Book Reviews

Crime Fiction Round Up: From MC Beaton to Val McDermid

I’m grouping three novels into one post in an effort to clear some of my backlog of reviews. Two of them can best be described as ‘cosy crime’ while I suppose the third, the Val McDermid, is more of a police procedural.

Agatha Raisin and The Vicious Vet by M C Beaton

This is book number 2 in Beaton’s series that features the amateur sleuthing activities of the retired Public Relations supremo Agatha Raisin. Having retired from her hectic and thrilling hectic London life, life in the pretty Cotswold village of Carsley seems rather tame. She’s especially down in the dumps because she’d gone on holiday to the Caribbean believing that’s where’d find her attractive neighbour James Lacey only to discover, too late, that he’d gone elsewhere.

The village’s new vet Paul Bladen could be just the thing to life her spirits. There are plenty of other women with their eyes on the handsome newcomer but it’s Agatha he invites for dinner. Unfortunately for her, the romance never has time to get off the ground because the vet gets killed while treating a horse.

Agatha isn’t as convinced as everyone else that his demise was an accident. It’s down to her (or so she thinks) to discover the truth with James as a willing accomplice. Off she charges headlong into her investigation, without thought as to the consequences for her own safety.

Just as in The Quiche of Death, Agatha comes up trumps but not before she has made rather a fool of herself and possibly dashed all prospects of a romantic relationship with James.

Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener by M.C. Beaton

Book three in the series sees Agatha in jealous mode. Still hoping to win the affections of James Lacey, she is aghast to discover he’s become very cosy with new resident Mary Fortune. Whenever Agatha pays a visit to the local pub it’s to find Mary and James deep in conversation about their shared interest in gardening.

Now while Agatha knew everything there was to know about PR, she doesn’t have a clue about plants. Undeterred, she comes up with a ludicrous scheme to carry off a few trophies in the annual garden competition. Of course it all goes wrong.

It’s not just Mary’s gardening prowess that has Agatha’s hackles rising: Mary’s slim figure makes Agatha acutely aware of her own rounded physique. The woman appears the model of perfection in every sense; wealthy, owner of a beautiful house, a good baker and apparently very kind to other villagers. Almost the opposite of Agatha in fact.

But when Mary’s body is discovered in undignified circumstances, Agatha seizes the opportunity to begin asking questions. What she discovers shines a completely different light on Mary’s character.

The plots in both these novels are preposterous but they’re there merely as a device to reveal Agatha’s character. It’s this woman who makes the novels so much fun to read.

She’s a hopeless cook (mainly existing on ready made dishes heated up in the microwave); gets irritable very easily; is very gullible; constantly worries about her weight and goes all gooey when an attractive man shows her any interest. She so desperately wants to be seen as queen bee that she often makes the wrong decisions. And where men are concerned, she gets it badly wrong.

But we forgive her because she’s also fearless and bold, determined to fight injustices and expose wrong doers.

These are perfect little novels to read when you need to give your brain a rest from weightier challenges.

Still Life by Val McDermid

Val McDermid is one of the biggest names in crime fiction with about 40 novels and umpteen short story collections under her belt. I’d not read any of them until I saw Still Life in a featured display on Scottish fiction in my local library.

I think I was expecting more from an author often called the queen of crime. Still Life was flawlessly constructed and the police procedural elements had clearly been well researched but I didn’t find it very engaging.

The novel features two parallel police investigations. One is initiated following the discovery of a man’s body in the Firth of Forth. Detective Chief Inspector Karen Piere follows a trail that connects the body to a historic missing person’s case, fake identities, and art forgery. A separate investigation begins with a skeleton found inside a camper van in the garage of a house.

Still Life is book number six in a series that has Karen Pirie as the lead investigator. It was probably a mistake to begin with the final book because I didn’t have the benefit of seeing how the character was developed through each book in the series. I might have warmed to Karen Pirie rather more if I’d understood her backstory which includes the trauma of her partner’s murder. As it was I found the character irritating and the novel lacking in tension.

It hasn’t put me off reading any more of McDermid’s novels so if anyone reading this has a recommendation do let me know by leaving a comment.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

9 thoughts on “Crime Fiction Round Up: From MC Beaton to Val McDermid

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    • It’s nothing more than good fun, a distraction when you need to let the brain unwind for a bit

  • I’ve stayed away from Agatha Raisin, I think I’d rather turn to a Golden Age classic if I need a rest.

    Val McDermid is on my radar and I thought she was better than what you describe. I’ll have to find out.

  • I pick up crime (audiobook) novels pretty much at random from the library. But I avoid Agatha Raisin I’m afraid, not my cup of tea – in fact I’ll skip most books that feature an English village. I’ve read and vaguely recall Val McDermid. Prefer Ian Rankin.

  • I’ve been enjoying the Karen Pirie series on the whole, though I haven’t read Still Life yet. But I agree they’re pretty standard fare on the whole, and McDermid has become terribly sycophantic towards the Scottish govt in these novels (being a personal friend of Nicola Sturgeon) which is not a thing I feel authors should ever be, whoever is in power. I’d say her most outstanding books were the early Tony Hill novels, but serial killer novels have long lost their appeal for me and they were pretty gruesome, so I stopped reading that series several books ago.

  • Great reviews! I too found Val McDermid lacking (and I’ve read several of her books) but this may have been due to the fact that I had been reading Stuart MacBride (another Scottish author) and his Logan McRae series which is tense, dark and gritty.

    • That series sounds more promising. If I’m going to read crime I want it to have a really strong setting and that was another feature missing for me from McDermid


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