Book Review: The Dead Ringer by M.C. Beaton

Books, books, everywhere….

I shamefully admit that the books in my “To Read” stack are piling up. But I did finish The Dead Ringer, the 29th installment in the Agatha Raisin series by M.C Beaton.

In The Dead Ringer, the Cotswold village of Thirk Magna, renowned for its medieval church of St. Ethelred, is all abuzz when the handsome (and he knows it) Reverend Peter Salver-Hinkley, bishop of Mircester, pays a visit. The church bell ringers (surprisingly a hotbed of drama in the community) plan a special program requiring feats of physical and mental agility, but some members of the group are less than enthusiastic about rolling out the red carpet. The bishop, it seems, is a man with secrets.

When bell ringer Julian Brody learns that the guest of honor uses his considerable good looks to charm vulnerable women, he hires Agatha to find the bishop’s missing fiancée. Agatha, always on the lookout for her one true love, is at first charmed and then repulsed when she realizes that the pleasure of the bishop’s company requires dinner at the lousy Greek restaurant he owns and a sizeable donation to his retirement home project.

After this disastrous date, the bodies start piling up and Agatha herself becomes a murder suspect when one victim is found in her parlor. With the help of the staff at her private detective agency, her ex-husband James, and her on again/off again friend-with-benefits Charles, Agatha tries to clear her name while wrestling with the ups and downs of love and loss.

I have been a fan of the Agatha Raisin series for years and, because this character is someone I would never invite to lunch for a chat, it has become one of my guilty pleasures. Rude, cranky, salty, and insecure, city girl Agatha is a duck in a bathtub (or is it the bull in the china shop?) among the Cotswold village folk. She alienates almost everyone (bless you, Mrs. Bloxby) as she tries to fit in with the locals. Yet when she is in physical and/or emotional peril, I find myself rooting for her to prevail.  She has a vulnerability that, in spite of her failings, makes her likeable.

The only quibble I have is the way the author hops between the inner thoughts of different people as they interact with Agatha. As a believer in keeping the point of view in one character throughout the book, I found it a bit unsettling at first. Yet as I read through the series, this in itself is not something that I would have the author change. Because she is so prickly and rude, knowing how the other characters see Agatha makes her more human.

Fast-paced and easy to read, The Dead Ringer is an enjoyable book, although it is not one of my favorites in the series. If you are new to the Agatha Raisin universe, I would suggest picking up the first in the series, The Quiche of Death.  By the 29th book, a little background can be helpful.

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