Authors: M.C. Beaton
Occasionally Agatha dabbles with a radical change in looks, usually finding herself dissatisfied with the results. In
she wonders if blondes really do have more fun and
decides to find out. After the hairdresser has dyed her hair a ‘warm honey-blonde’ she entertains Bill and his new girlfriend, who instantly becomes jealous of their relationship.
Although this amuses her young friend, Agatha begins to feel her new look is too brassy and resolves to go back to her natural brown colouring.
Battling the Bulge
London life, and walking everywhere to beat the traffic, had kept Agatha trim despite the expensive dinners that were an everyday part of the job. Country life means that
she is soon driving everywhere in the car and this, combined with a love of comfort food and microwave meals, and a distinct lack of willpower, means she is soon putting on weight.
Soon after moving to the country, she discovers that she can’t fasten her skirt and has put on an inch and a half around the waist. ‘Carsely was not going
to make Agatha Raisin let herself go!’ she vows, and she buys a bicycle to help her exercise. This is the start of a constant battle with the bulge which sends her from pub lunches with
sticky toffee pudding to Pilates classes, a brief spell in a ramblers’ association and various other short-lived diet and exercise plans.
THE RAISIN DIET
(Not recommended by nutritionists)
Strong black coffee (three cups) Cigarettes
Steak and kidney pudding with chips
Pub lasagne and chips
All day breakfast – egg, bacon,
sausage and beans
Followed by toffee pudding
Gin and Tonic White wine Coffee Tea
Mrs Bloxby’s teacakes
Agatha’s unhappy childhood in the Birmingham slums often comes back to haunt her, although she is proud of her achievements since. She was born in a tower block, the only
daughter of Joseph and Margaret Styles, both unemployed alcoholics. Home life was terrible and even if they managed to scrape enough together to take their daughter on holiday, there was no joy in
it for her. When Charles asks her where she went on holiday as a child, ‘Agatha remembered occasional holidays at holiday camps with a shudder. Her parents were usually drunk and
raucous.’ Her only journey abroad as a child was a day trip to France.
As a poverty-stricken child, Agatha dreamed of receiving her first pay packet and walking into a sweet shop to buy all the chocolate she wanted. ‘But by the time that happened, her desires
focused on a pair of purple high-heeled shoes with bows.’
Agatha was bright at school but very shy and sensitive. Life’s hard knocks taught her to develop a shell and she
feigned an aggressive nature to keep other pupils
away. At fifteen, her parents thought she was old enough to earn some money and made her leave school for a dull job in a biscuit factory. She disliked the women she worked with but hated being at
home even more, so, in order to get out as fast as she could, she worked overtime and saved as much money as she could.
Disgusted by her parents’ behaviour, she finally took her savings and bolted to London, leaving without saying goodbye when they were both in a drunken stupor. Settling in the big city she
waited tables seven days a week at a restaurant she later described as ‘a bit like one of those Lyon’s Corner Houses. Good food but not French. She used her tips to pay for shorthand
and typing lessons, and secured a good position as a secretary in a public relations firm. There she set about learning the trade, but her studies were interrupted by a brief and disastrous
relationship with Jimmy Raisin, who she foolishly married.
Once away from her violent drunk of a husband, she threw herself into work and became a rising star in PR, choosing expensive clothes and getting the results she wanted from journalists and
clients with a mixture of cajoling, bullying and blackmail.
Her ambition and ruthlessness eventually led to her starting her own PR firm, Raisin Promotions, and being the boss suited her down to the ground. She had a smart office in South Molton Street,
a flat in Mayfair, and a new accent to match. The financial
rewards were substantial and Agatha became a very rich woman. All the hard work, however, had been a means to
an end. As a child, when she was taken on a rare holiday by her parents, she had dreamed of a cottage in the Cotswolds. ‘Her parents had hated it, and had said that they should have gone to
the Butlin’s Holiday Camp as usual, but to Agatha the Cotswolds represented everything she wanted in life; beauty tranquillity and security. So even as a child, she had become determined that
one day she would live in one of those pretty cottages in a quiet, peaceful village, far from the noise and smells of the city.’
