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The first book in M. C. Beaton’s New York Times bestselling Agatha Raisin series–now a hit show on Acorn TV and public television.
Putting all her eggs in one basket, Agatha Raisin gives up her successful PR firm, sells her London flat, and settles in for an early retirement in the quiet village of Carsely. But she soon finds her life of leisure isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Bored, lonely, and used to getting her way, she enters a local baking contest: Surely a blue ribbon for the best quiche will make her the toast of the town. But her recipe for social advancement sours when the judge, Mr. Cummings-Browne, not only snubs her entry but also falls over dead! After her quiche’s secret ingredient turns out to be poison, she must reveal the unsavory truth. . . .
That is, Agatha has never baked a thing in her life! In fact, she bought her entry ready-made from an upper-crust London quicherie. Grating on the nerves of several Carsely residents, she is soon receiving sinister notes. Has her cheating and meddling landed her in hot water, or are the threats related to the suspicious death? It may mean the difference between egg on her face and a coroner’s tag on her toe. . . .
The Quiche of Death, the first book in this beloved series, is now a Minotaur Signature Edition, complete with a discussion guide and essay by the author.
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Outstanding Praise for M. C. Beaton’s Mysteries
The Quiche of Death
“In ‘Agatha,’ Beaton has blended perfectly the classic ingredients of a village with secrets and stock characters. The irascible but endearing personality of Agatha Raisin is like a heady dash of curry. May we have another serving, please.”
—Detroit Free Press
“A hilarious up-to-the-minute murder romp that’s as delicious as a Christmas pudding.”
—St. Petersburg Times
“Beaton’s playful depiction of village life makes it all a delicious romp.”
“The strong narrative drive comes from Agatha’s changing personality as awkward and perilous situations shape her into a softer, more admirable person.”
“Beaton has thus launched a new series featuring an eccentric sleuth with human foibles galore, combined with an indomitable spirit, who will long persevere and endear herself to the village (and the reader).”
—San Antonio Express-News
“Beaton, always deft with imperfect human beings, guides Agatha through her travails until she becomes almost likeable. You will want to see her again.”
The Deadly Dance
“It’s been 40 years since Dame Agatha Christie’s death, and in that time, reviewers have often bestowed her mantle on new authors. M. C. Beaton is one of those so honored, and she deserves it. When it comes to artfully constructed puzzle plots and charming settings, Beaton serves it up…This is a classic British cozy plot, and a setting done with panache. Maybe M. C. Beaton really is the new ‘Queen of Crime.’”
—The Globe & Mail
“It is always fun to read an Agatha Raisin mystery, but the latest installment freshens up a delightful series by converting the heroine from amateur sleuth to professional without changing her caustic wit. Agatha remains crude and rude even to clients, but also retains that vulnerability that endears her to readers.”
—The Midwest Book Review
“A very satisfying change for the smart woman of mystery with a new cast of colorfully realized characters blending with a few old favorites.”
—Mystery Lovers Bookshop
“The story was first-rate and moved along with many twists and turns that kept me always guessing…I read this book in one sitting, which I think speaks for itself.”
—I Love a Mystery
“Fans of Agatha Raisin will be absolutely delighted at this latest addition to the series. Ms. Beaton has surpassed herself in The Deadly Dance.”
—Reviewing the Evidence
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For Patrick Heininger and his wife, Caroline, and son,
Benjamin of Bourton-on-the-Water, with love.
Mrs. Agatha Raisin sat behind her newly cleared desk in her office in South Molton Street in London’s Mayfair. From the outer office came the hum of voices and the clink of glasses as the staff prepared to say farewell to her.
For Agatha was taking early retirement. She had built up the public-relations firm over long hard years of work. She had come a long way from her working-class background in Birmingham. She had survived an unfortunate marriage and had come out of it, divorced and battered in spirit, but determined to succeed in life. All her business efforts were to one end, the realization of a dream—a cottage in the Cotswolds.
The Cotswolds in the Midlands are surely one of the few man-made beauties in the world: quaint villages of golden stone houses, pretty gardens, winding green lanes and ancient churches. Agatha had been taken to the Cotswolds as a child for one brief magical holiday. Her parents had hated it and had said that they should have gone to Butlin’s Holiday Camp as usual, but to Agatha the Cotswolds represented everything she wanted in life: beauty, tranquillity and security. So even as a child, she had become determined that one day she would live in one of those pretty cottages in a quiet peaceful village, far from the noise and smells of the city.
