A cozy mystery that feels more like a marriage plot

The Blood of an Englishman
Agatha Raisin #25
by M.C. Beaton

“Fee, fie, fo, fum. I smell the blood of an Englishman…” At loathsome local pantomime, Agatha Raisin hears an ogre, baker Bert Simple scream, die on a stake between his legs in stage trapdoor. Agatha’s agency finds baker’s wife, gorgeous Gwen, was beaten and has affairs, no grieving widow. Case is solved with old pals – Sir Charles, James Lacey, cop Bill Wong.
-via Goodreads
I listened to the first Agatha Raisin mystery – Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death(1992) – while away at a weeklong training about trauma. Each night I would return to my room and listen to a charming British woman recount the tale of Agatha Raisins moving to an English village and trying to fit in, all while dealing with a poisoned quiche. It was surprisingly soothing to lie on my bed and have a story told me.
When I borrowed The Blood of an Englishman I didn’t realize it was the 25th book in the Agatha Raisin series. Despite the same author, I assumed it was a stand-alone novel. A lot has changed in twenty-three years and twenty-five books.
Instead of pursuing an inquiry into a murder to clear her own name, as in the first installment, Agatha is now a proper private detective with an agency and employees. Agatha lives in fictional Carsely in the Cotswolds. The locale was not as prevalent in The Blood of an Englishman as in the first book, I supposed because she’s now lived there for some time. And instead of trying to fit in and make friends, Agatha is preoccupied with marriage.
Agatha was in her fifties in the first book. Despite the time lapse in actual writing years, I don’t get the impression that she is that much older, certainly not in her seventies. There is a reference to her ex-husband James so I missed that. Agatha as an on and off relationship with Charles Fraith and looks at men with an appraising eye, even as she works the case.
She is by no means perfect. She is jealous of her attractive employee, Toni. She frets and worries when she prepares for a date. She is quick to lie to serve her own purposes, like a day at the spa to ready for a date. I’m fine with a flawed protagonist – they’re typically more interesting. But Agatha seems to want a husband more than she wants to solve crimes and for having a detective agency that seems strange.
I’m not inclined to address the mystery that much. A man dies during a local theatre show. The primary suspect hires Agatha’s firm to prove his innocence. Agatha almost dies – twice. Sweeney Todd plays a part in this. The mystery could have been interesting in its own right but all the time spent on Agatha’s love life – or lack thereof – was dissatisfying.
Maybe it’s because I’ve missed so much of the series but I couldn’t connect with Agatha. I love cozy mysteries and know a good slow-burning romance is an excellent subplot. Agatha’s desperation for a husband seemed to overshadow the mystery.
At least the marriage plot did have a hand in Agatha pointing the finger at the correct culprit of the murder. She is wooed by a farmer whose son doesn’t want his father remarrying and ruins their relationship at every turn. The son actually locks her up in an attempt to convince his father that she broke of their engagement and left him. His actions inspire Agatha’s imagination to realize who should be watched and eventually arrested for murdering the baker/actor. So the subplot served its purpose.
But this was one of many times Agatha circled around a man. She has changed since Quiche and I couldn’t stay with her. I’ll keep my fond memories of the audiobook that helped me relax after emotionally draining days. I’m even glad to hear the BBC is making a TV movie of the first book. But I think I’m done with this particular series.

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