When a fortune teller from a previous case informs Agatha Raisin that her destiny-and true love-lies in Norfolk, she promptly rents a cottage in the quaint village of Fryfam. No sooner does she arrive than strange things start happening. Random objects go missing from people's homes and odd little lights are seen dancing in the villagers' gardens and yards. Stories soon begin circulating about the presence of fairies.
But when a prominent village resident is found murdered, and some suspicion falls on her and her friend Sir Charles Fraith, Agatha decides she's had enough of this fairy nonsense and steps up her sleuthing for a human killer.
The prickly yet endearing Agatha will have fans dangling in suspense: Will she catch her crook-and a husband?
About the Author
In 2006, M.C. was the British guest of honor at Bouchercon.
Read an Excerpt
Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam
By M. C. Beaton
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2000 M. C. Beaton
All rights reserved.
AGATHA Raisin was selling up and leaving Carsely for good.
Or rather, that had been the plan.
She had already rented a cottage in the village of Fryfam in Norfolk. She had rented blind. She neither knew the village or anywhere else in Norfolk. A fortune-teller had told her that her destiny lay in Norfolk. Her next-door neighbour, the love of her life, James Lacey, had departed without saying goodbye and so she had decided to move to Norfolk and had chosen the village of Fryfam by sticking a pin in the map. A call to the Fryfam police station had put her in touch with a local estate agent, the cottage was rented, and all Agatha had to do was sell her own cottage and leave.
But the problem lay in the people who came to view the house. Either the women were too attractive and Agatha was not going to have an attractive woman living next door to James, or they were sour and grumpy, and she did not want to inflict such people on the village.
She was due to move into her rented Norfolk cottage at the beginning of October and it was now heading to the end of September. Bright-coloured autumn leaves swirled about the Cotswold Lanes. It was an Indian summer of lazy mellow sunny days and misty nights. Never had Carsely seemed more beautiful. But Agatha was determined to get rid of her obsession for James Lacey. Fryfam was probably beautiful as well.
Agatha was just stiffening up her weakening sinews when the doorbell rang. She opened the door. Two small round people stood there. "Good morning," said the woman brightly. "We are Mr. and Mrs. Baxter-Semper. We've come to view the house."
"You should have made an appointment with the estate agent," grumped Agatha.
"Oh, but we saw the board 'For Sale' outside."
"Come in," sighed Agatha. "Take a look around. You'll find me in the kitchen if you have any questions."
She hunched over a cup of black coffee at the kitchen table and lit a cigarette. Through the window, she could see her cats, Hodge and Boswell, playing in the garden. How nice to be a cat, thought Agatha bitterly. No hopeless love, no responsibility, no bills to pay, nothing else to do but wait to be fed and roll around in the sun.
She could hear the couple moving about. Then she heard the sound of drawers being opened and closed.
She went to the foot of the stairs and shouted up, "You're supposed to be looking at the house, not poking among my knickers." There was a shocked silence. Then they both came downstairs. "We thought you might be leaving your furniture behind," said the woman defensively.
"No, I'm putting it into storage," said Agatha wearily. "I'm renting in Norfolk until I find somewhere to buy."
Mrs. Baxter-Semper looked past her.
"Oh, is that the garden?"
"Obviously," said Agatha, blowing smoke in her direction.
"Look, Bob. We could knock down that kitchen wall and have a nice conservatory."
Oh, God, thought Agatha, one of those nasty white wood-and-glass excrescences sticking out of the back of my cottage.
They stood before her as if expecting her to offer them tea or coffee.
"I'll show you out," said Agatha gruffly.
As she shut the door behind them with a bang, she could hear Mrs. Baxter-Semper saying, "What a rude woman!"
"House is perfect for us, though," remarked the husband.
Agatha picked up the phone and dialled the estate agents. "I've decided not to sell at the moment. Yes, this is Mrs. Raisin. No, I don't want to sell. Just take your board down."
When she replaced the receiver, she felt happier than she had done for some time. Nothing could be achieved by quitting Carsely.