During all her time in London, she had, until just recently, never gone back to the Cotswolds, preferring to keep the dream intact. Now she had purchased that dream cottage in the village of Carsely. It was a pity, thought Agatha, that the village was called plain Carsely and not Chipping Campden or Aston Magna or Lower Slaughter or one of those intriguing Cotswold names, but the cottage was perfect and the village not on the tourist route, which meant freedom from craft shops, tea-rooms and daily bus parties.
Agatha was aged fifty-three, with plain brown hair and a plain square face and a stocky figure. Her accent was as Mayfair as could be except in moments of distress or excitement, when the old nasal Birmingham voice of her youth crept through. It helps in public relations to have a certain amount of charm and Agatha had none. She got results by being a sort of one-woman soft-cop/hard-cop combination; alternately bullying and wheedling on behalf of her clients. Journalists often gave space to her clients just to get rid of her. She was also an expert at emotional blackmail and anyone unwise enough to accept a present or a free lunch from Agatha was pursued shamelessly until they paid back in kind.
She was popular with her staff because they were a rather weak, frivolous lot, the kind of people who build up legends about anyone of whom they are frightened. Agatha was described as “a real character,” and like all real characters who speak their mind, she did not have any real friends. Her work had been her social life as well.
As she rose to go through and join the party, a small cloud crossed the horizon of Agatha’s usually uncomplicated mind. Before her lay days of nothing: no work from morning till night, no bustle or noise. How would she cope?
She shrugged the thought away and crossed the Rubicon into the outer office to say her farewells.
“Here she comes!” screeched Roy, one of her assistants. “Made some special champagne punch, Aggie. Real knicker-rotter.”
Agatha accepted a glass of punch. Her secretary, Lulu, approached and handed her a gift-wrapped parcel and then the others crowded around with their offerings. Agatha felt a lump rising in her throat. A little insistent voice was chattering in her head, “What have you done? What have you done?” There was a bottle of scent from Lulu and, predictably, a pair of crotchless panties from Roy; there was a book on gardening from one, a vase from another, and so it went on. “Speech!” cried Roy.
“Thank you all,” said Agatha gruffly. “I’m not going to China, you know. You’ll all be able to come and see me. Your new bosses, Pedmans, have promised not to change anything, so I suppose life will go on for all of you much the same. Thank you for my presents. I will treasure them, except for yours, Roy. I doubt if at my age I’ll find any use for them.”
“You never know your luck,” said Roy. “Some horny farmer’ll probably be chasing you through the shrubbery.”
Agatha drank more punch and ate smoked-salmon sandwiches and then, with her presents packed by Lulu into two carrier bags, she made her way down the stairs of Raisin Promotions for the last time.
In Bond Street, she elbowed a thin, nervous business man aside who had just flagged down a cab, said unrepentantly, “I saw it first,” and ordered the driver to take her to Paddington Station.
She caught the 15:20 train to Oxford and sank back into the corner seat of a first-class carriage. Everything was ready and waiting for her in the Cotswolds. An interior decorator had “done over” the cottage, her car was waiting for her at Moreton-in-Marsh station for the short drive to Carsely, a removal firm had taken all her belongings from her London flat, now sold. She was free. She could relax. No temperamental pop stars to handle, no prima-donnaish couture firms to launch. All she had to do from now on was to please herself.
Agatha drifted off to sleep and awoke with a start at the guard’s cry of “Oxford. This is Oxford. The train terminates here.”
Not for the first time, Agatha wondered about British Rail’s use of the word “terminate.” One expected the train to blow apart. Why not just say “stops here?” She looked up at the screen; like a dingy television set, which hung over Platform 2. It informed her that the train to Charlbury, Kingham, Moreton-in-Marsh and all further points to Hereford was on Platform 3, and lugging her carrier bags, she walked over the bridge. The day was cold and grey. The euphoria produced by freedom from work and Roy’s punch was slowly beginning to evaporate.
The train moved slowly out of the station. Glimpses of barges on one side and straggly allotments on the other and then flat fields flooded from the recent rain lay gloomily in front of her increasingly jaundiced view.
This is ridiculous, thought Agatha. I’ve got what I always wanted. I’m tired, that’s all.
The train stopped somewhere outside Charlbury, gliding to a stop and sitting there placidly in the inexplicable way that British Rail trains often do. The passengers sat stoically, listening to the rising wind whining over the bleak fields. Why are we like sheep that have gone astray? wondered Agatha. Why are the British so cowed and placid? Why does no one shout for the guard and demand to know the reason? Other, more voluble, races would not stand for it. She debated whether to go and see the guard herself. Then she remembered she was no longer in a hurry to get anywhere. She took out a copy of the Evening Standard, which she had bought at the station, and settled down to read it.
