Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Skeleton in the Closet by M.C. Beaton

People keep recommending M.C. Beaton's Agatha Raisin mysteries to me, but when I was looking for the first one in the used book store, I found this book too and read it first. I can't say I'm impressed.

The publication date is 2001, but it reads like a book written decades before--and not in a good way. Modern touches like computers and mobile phones are only mentioned in passing, as though they were added late in the editing process. Most of the main characters' information comes from newspapers and the library--which is fine, but not realistic less than a decade ago, even in an insular British village.

Fellworth Dolphin, who goes by Fell, has spent his thirty-odd years working as a waiter to support his elderly mother. When she dies, he's astonished to learn that his parents left him half a million pounds--and that there's a lockbox full of hundred-pound notes in his father's old desk. He turns to his coworker Maggie for help. She suggests the money may have come from a train robbery decades ago, a robbery that took place when Fell's father was working at the railroad. Together the two of them investigate, and find out far more than Fell ever wanted to know about his past.

It's an excellent setup and at first I really liked the book. I felt sorry for Fell, hoped he and Maggie would get together, and couldn't wait to discover the mysteries as the characters investigated.

Unfortunately, after about fifty pages the book started getting annoying. The mystery takes a back seat to the impending romance between the two main characters, which is fine except that they both turn into such horrible people. Fell proves to be a possessive, mercurial prick who doesn't mind insulting Maggie about her looks repeatedly; Maggie is a spineless wimp besotted with Fell to the point that she makes really bad decisions to please him. It's a dysfunctional relationship waiting to happen.

The mystery is a let-down too. The resolution is absurd, Fell and Maggie's reasons to not share everything they know with the police don't make sense, and the big reveal is a confession given after two not-very-probing questions. I hope the Agatha Raisin books aren't as boring and ill-conceived as this one.

B&N link

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