* * *
"So you have decided not to go to Norfolk?" exclaimed Mrs. Bloxby, the vicar's wife, later that day. "I am so glad you aren't leaving us."
"Oh, but I am going to Norfolk. May as well get a change for a bit. But I'll be back."
The vicar's wife was a pleasant-looking woman with gray hair and mild eyes. In her ladylike clothes of flat shoes, droopy tweed skirt, silk blouse and ancient cardigan, she looked the exact opposite of Agatha Raisin, a stocky figure with excellent legs in sheer stockings and sporting a short-tailored skirt and jacket. Her glossy hair was cut in a chic bob and her bearlike eyes, unlike those of Mrs. Bloxby, looked out at the world with a defensive, wary suspicion.
Although they were close friends, they still often called each other by their second names — Mrs. Bloxby, Mrs. Raisin — as was the old-fashioned custom of the Carsely Ladies' Society to which they both belonged.
They were sitting in the vicarage garden. It was a late-autumn afternoon, mellow and golden.
"And what about James Lacey?" asked Mrs. Bloxby gently.
"Oh, I've nearly forgotten about him."
The vicar's wife looked at Agatha steadily. The day was quiet. One late rose bloomed in red glory against the mellow golden walls of the vicarage. Beyond the garden lay the churchyard, the sloping gravestones sending shadows across the tussocky grass. The clock in the church tower bonged out six o'clock.
"The nights are drawing in," said Agatha. "Well, no, I haven't got over James. That's the idea of going away. Out of sight, out of mind."
"Doesn't work." Mrs. Bloxby tugged at a loose piece of wool on her cardigan. "You're letting someone live rent-free in your head."
"That's therapy-speak," said Agatha defensively.
"None the less, it's true. You'll go to Norfolk but he'll still be there with you until you make an effort to eject him. I hope you don't get involved in any more murders, Agatha, but there are times when I wish someone would murder James."
"That's a terrible thing to say!"
"Can't help it. Never mind. Anyway, why Norfolk, why this village, what's it called again, Fryfarm?"
"I stuck a pin in a map. You see, this fortune-teller told me I should go."
"No wonder the churches are empty," said Mrs. Bloxby, half to herself. "I find that people who go to clairvoyants and fortune-tellers lack spirituality."
Agatha felt uncomfortable. "I'm only going for a giggle."
"An expensive giggle — to rent a cottage. Winter in Norfolk. It will be very cold."
"It will be very cold here."
"True, but Norfolk is so ... flat."
"Sounds like a line from Noel Coward."
"I'll miss you," said Mrs. Bloxby. "I suppose you will want me to phone you if James comes back?"
"No ... well, yes."
"I thought so. Let's have some tea."
* * *
Agatha found the day of her departure arriving too soon. All her desire to flee Carsely had left her. But the weather was still sunny and unusually mild, and she had paid a hefty deposit on the cottage in Fryfam and so she reluctantly began to pack suitcases into the boot of her car, and also on the new luggage rack of the roof.
On the morning of her departure, she left her house keys with her cleaner, Doris Simpson, and then returned home to coax Hodge and Boswell into their cat boxes. She drove off down Lilac Lane, cast one longing look at James's cottage, turned the corner and then sped up the leafy hill out of Carsely, the cats in their boxes on the back seat and a road map spread beside her on the passenger seat.
The sun shone all the way until she reached the boundaries of the county of Norfolk and then the sky clouded over the brooding flat countryside.
Norfolk became part of East Anglia after the invasion of the Anglo-Saxons in the fifth century, Norfolk meaning "Home of the North Folk." The area was originally the largest swampland in England. The higher places were sites of Roman stations. The Romans attempted drainage and built a few roads across the Fens, as the marshland is called. But after the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons, their work was left to decay, and the first effective drainage system was not developed until the seventeenth century, consisting of a series of dikes and channels.