After twenty minutes the train creaked slowly into life. Another twenty minutes after Charlbury and it slid into the little station of Moreton-in-Marsh. Agatha climbed out. Her car was still where she had left it. During the last few minutes of the journey she had begun to worry that it might have been stolen.
It was market day in Moreton-in-Marsh and Agatha’s spirits began to revive as she drove slowly past stalls selling everything from fish to underwear. Tuesday. Market day was Tuesday. She must remember that. Her new Saab purred out of Moreton and then up through Bourton-on-the-Hill. Nearly home. Home! Home at last.
She turned off the A-44 and then began the slow descent to the village of Carsely, which nestled in a fold of the Cotswold Hills.
It was a very pretty village, even by Cotswold standards. There were two long lines of houses interspersed with shops, some low and thatched, some warm gold brick with slate roofs. There was a pub called the Red Lion at one end and a church at the other. A few straggling streets ran off this one main road where cottages leaned together as if for support in their old age. The gardens were bright with cherry blossom, forsythia and daffodils. There was an old-fashioned haberdasher’s, a post office and general store, and a butcher’s, and a shop that seemed to sell nothing other than dried flowers and to be hardly ever open. Outside the village and tucked away from view by a rise was a council estate and between the council estate and the village proper was the police station, an elementary school, and a library.
Agatha’s cottage stood alone at the end of one of the straggling side streets. It looked like a cottage in one of the calendars she used to treasure as a girl. It was low and thatched, new thatch, Norfolk reed, and with casement windows and built of the golden Cotswold stone. There was a small garden at the front and a long narrow one at the back. Unlike practically everyone else in the Cotswolds, the previous owner had not been a gardener. There was little else but grass and depressing bushes of the hard-wearing kind found in public parks.
Inside there was a small dark cubby-hole of a hall. To the right was the living-room; to the left, the dining-room, and the kitchen at the back was part of a recent extension and was large and square. Upstairs were two low-ceilinged bedrooms and a bathroom. All the ceilings were beamed.
Agatha had given the interior decorator a free hand. It was all as it should be and yet…Agatha paused at the door of the living-room. Three-piece suite covered in Sanderson’s linen, lamps, coffee-table with glass top, fake medieval fire-basket in the hearth, horse brasses nailed to the fireplace, pewter tankards and toby jugs hanging from the beams and bits of polished farm machinery decorating the walls, and yet it looked like a stage set. She went into the kitchen and switched on the central heating. The super-duper removal company had even put her clothes in the bedroom and her books on the shelves, so there was not much for her to do. She went through to the dining-room. Long table, shining under its heat-resistant surface, Victorian dining chairs, Edwardian painting of a small child in a frock in a bright garden, Welsh dresser with blue-and-white plates, another fireplace with a fake-log electric fire, and a drinks trolley. Upstairs, the bedrooms were pure Laura Ashley. It felt like someone else’s house, the home of some characterless stranger, or an expensive holiday cottage.
Well, she had nothing for dinner and after a life of restaurants and take-aways, Agatha had planned to learn how to cook, and there were all her new cookery books in a gleaming row on a shelf in the kitchen.
She collected her handbag and made her way out. Time to investigate what few village shops there were. Many of the shops, the real estate agent had told her, had closed down and had been transformed into “des rezzes,” or desirable residences. The villagers blamed the incomers, but it was the motor car which had caused the damage, the villagers themselves preferring to go to the supermarkets of Stratford or Evesham for their goods rather than buy them at a higher price in the village. Most people in the village owned some sort of car.
As Agatha approached the main street, an old man was coming the other way. He touched his cap and gave her a cheerful “arternoon.” Then in the main street, everyone she passed greeted her with a few words, a casual “afternoon” or “nasty weather.” Agatha brightened. After London, where she had not even known her neighbours, all this friendliness was a refreshing change.
She studied the butcher’s window and then decided that cookery could wait for a few days and so passed on to the general store and bought a “very hot” Vindaloo curry to microwave and a can of rice. Again, in the store, she was met with friendliness all round. At the door of the shop was a box of second-hand books. Agatha had always read “improving” books, mostly non-fiction. There was a battered copy of Gone With the Wind and she bought it on impulse.
