charity for the homeless run by a woman named Fiona Gore-Appleton.  When they try to track her down, they find she and the charity seem to be bogus.  But some new female villagers have
moved into Carsely lately, so could there be a connection?

I have been a big fan of the Agatha Raisin books, so I was thrilled to see all the characters come to life.  Ashley Jensen is a bit more glamorous than I had pictured Agatha, but her ability to get herself into embarrassing situations and her hopeless love life are completely in keeping with the Agatha we know and love.  A few other changes have been made from the books, such as Rev. and Mrs. Bloxby being a young couple, and the cleaner being a single mother, but other than that, the setting and other characters will be familiar to fans of the books.  I really liked the comedic touches, such as the hopelessly inept DCI Wickes.  We can only hope we haven't seen the last of Agatha and her friends on the small screen!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Agatha Raisin: Series One from Acorn Media in exchange for this review

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