Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate (Agatha Raisin Series #13)by M. C. Beaton
Wretched after being dumped by her husband, bored with pottering about Carsely, and wishing every man would sod off, including her neighbor John Armitage, Agatha Raisin is unmoved by news of the captivating new curate. But when she meets the golden-haired, blue-eyed Tristan Delon, she is swept off her feet...along with nearly every other female in the village.
Wretched after being dumped by her husband, bored with pottering about Carsely, and wishing every man would sod off, including her neighbor John Armitage, Agatha Raisin is unmoved by news of the captivating new curate. But when she meets the golden-haired, blue-eyed Tristan Delon, she is swept off her feet...along with nearly every other female in the village. Wrapped in brightly coloured dreams of the curate (never mind that he's a tad odd), Agatha is as ecstatic as a girl when he invites her to dine. But his cold body is found the next day, and Carsely is whisked from time-warp monotony to a hotbed of murder and intrigue-and a clear-headed Agatha Raisin is back on track, this time with John. As the corpses multiply, ever-obstinate Agatha trails clues from Lilac Lane to London, unmindful that someone wicked is arranging that Mrs. Raisin's cats never again hear their mistress' footfall on the path...
Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate is the thirteenth book in this bestselling series by veteran mystery author M.C. Beaton.
“Anyone interested in a few hours' worth of intelligent, amusing reading will want to make the acquaintance of Mrs. Agatha Raisin.” Atlanta Journal Constitution
“The Miss Marple-like Raisin is refreshingly sensible and wonderfully eccentric.” Buffalo News
“Beaton's Agatha Raisin series...just about defines the British cozy.” Booklist
“Beaton has a winner in the irrepressible, romance-hungry Agatha.” Chicago Sun-Times
“[Agatha] is a glorious cross between Miss Marple, Auntie Mame, and Lucille Ball, with a tad of pit bull tossed in. She's wonderful.” St. Petersburg Times
“The Raisin series brings the cozy tradition back to life. God bless the Queen!” Tulsa World
“[Beaton's] imperfect heroine is an absolute gem!” Publishers Weekly
Read an Excerpt
Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate
By M. C. Beaton
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2003 M. C. Beaton
All rights reserved.
AGATHA Raisin was beginning to feel that nothing would ever interest her again. She had written to a monastery in France, to her ex-husband, James Lacey, who, she believed, was taking holy orders, only to receive a letter a month later saying that they had not heard from Mr. Lacey. Yes, he had left and promised to return, but they had heard or seen nothing of him.
So, she thought miserably, James had simply been sick of her and had wanted a divorce and had used the monastery as a way to get out of the marriage. She swore she would never be interested in a man again, and that included her neighbour, John Armitage. He had propositioned her and had been turned down. Agatha had been hurt because he had professed no admiration or love for her. They talked from time to time when they met in the village, but Agatha refused all invitations to dinner and so he had finally given up asking her.
So the news that the vicar, Alf Bloxby, was to get a curate buzzed around the village, but left Agatha unmoved. She went regularly to church because of her friendship with the vicar's wife, regarding it more as a duty that anything to do with spiritual uplift. Also because of her friendship with Mrs. Bloxby, she felt compelled to attend the Carsely Ladies' Society where the village women discussed their latest fund-raising projects.
It was a warm August evening when Agatha trotted wearily along to the vicarage. She looked a changed Agatha. No make-up, sensible flat sandals and a loose cotton dress.
Miss Simms, the secretary, read the minutes of the last meeting. They were all out in the vicarage garden. Agatha barely listened, watching instead how Miss Simms's stiletto heels sank lower and lower into the grass.
Mrs. Bloxby had recently been elected chairwoman. Definitely the title of chairwoman. No chairpersons in Carsely. After tea and cakes had been passed round, she addressed the group. "As you know, ladies, our new curate will be arriving next week. His name is Tristan Delon and I am sure we all want to give him a warm welcome. We shall have a reception here on the following Wednesday. Everyone in the village of Carsely has been invited."