Agatha, used to the twisting roads and hills of the Cotswolds, found all this flatness, stretching as far as the eye could see, infinitely depressing.
She pulled into a lay-by and studied the map. The cats scrabbled restlessly behind her. "Soon be there," she called to them. She could not find Fryfam. She took out an ordnance survey map of the area and at last found it. She consulted the road map again now that she knew where it was and the name seemed to leap up at her. Why hadn't she seen it a minute ago? It nestled in the middle of a network of country roads. She carefully wrote down the road numbers of all the roads leading to the village and then set off again. The sky was getting darker and a thin drizzle was beginning to mist the windscreen.
At last, with a sigh of relief, she saw a signpost with the legend "Fryfam" on it and followed its white pointing finger. There were now pine woods on either side and the countryside was becoming hilly. Round another bend, and there was a board with "Fryfam" on it, heralding that she had arrived. She stopped again and took out the estate agent's instructions. Lavender Cottage, her new temporary home, lay in Pucks Lane on the far side of the village green.
A very large village green, thought Agatha, circling round it. There was a huddle of houses with flint walls, a pub, a church, and then, running along by the graveyard, lay Pucks Lane. It was very narrow and she drove slowly along, hoping she did not meet a car coming the other way. Agatha was hopeless at reversing. She switched on her headlights. Then she saw a faded sign, "Pucks Lane," and turned left and bumped along a side lane. The cottage lay at the end of it. It was a two-storey, brick-and-flint building which seemed very old. It sagged slightly towards a large garden, a very large garden. Agatha got stiffly out and peered over the hedge at it.
The estate agent had said the key would be under the doormat. She bent down and located it. It was a large key, like the key to an old church door. It was stiff in the lock, but with a wrench, she managed to unlock the door. She found a switch on the inside of the door, put on the light and looked around. There was a little entrance hall. On the left was a dining-room and on the right, a sitting-room. There were low black beams on the ceiling. A door at the back of the hall led into a modern kitchen.
Agatha opened cupboard doors. There were plenty of dishes and pots and pans. She went back to the car and carried in a large box of groceries. She took out two tins of cat food and opened them, put the contents into two bowls, filled two other bowls with water and then returned to the car to get her cats. When she saw them quietly feeding, she began to carry all her other luggage in. She left it all in the hall. The first things she wanted were a cup of coffee and a cigarette. Agatha had given up smoking in the car ever since she had dropped a lighted cigarette down the front of her blouse one day and had nearly had an accident.
It was when she was sitting at the kitchen table with a mug of coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other that she realized two things. The kitchen did not have a microwave. Recently Agatha had abandoned her forays into "real" cooking and had returned to the use of the microwave. Also, the cottage was very cold. She got up and began to search for a thermostat to jack up the central heating. It was only after a futile search that she realized there were no radiators. She went into the sitting-room. There was a fireplace big enough to roast an ox in. Beside the fireplace there was a basket of logs. There was also a packet of fire-lighters and a pile of old newspapers. She lit the fire. At least the logs were dry and were soon crackling away merrily. Agatha searched through the house again. There were fireplaces in every room except the kitchen. In the kitchen, in a cupboard, she found a Calor gas heater.
This is ridiculous, thought Agatha. I'll need to spend a fortune on heating this place. She went out the front door. The garden still seemed very big. It would need the services of a gardener. The lawn was thick with fallen leaves. It was Saturday. The estate agents would not be open until Monday.
After she had unpacked her groceries and put all her frozen meals away, she opened the back door. The back garden had a washing green and little else. As she looked, she blinked a little. Odd little coloured lights were dancing around at the bottom of the garden. Fireflies? Not in cold Norfolk. She walked down the garden towards the dancing lights, which abruptly disappeared on her approach.
Her stomach rumbled, reminding her it was some time since she had eaten. She decided to lock up and walk down to the pub and see if she could get a meal. She was half-way down the lane when she realized with a groan that she had not unpacked the cats' litter boxes. She returned to the cottage and attended to that chore and then set out again.
