Agatha Raisin can’t resist men — or a good mystery. She’s attracted to them like a moth to a flame, or as she is to gin and tonic. In the newest M.C. Beaton mystery, aptly titled Hot to Trot (Minotaur), Agatha’s out to clear the name of her former lover, Sir Charles Fraith, who’s accused of murdering his young bride, Lady Mary Darling Fraith. Agatha, too, is a suspect, having had a very public row with Mary before crashing their nuptials. And also at Mary’s post-wedding costume ball, when Mary shoves Agatha into a glass tower of champagne mere moments before her death.
From the moment Sir Charles announced his engagement, Agatha suspected that Mary was trouble. From Charles’s perspective, it was a marriage of convenience designed to extricate him from mountains of debt, while Mary schemed to turn Barfield House, Charles ancestral home, into a spa/resort. Mary intended to jack up the tenants’ rents and wrestle control of the estate away from Charles. While Agatha can’t prevent the nuptials, she can help Charles escape from Mary’s clutches before she drives him crazy. Now, as a prime suspect in the murder, can Agatha find the killer before she and Charles are hauled away to jail?
Meanwhile, travel writer James Lacey, Agatha’s dedicated ex-husband and next door neighbor, continues to pine for Agatha. He believes there may be more to her professional relationship with Charles, but steadfastly hopes that she will return to his loving arms, eventually.
WHO IS BEHIND MARY’S MURDER?
In Hot to Trot, Agatha trades the adorable Wizz-Wazz the Donkey of her last outing for the horsey set. Mary was a championship equestrian, leading Agatha and her loyal crew to investigate the world of horse shows. Roy Silver, her flamboyant sidekick, returns and he’s game for any adventure that Agatha’s throws his way so long as he’s in the investigation’s limelight. This time, it’s riding lessons at a suspect’s stable. And long-suffering Girl Friday, Toni Gilmour, also joins in the hunt for the killer. They discover that Mary had a bad reputation in the horsey circle. She’s tried to poison her competitor’s animals, physically attacked them and insulted almost everyone in her path. The murder suspects multiply like flies around a horse’s tail.
Agatha’s investigation takes her to Bordeaux to an international fancy riding competition, where she encounters other mean-spirited pony-girls, who don’t appreciate her investigating one of their own, or their own personal lives. And of course, along the way she meets a handsome, seductive Frenchman, who’s a winemaker and master of a magnificent chateau.
The clues to the murder’s identity are hidden like needles in the haystack, but as usual, Agatha is smarter than the killer. The hurdles Agatha clears will keep the reader enthralled as she negotiates the obstacles to a smooth landing.
WHY WE LOVE HOT TO TROT
Hot to Trot is a frothy confection of an investigation where we discover a matured Agatha. Sadly, Agatha doesn’t seem to have the same joie de vivre. Rather than resisting middle age, she embraces it. Her countless love affairs, including Charles, haven’t brought her the happiness she’s sought. She wonders whether fulfillment can be found in her own backyard, or that of her handsome, loyal neighbor James. She also doesn’t seem to be downing as much gin and tonic as in the past, so her sobriety may have contributed to her reevaluation of life’s meaning.
Or it could be attributable to the new series co-author. The introduction of Hot to Trot informs us that R.W. Green, the co-author, was an old friend of Marion Chensey, a.k.a. M.C. Beaton, who passed away last year. In Marion’s declining health, she indoctrinated him into the characters and all things Carsely-in-the-Coswolds that she’d stored in her head. After outlining the plot for him, Marion sent him away to write a sample chapter, where he attempted to “stay true to the characters and the way of life, death and murder played out in Carsely.” Afterward, Marion approved him to continue Agatha’s legacy.
However, Hot to Trot is the thirty-first installment of the series, and we’ve come to know Agatha for her splashy wardrobe, uncensored vocabulary, her Energizer Bunny passion for crime-solving, and as Beaton states, for being “a detective that the reader might not like but nonetheless would want to win in the end.” Agatha’s wackiness may be missing from Hot to Trot, but dedicated fans will gobble up this new adventure, and should give Green a chance to get his footing in Agatha’s lunatic world. I have.