"Won't that be rather a crush?" asked Miss Jellop, a thin, middle-aged lady with a lisping voice and large protruding eyes. Agatha thought unkindly that she looked like a rabbit with myxomatosis.
"I don't think there will be all that much interest," said Mrs. Bloxby ruefully. "I am afraid church attendances are not very high these days."
Agatha thought cynically that the lure of free food and drinks would bring them in hordes. She wondered whether to say anything, and then a great weariness assailed her. It didn't matter. She herself would not be going. She had recently returned from London, where she had taken on a free-lance public relations job for the launch of a new soap called Mystic Health, supposed to be made from Chinese herbs. Agatha had balked at the name, saying that people didn't want healthy soap, they wanted pampering soap, but the makers were adamant. She was about to go back to London for the launch party and intended to stay for a week and do some shopping.
At the end of the following week, Agatha made her way to Paddington Station, wondering, as she had wondered before, why London did not hold any magic for her anymore. It seemed dusty and dingy, noisy and threatening. She had not particularly enjoyed the launch of the new soap, feeling she was moving in a world to which she no longer belonged. But what was waiting for her in her home village of Carsely? Nothing. Nothing but domestic chores, the ladies' society, and pottering about the village.
But when she collected her car at Moreton-in-Marsh Station and began the short drive home, she felt a lightening of her spirits. She would call on Mrs. Bloxby and sit in the cool green of the vicarage garden and feel soothed.
Mrs. Bloxby was pleased to see her. "Come in, Mrs. Raisin," she said. Although she and Agatha had been friends for some time, they still used the formal "Mrs." when addressing each other, a tradition of the ladies' society, which fought a rearguard action against modern times and modern manners. "Isn't it hot?" exclaimed the vicar's wife, pushing a damp tendril of grey hair away from her face. "We'll sit in the garden. What is your news?"
Over the teacups Agatha regaled her with a highly embroidered account of her experiences in London. "And how's the new curate?" she finally asked.
"Getting along splendidly. Poor Alf is laid low with a summer cold and Mr. Delon has been taking the services." She giggled. "I haven't told Alf, but last Sunday there was standing room only in the church. Women had come from far and wide."
"Why? Is he such a good preacher?"
"It's not that. More tea? Help yourself to milk and sugar. No, I think it is because he is so very beautiful."
"Beautiful? A beautiful curate? Is he gay?"
"Now why should you assume that a beautiful young man must be gay?"
"Because they usually are," said Agatha gloomily.
"No, I don't think he's gay. He is very charming. You should come to church this Sunday and see for yourself."
"I might do that. Nothing else to do here."
"I hate it when you get bored," said the vicar's wife anxiously. "It seems to me that every time you get bored, a murder happens somewhere."
"Murder happens every day all over the place."
"I meant close by."
"I'm not interested in murders. That last case I nearly got myself killed. I had a letter from that Detective Inspector Brudge in Worcester just before I left. He suggested I should go legit and set up my own detective agency."
"Now that's a good idea."
"I would spend my days investigating nasty divorces or working undercover in firms to find out which typist has been nicking the office stationery. No, it's not for me. Is this curate living with you?"
"We found him a room in the village with old Mrs. Feathers. As you know, she lives opposite the church, so we were lucky. Of course, we were prepared to house him here, we have plenty of room, but he would not hear of it. He says he is quite comfortably off. He has a small income from a family trust."
"I'd better get back to my cats," said Agatha, rising. "I think they prefer Doris Simpson to me." Mrs. Simpson was Agatha's cleaner, who looked after the cats when Agatha was away.
"So you will come to church on Sunday?" asked Mrs. Bloxby. "I am curious to learn what you make of our curate."
"Why, I wonder," said Agatha, her bearlike eyes sharpening with interest. "You have reservations about him?"