The pub was called the Green Dragon. A badly executed painting of a green dragon hung outside the door of the pub. She went in. There were only a few customers, all men, all very small men. They watched her progress to the bar in silence.
It was a silent pub, no music, no fruit machines, no television. There was no one behind the bar. Agatha's stomach gave another rumble. "Any service here?" she shouted. She turned and looked at the other customers, who promptly all looked at the stone-flagged floor.
She turned impatiently back to the bar. What sort of hell-hole have I arrived in? she thought bitterly. There was the rapid clacking of approaching high heels and then a vision appeared on the other side of the bar. She was a Junoesque blonde like a figurehead on a ship. She had thick blond — real blond — hair, which flowed back from her smooth peaches-and-cream face in soft waves. Her eyes were very wide and very blue.
"How can I help you, missus?" she asked in a soft voice.
"I'm hungry," said Agatha. "Got anything to eat?"
"I'm so sorry. We don't do meals."
"Oh, for heaven's sake," howled a much exasperated Agatha. "Is there anywhere in this village that time forgot where I can get food?"
"Reckon as how you're lucky. I got a helping of our own steak pie left. Like some?"
She gave Agatha a dazzling smile. "Yes, I would," said Agatha, mollified.
She held up a flap on the bar. "Come through. You'll be that Mrs. Raisin what's taken Lavender Cottage."
Agatha followed her into the back premises and into a large dingy kitchen with a scrubbed table in the centre.
"Please be seated, Mrs. Raisin."
"And you are?"
"I'm Mrs. Wilden. Can I offer you a glass of beer?"
"I wouldn't mind some wine if that isn't asking too much."
"No, not at all."
She disappeared and shortly after returned with a decanter of wine and a glass. Then she put a knife, fork and napkin in front of Agatha. She opened the oven door of an Aga cooker and took out a plate with a wedge of steak pie. She put it on a large plate and then opened another door in the cooker and took out a tray of roast potatoes. Another door and out came a dish of carrots, broccoli and peas. She put a huge plateful in front of Agatha, added a steaming jug of gravy, which she seemed to have conjured out of nowhere, and a basket of crusty rolls and a large pat of yellow butter. Not only was the food delicious but the wine was the best Agatha had ever tasted. She could not normally tell one wine from another, but she somehow knew this one was very special, and wished that her baronet friend, Sir Charles Fraith, could taste it and tell her what it was. She turned to ask Mrs. Wilden, but the beauty had disappeared back to the bar.
Agatha ate until she could eat no more. Feeling very mellow and slightly tipsy, she made her way back to the bar.
"All right, then?" asked Mrs. Wilden.
"It was all delicious," said Agatha. She took out her wallet. "How much do I owe you?"
A startled look of surprise came into those beautiful blue eyes.
"I told you, we don't do meals."
"So you were welcome to my food and drink," said Mrs. Wilden. "Best go home and get some sleep. You must be tired."
"Thank you very much," said Agatha, putting her wallet away. "You and your husband must join me one evening for dinner."
"That do be kind of you, but he's dead and I'm always here."
"I'm sorry your husband's dead," said Agatha awkwardly as Mrs. Wilden held up the flap on the bar for her to pass through. "When you said 'our' steak pie, I thought ..."
"I meant me and mother."
"Ah, well, you've been very kind. Perhaps I could buy a round of drinks for everyone here?" The customers had been talking quietly, but at Agatha's words there was a sudden silence.
"Not tonight. Don't do to spoil them, do it, Jimmy?"
Excerpted from Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam by M. C. Beaton. Copyright © 2000 M. C. Beaton. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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What People are Saying About This
"Few things in life are more satisfying than to discover a brand-new Agatha Raisin mystery."Tampa Tribune Times
"Witty...highly amusing cozy."--Publishers Weekly
"More great fun from an endearing heroine."Library Journal
"AGATHA RAISIN AND THE FAIRIES OF FRYFAM is a witty tale that will keep you laughing and guessing at the same time."RT Book Reviews