Back in her cottage, she found a basket of pseudologs by the fire, little round things made out of pressed sawdust. She piled some up in the grate and set fire to them and soon had a blaze roaring up the chimney. She removed the lace antimacassar which the decorator had cutely draped over the television screen and switched it on. There was some war going on, as there usually was, and it was getting the usual coverage; that is, the anchorman and the reporter were having a cosy talk. “Over to you, John. What is the situation now? Well, Peter…” By the time they moved on to the inevitable “expert” in the studio, Agatha wondered why they bothered to send any reporter out to the war at all. It was like the Gulf War all over again, where most of the coverage seemed to consist of a reporter standing in front of a palm tree outside some hotel in Riyadh. What a waste of money. He never had much information and it would surely have been cheaper to place him in front of a palm tree in a studio in London.
She switched it off and picked up Gone With the Wind. She had been looking forward to a piece of intellectual slumming to celebrate her release from work, but she was amazed at how very good it was, almost indecently readable, thought Agatha, who had only read before the sort of books you read to impress people. The fire crackled and Agatha read until her rumbling stomach prompted her to put the curry in the microwave. Life was good.
But a week passed, a week in which Agatha, in her usual headlong style, had set out to see the sights. She had been to Warwick Castle, Shakespeare’s birthplace, Blenheim Palace, and had toured through the villages of the Cotswolds while the wind blew and the rain fell steadily from grey skies, returning every evening to her silent cottage with only a new-found discovery of Agatha Christie to help her through the evenings. She had tried visiting the pub, the Red Lion, a jolly low-raftered chintzy sort of place with a cheerful landlord. And the locals had talked to her as they always did with a peculiar sort of open friendliness that never went any further. Agatha could have coped with a suspicious animosity but not this cheerful welcome which somehow still held her at bay. Not that Agatha had ever known how to make friends, but there was something about the villagers, she discovered, which repelled incomers. They did not reject them. On the surface they welcomed them. But Agatha knew that her presence made not a ripple on the calm pond of village life. No one asked her to tea. No one showed any curiosity about her whatsoever. The vicar did not even call. In an Agatha Christie book the vicar would have called, not to mention some retired colonel and his wife. All conversation seemed limited to “Mawnin’,” “Afternoon,” or talk about the weather.
For the first time in her life, she knew loneliness, and it frightened her.
From the kitchen windows at the back of the house was a view of the Cotswold Hills, rising up to block out the world of bustle and commerce, trapping Agatha like some baffled alien creature under the thatch of her cottage, cut off from life. The little voice that had cried, “What have I done?” became a roar.
And then she suddenly laughed. London was only an hour and a half away on the train, not thousands of miles. She would take herself up the following day, see her former staff, have lunch at the Caprice, and then perhaps raid the bookshops for some more readable material. She had missed market day in Moreton, but there was always another week.
As if to share her mood, the sun shone down on a perfect spring day. The cherry tree at the end of her back garden, the one concession to beauty that the previous owner had seen fit to make, raised heavy branches of flowers to a clear blue sky as Agatha had her usual breakfast of one cup of black coffee, instant, and two filter-tipped cigarettes.
With a feeling of holiday, she drove up the winding hill that led out of the village and then down through Bourton-on-the-Hill to Moreton-in-Marsh.
She arrived in London’s Paddington Station and drew in great lungfuls of polluted air and felt herself come alive again. In the taxi to South Molton Street she realized she did not really have any amusing stories with which to regale her former staff. “Our Aggie will be queen of that village in no time at all,” Roy had said. How could she explain that the formidable Agatha Raisin did not really exist as far as Carsely was concerned?
She got out of the taxi in Oxford Street and walked down South Molton Street, wondering what it would be like to see “Pedmans” written up where her own name used to be.
Agatha stopped at the foot of the stairs which led up to her former office over the Paris dress shop. There was no sign at all, only a clean square on the paintwork where “Raisin Promotions” had once been.
She walked up the stairs. All was silent as the grave. She tried the door. It was locked. Baffled, she retreated to the street and looked up. And there across one of the windows was a large board with FOR SALE in huge red letters and the name of a prestigious estate agent.
Her face grim, she took a cab over to the City, to Cheapside, to the headquarters of Pedmans, and demanded to see Mr. Wilson, the managing director. A bored receptionist with quite the longest nails Agatha had ever seen languidly picked up the phone and spoke into it. “Mr. Wilson is busy,” she enunciated, picked up the woman’s magazine she had been reading when Agatha had arrived and studied her horoscope.
Agatha plucked the magazine from the receptionist’s hands. She leaned over the desk. “Move your scrawny butt and tell that shyster he’s seeing me.”
- On Sale
- Sep 4, 2018
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Hachette Book Group