"I feel he's too good to be true. I shouldn't carp. We are very lucky to have him. Truth to tell, I think my poor Alf is a little jealous. Though I said nothing about it, he heard from the parishioners about the crowds in the church."
"Must be awful to be a vicar and to be expected to act like a saint," said Agatha. "All right. I'll be there on Sunday."
When she got back to her cottage, Agatha opened all the windows and the kitchen door as well and let her cats, Hodge and Boswell, out into the garden. I don't think they even missed me, thought Agatha, watching them roll on the warm grass. Doris comes in and feeds them and lets them in and out and they are perfectly happy with her. There was a ring at the doorbell and she went to answer it. John Armitage, her neighbour, stood there.
"I just came to welcome you back," he said.
"Thanks," retorted Agatha. "Oh, well, you may as well come in and have a drink."
She was always surprised, every time she saw him, at how good-looking he was with his lightly tanned face, fair hair and green eyes. Although he was about the same age as she was herself, his face was smooth and he looked younger, a fact that annoyed her almost as much as the fact that he had propositioned her because he had thought she would be an easy lay. He was a successful detective story writer.
They carried their drinks out into the garden. "The chairs are a bit dusty," said Agatha. "Everything in the garden's dusty. So what's been going on?"
"Writing and walking. Oh, and tired to death of all the women in the village babbling about how wonderful the new curate is."
"And is he wonderful?"
"You're just cross because you're no longer flavour of the month."
"Could be. Haven't you seen him?"
"I haven't had time. I'm going to church on Sunday to have a look."
"Let me know what you think. There's something wrong there."
"Can't put my finger on it. He doesn't seem quite real."
"Neither do you," commented Agatha rudely.
"In what way?"
"You're ... what? Fifty-three? And yet your skin is smooth and tanned and there's something robotic about you."
"I did apologize for having made a pass at you. You haven't forgiven me, obviously."
"Yes, I have," said Agatha quickly, although she had not. "It's just ... you never betray any emotions. You don't have much small talk."
"I can't think of anything smaller than speculation about a new village vicar. Have you ever tried just accepting people as they are instead of as something you want them to be?"
"You mean what I see is what I get?"
What Agatha really wanted was a substitute for her ex-husband and was often irritated that there was nothing romantic about John, but as she hardly ever thought things through, she crossly dismissed him as a bore.
"So is it possible we could be friends?" asked John. "I mean, I only made that one gaffe."
"Yes, all right," said Agatha. She was about to add ungraciously that she had plenty of friends, but remembered in time that before she had moved to the Cotswolds from London, she hadn't had any friends at all.
"In that case, have lunch with me after church on Sunday."
"Right," said Agatha. "Thanks."
She and John arrived at the church on Sunday exactly five minutes before the service was due to begin and found there were no seats left in the pews and they had to stand at the back.
The tenor bell in the steeple above their heads fell silent. There was a rustle of anticipation in the church. Then Tristan Delon walked up to the altar and turned around. Agatha peered round the large hat of the woman in front of her and let out a gasp of amazement.
The curate was beautiful. He stood there, at the altar, with a shaft of sunlight lighting up the gold curls of his hair, his pale white skin, his large blue eyes, and his perfect mouth. Agatha stood there in a daze. Mechanically, she sang the opening hymn and listened to the readings from the Bible. Then the curate mounted the pulpit and began a sermon about loving thy neighbour. He had a well-modulated voice. Agatha listened to every word of a sermon she would normally have damned as mawkish and boring.
At the end of the service, it took ages to get out of the church. So many wanted to chat to the curate, now stationed on the porch. At last, it was Agatha's turn. Tristan gazed into her eyes and held her hand firmly.
"Beautiful sermon," gushed Agatha.
He smiled warmly at her. "I am glad you could come to church," he said. "Do you live far away or are you from the village?"
"I live here. In Lilac Lane," gabbled Agatha. "Last cottage."
