Beaton’s grumpy, depressive heroine (Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came, 2002, etc.) has little reason to be cheerful when the curtain comes up this time around. Abandoned in the village of Cardely by her ex-husband James, she’s left with no male company save her neighbor John Armitage, a novelist who seems at first unmoved by their proximity. But things brighten with the arrival of vicar Alf Bloxby’s new assistant, movie-star-gorgeous curate Tristan Delon. Church attendance naturally soars, and Agatha is even more thrilled when Tristan offers himself as a skilled money manager. The morning after their dinner, however, Tristan is found stabbed to death in the vicar’s study. When his murder is followed by the killings of two more women from the village, Armitage thinks he and Agatha should investigate—despite warnings from detective Bill Wong to stay out of it. Their queries take them to London and to business mogul Richard Binser, whose worshipful secretary Miss Partle discloses the news that her boss fell for an expensive scam of Tristan’s. Before it’s all over, Armitage will have moved to London and Agatha become the target of yet another murder attempt in an absurdly melodramatic denouement.
Beaton, never as convincing in this cartoonish series as in her tales of Hamish MacBeth (Death of a Village, 2002, etc.), goes way overboard in one of Agatha’s lesser puzzles. Even so, things keep moving fast enough to hold the faithful’s interest.