At fifty-three, Agatha finally decided to realize her dream, so she sold her business and found her dream cottage in the village of Carsely While the cottage was perfect, and the village of
Carsely friendly, Agatha soon missed the hustle and bustle of London and often felt lonely in her new home. That was, until she found her new calling as an amateur sleuth.
Agatha has put her childhood and her parents, who are now dead, firmly behind her and her accent belies her true upbringing. Occasionally, however, in times of extreme stress, her Birmingham
twang creeps in and her impoverished background often leaves her with a feeling of inferiority when she is mixing in the upper echelons of society. When she first meets Sir Charles, for instance,
‘she found she was dithering over the idea of having lunch with a baronet. Logic screamed at her that Sir
Charles was a mere baronet who lived in a Victorian mansion
described in the guidebooks as “architecturally undistinguished”. Deep down, the old Agatha, product of the Birmingham slum, trembled.’
Day the Floods Came,
Agatha assumes John Armitage only made his ungallant pass at her because she revealed her true background to him. After she’d told him his detective story,
set in the Birmingham slums, didn’t ring true, he asked how she knew. ‘I told him because we’d had a fair bit to drink. He propositioned me, just like that. He hadn’t
uttered one word of praise about my appearance. He hadn’t shown me any affection, he hadn’t even shown me he desired me. So I thought it was because of my poor background he felt he
could dispense with the preliminaries,’ she tells a friend later.
Even so, Agatha’s driving ambition is the one thing that has prevented her from wallowing in the past. Ambition is a great drug,’ she says. ‘I just forged ahead the whole time.
Never really looked back at yesterday.’
While she was still very young and new to London, Agatha fell in love with Jimmy. One night, he came into the restaurant where she was working as a waitress, with ‘a
rather tarty blonde, a bit older than him’. The couple seemed to be at odds and he amused himself by flirting with Agatha. That evening, as she left work, he
waiting for her and asked to walk her home. She liked his light-hearted, jovial banter and the pair got on well. However, when they reached her tiny bedsit in Kilburn, Jimmy confessed he was
homeless and Agatha said he could sleep on the couch, for one night only. The next day, they had a day out at the zoo, which was not to Agatha’s taste but, as she later told James, ‘I
had been so very lonely and here I was with a handsome fellow of my own and it all seemed marvellous.’
Somehow, Jimmy ended up moving into the flat and, as Agatha was not keen on getting pregnant out of wedlock, Jimmy laughed and suggested they got married. They tied the knot in London and had a
brief honeymoon in Blackpool. Jimmy, she later revealed, ‘was the only man in my life who ever made me feel pretty’. Before the relationship went sour, ‘He made me feel good, made
me feel exhilarated, as if the world was a funny place where nothing much mattered.’
After a month, during which Jimmy found a job loading newspapers, Agatha realized that she had merely switched a drunken home life with her parents for an alcoholic husband. The
drunkenness soon bred violence, although the feisty Agatha hit back because she was ‘still thin but pretty wiry’. After losing his job, Jimmy drifted in and out of work and
drank more and more. After each bout of drinking, he would be contrite and promise to turn their lives around, and Agatha stood by him for two years. By then she had landed a good job in a PR firm
and decided to spend her cash on a decent wardrobe rather than keeping Jimmy in drink.
One evening, Agatha came home from work and found Jimmy in a drunken stupor. She opened the post, found some leaflets from Alcoholics Anonymous that she had sent off for, and made a
life-changing decision. She pinned the literature to his chest, packed her bag and walked out.
Although he knew where she worked, Jimmy never came looking for his missing wife and stayed away for many a year. Agatha was convinced he was dead until the day he turned up to ruin her marriage
to James, and ended up a murder victim.