John coughed impatiently behind her and Agatha reluctantly moved on.
"Isn't he incredible?" exclaimed Agatha as they walked to the local pub, the Red Lion, where they had agreed earlier to have lunch.
"Humph," was John's only reply.
So when they were seated in the pub over lunch, Agatha went on, "I don't think I have ever seen such a beautiful man. And he's tall, too! About six feet, would you say?"
"There's something not quite right about him," said John. "It wasn't a sparkling sermon, either."
"Oh, you're just jealous."
"Believe it or not, Agatha, I am not in the slightest jealous. I would have thought that you, of all people, would not fall for a young man simply because of his looks like all those other silly women."
"Oh, let's talk about something else," said Agatha sulkily. "How's the new book going?"
John began to talk and Agatha let his words drift in and out of her brain while she plotted about ways and means to see the curate alone. Could she ask for spiritual guidance? No, he might tell Mrs. Bloxby and Mrs. Bloxby would see through that ruse. Maybe dinner? But she was sure he would be entertained and feêted by every woman in not only Carsely, but in the villages around.
"Don't you think so?" she realized John was asking.
"Agatha, you haven't been listening to a word I've said. I think I'll write a book and call it Death of a Curate."
"I've got a headache," lied Agatha. "That's why I wasn't concentrating on what you were saying."
After lunch, Agatha was glad to get rid of John so that she could wrap herself in brightly coloured dreams of the curate. She longed to call on Mrs. Bloxby, but Sundays were busy days for the vicar's wife and so she had to bide her time with impatience until Monday morning. She hurried along to the vicarage, but only Alf, the vicar, was there and he told her curtly that his wife was out on her rounds.
"I went to church on Sunday," said Agatha. "I've never seen such a large congregation."
"Oh, really," he said coldly. "Let's hope it is still large when I resume my duties next Sunday. Now if you will excuse me ..."
He gently closed the door.
Agatha stood there seething with frustration. Across the road from the church stood the house where Tristan had a room. But she could not possibly call on him. She had no excuse.
She was just walking away when she saw Mrs. Bloxby coming towards her. Agatha hailed her with delight. "Want to see me?" asked Mrs. Bloxby. "Come inside and I'll put the kettle on."
Mrs. Bloxby opened the vicarage door. The vicar's voice sounded from his study with dreadful clarity. "Is that you, dear? That awful woman's just called."
"Excuse me," said Mrs. Bloxby and darted into the study and shut the door behind her.
She emerged a few moments later, rather pink in the face. "Poor Alf, some gypsy woman's been round pestering him to buy white heather. He's rather tetchy with the heat. I'll make tea."
"Coffee, please." Agatha followed her into the kitchen.
"We'll go into the garden and you can have a cigarette."
"You forget. I've given up smoking. That trip to the hypnotist worked. Cigarettes still taste like burning rubber, the way he said they would."
Mrs. Bloxby made coffee, put two mugs of it on a tray and carried the tray out into the garden. "This dreadful heat," she said, putting the tray down on the garden table. "It does make everyone so crotchety."
"I was at church on Sunday," began Agatha.
"So many people. Did you enjoy it?"
"Very much. Very impressed with the curate."
"Ah, our Mr. Delon. Did you see anything past his extraordinary good looks?"
"I spoke to him on the porch. He seems charming."
"He's all of that."
"You don't like him, and I know why," said Agatha.
"Because he is filling up the church the way Mr. Bloxby never could."
"Mrs. Raisin, when have I ever been petty?"
"Sorry, but he does seem such a wonderful preacher."
"Indeed! I forget what the sermon was about. Refresh my memory."
But try as she could, Agatha could not remember what it had all been about and she reddened under Mrs. Bloxby's mild gaze.
"You know, Mrs. Raisin, beauty is such a dangerous thing. It can slow character formation because people are always willing to credit the beautiful with character attributes they do not have."
"You really don't like him!"
