In M.C. Beaton’s “The Potted Gardener,” Agatha Raisin, former PR executive from London, has been away on a lonely trip around the world. She comes home to Carsely in the Cotswolds, to find that the man whose heart she sought has been paying attention to a new, much younger, gal in town. A stunning blonde named Mary Fortune. And Agatha is green with envy. She knows that she burned her bridges with James Lacey one drunken evening, but irrationally, plans to win him back.
She can’t compete with Mary’s long legs and perfect figure – Agatha is in her 50’s, a bit stocky and has gained too much weight while enjoying the foods of the world. She drinks too much, smokes all the time, cheats in competitions, and is wildly outspoken. But, she is also bright, and has helped solve two murder cases in the village. If she can remind James of her intellect and their former collaboration, undermine Mary Fortune’s influence, and lose a few pounds, then Agatha might have a chance. But it’s not going to be easy when she can’t stay on a diet, dessert on a menu is a must-have, and Mary keeps showing up looking like a model.
When she discovers that Mary is an avid gardener, Agatha plots and schemes to impress everyone with the best garden in the village – she buys a greenhouse and decries instant gardeners who get their plants from a nursery instead of growing them from seed. She makes one bad move after another, and tries to cover her mistakes with exaggerations of the truth and even some bald-faced lies.
Agatha’s internal thoughts are laugh-out-loud funny as she attempts to temper her actual words. She has a reputation of being abrasive, but is always able to justify her actions to herself, if nobody else. She can only pretend to be soft and sweet for so long, and then erupts in some outrageous way. A friend confides in her, because “You never judge or condemn,” and Agatha thinks, “…only in my head and only all the time.”
The case in “The Potted Gardener” is deliciously intertwined with Agatha’s sudden affinity for gardening. Gardens are getting destroyed right before a village wide garden festival, and evidence points to the wrong people. Agatha uses the case for her own benefit, and then a body pops up in a way I’ve never seen before. It’s a delightfully wicked murder choice, and Beaton delivers a clever ‘ah-ha’ scene to solve the case.
Beaton does a great job of revealing the sometimes difficult time that an older, single woman has when trying to be accepted in a new, tightly knit, village. Agatha craves acceptance and we see the misguided ways she tries to gain it. Beaton has also given Agatha a soft side; tears well up when people are kind. She becomes aware that while she was always busy in London, nobody really cared about her comings and goings.
There are recurring characters, some sweet, some nasty, some quirky, and all well developed, so that we understand why Agatha wants to be a part of the community. An engaging policeman works nicely as her conscience and the villains of the piece are as multi-dimensional as they would be in real life – we don’t always know who the bad guys are until they are pushed.
Although she is an “incomer,” Agatha Raisin’s loyalty to the people in Caresly has earned her a place in it. She is considered a character, rather than just an idiot with cats.
M.C. Beaton has just published the 25th book in her bestselling Agatha Raisin titles, “The Blood of an Englishman.” “The Potted Gardener” was the third in the series and the first I’ve read. Mrs. Beaton dislikes the term ‘cozy’ and much prefers to have her work labeled as English village mysteries. She has a presence on Twitter and Facebook, so be sure to visit her there.
Please visit www.mcbeaton.com to discover more about Mrs. Beaton, her Hamish MacBeth mysteries, as well as her other series.