A Quiche Before Dying
I read a lot
of mystery books. Most of them fall in the subgenre of 'cozy' mysteries. (As opposed to 'hard-boiled.') Since I don't know how many of you reading know what I'm talking about, I will explain. Cozy mysteries most often feature an amateur sleuth, usually but not always a woman, some kind of gimmick, and quite often some kind of punny or otherwise 'clever' title. Most of the time they're also written by a woman. Cozy mysteries don't generally include gore or graphic situations, and by and large would never, ever be described as 'gritty' or 'realistic'. They're pleasant, nice, fun, whatever. Anyway, I generally like cozies.
A Quiche Before Dying is the first book of MC Beaton's Agatha Raisin series, and as far as pure mysteries go, it's not the best. As far as cozies go, it's quite good.
It's hard to review mysteries - I can't say who the culprit is outright because that's the point of the book! On the pure mystery level, MC Beaton does not cheat; all the clues are in place to figure out the killer ahead of time. Not much of consequence is kept hidden, and nothing comes out of left field as a GOTCHA, SUCKERS!!
I have to say that for me, mysteries end up being more about the characters and their interactions and history than about the actual mystery itself. On that count, A Quiche Before Dying is certainly a good beginning.
Agatha Raisin is a London PR executive, feared or respected (or both!) by everyone she knows. She is a rather classic success story, having pulled herself up from nothing to her present success, but we find out quite early that she has done so at the expense of her personal life. She has no real friends, no connection to anything except business.
Of course, she doesn't realize this until she sells her PR firm in order to retire early to a cottage in the tiny village of Carsely in the Cotswolds: an area that she has romanticized as 'heaven' from a very young age.
Once she arrives, she finds herself an 'incomer' and very politely shut out of actual village life. Agatha, not one to rest on her laurels, notices a flyer for a quiche competition as part of a village fair, and decides that if she wins it, she'll definitely be accepted. Unfortunately, Agatha can't cook.
This doesn't stop her - she goes into the city and buys
a quiche to enter into the contest. She doesn't worry about the cheating at all... at least, not until the man who judged the quiche competition dies. (Poisoned, by cowbane in the spinach quiche instead of spinach.)
Other characters include one of Agatha's former subordinates from London, who she does not like but nevertheless clings to because he's familiar, a young police detective who seems to find Agatha extremely funny, Mrs. Bloxby the vicar's wife whose pure niceness brings everyone else up to her level, and later in the book, new neighbor James Lacey who is very handsome, very antisocial, and the subject of immediate infatuation.
For the best part of the book, the death is regarded as accidental, and the reader is allowed to focus on Agatha's trials in a small village and how very little she actually knows about dealing with people. This is a very, very good thing because the actual solution to the murder isn't creative at all - I remember figuring out who the murderer was in the first few chapters.