"I do not know him or understand him. Let's leave it at that."
Agatha felt restless and discontented when she returned home. She had started to make up her face again and wear her most elegant clothes. Surely her meetings with the curate were not going to be confined to one-minute talks on a Sunday on the church porch.
The doorbell rang. Ever hopeful, Agatha checked her hair and make-up in the hall mirror before opening the door. Miss Simms, the secretary of the ladies' society, stood there.
"Come in," urged Agatha, glad of any diversion.
Miss Simms teetered after Agatha on her high heels. Because of the heat of the day, she was wearing the minimum: tube top, tiny skirt and no tights. Agatha envied women who were able to go around in hot weather without stockings or tights. When she went barelegged, her shoes rubbed her heels and the top of her feet and raised blisters.
Excerpted from Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate by M. C. Beaton. Copyright © 2003 M. C. Beaton. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
M. C. Beaton has been hailed as "the new Queen of Crime." She is The New York Times bestselling author of the Agatha Raisin mysteries, including As the Pig Turns and Busy Body, set in the English Cotswolds, as well as the Hamish Macbeth mysteries set in Scotland. She has also written historical romance novels and an Edwardian mystery series under the name Marion Chesney. Before writing her first novels, Beaton worked as a bookseller, a newspaper reporter, a fashion critic, and a waitress in a greasy spoon. Born in Scotland, she currently divides her time between Paris and a village in the Cotswolds. She was selected the British Guest of Honor for the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in 2006.
M. C. Beaton, who was the British guest of honor at Bouchercon 2006, has been hailed as the "Queen of Crime" (The Globe and Mail). In addition to her New York Times and USA Today bestselling Agatha Raisin novels, Beaton is the author of the Hamish Macbeth series and four Edwardian mysteries. Born in Scotland, she currently divides her time between the English Cotswolds and Paris.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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The Agatha Raisin series is a delight - I thought there would be a long list of favorable reviews here! Agatha is infuriating yet endearing, brittle yet vulnerable, city street smart yet English countryside at heart. Agatha is a survivor and a constant reinventor of herself- but the real Agatha always prevails. She wants to be loved, admired and envied, but she sticks her foot in it most times. Truth be told, she isn't a very good detective but she's good at stirring the pot. In the end, her eventual humor and clear-eyed introspection are what make us love her. The sweet, dear Curate's wife loves and appreciates Agatha nontheless and so will you. Mrs. Raisin is, indeed, Agatha Christie meets Ab Fab. In this particular book, the Curious Curate meets his match. Agatha's out to kick butt.
Agatha is at her best. This time there are multiple murders. After several twists, she gets it right.
Her husband divorced her because he decided to become a monk. When she writes to the monastery where he is supposed to be praying, the abbot replies that he left and never returned. Now Agatha Raisin realizes that was just his clever way of dumping her. Adding to her despondency is that her next door neighbor only wants to have a fling with her, making her feel even more unloved and lonely. The Catswold villagers of Carsley adore their new curate Tristan Delon. However that reverence does not stop someone from killing the well-liked curate. With trouble already from missing money taken from the church box, the vicar Mr. Bloxby is very disturbed because he believes people think he killed Tristan out of jealously over the curate¿s popularity. Agatha¿s friend Mrs. Bloxby asks her to find out who killed the curate so her husband¿s name will be cleared. Unable to say no, Agatha agrees to snoop, an action that almost proves fatal. Reading a new Agatha Raisin book is almost as good as receiving a box of Godiva chocolates (no guilt or sharing with the former). The latest installment in this long running series is enjoyably witty and raunchy as Agatha bulldozes her way into the lives of various suspects. The repartee between John and Agatha is sophisticated yet earthly, making the readers wonder what is going on in that platonic relationship. Nobody will guess who the perpetrator is until M.C. Beaton unveils the identity of the killer leading to a one sitting read requiring handy sweets. Harriet Klausner