Beloved New York Times bestseller M. C. Beaton’s cranky, crafty Agatha Raisin—the star of her own hit T.V. series—is back on the case again.
A visit to the local village fete for a spot of fun and relaxation turns into a nightmare for Agatha Raisin when she discovers the body of the local landowner in the woods with an arrow in his chest and trousers round his ankles.
Agatha’s old adversary, Detective Chief Inspector Wilkes, declares the death a tragic accident, believing the victim has been hit by a stray arrow from an archery demonstration. Agatha is convinced of foul play, however, and is shocked when Wilkes eventually agrees … with her as his prime murder suspect.
Determined to clear her name and find the real killer, Agatha launches her own investigation, quickly becoming involved with a family at war, an unscrupulous gangster, and a killer who is determined to make her the next victim …
Release date: September 19, 2023
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Print pages: 256
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Dead on Target
“I’ll kill him! I swear I will! We can’t let him get away with this!”
The woman was furious, storming past the refreshments-tent queue with a man in her wake. He reached out to grab her by the arm and she spun to face him, her long blonde hair a swirling mane.
“Just wait!” he pleaded. She was a few years younger than him and for a moment he stood over her, as though he were about to chastise a child, but he quickly relented, attempting to reason with her. “It’s not too late to get him to change his mind. I’ll have another word with him…”
“Why bother?” she snapped. “He doesn’t listen to you. He doesn’t give a damn what we think! The time for talking is past. We have to do something! Understand? We have to do something about him!”
“Listen to me…” The man looked round, suddenly aware that those waiting in the queue had abandoned their own conversations and the half-finished text messages on their phones to be entertained by the unexpected drama. One woman in particular caught his attention. She had a smooth bob of glossy brown hair and an expression of intense curiosity. He glowered at her. Agatha Raisin stared back at him, her bear-like eyes unflinching.
“Let’s talk in the car, my love,” he said as the blonde woman shook her arm free. He urged her towards the nearby car park. “Too many eavesdroppers around here.”
“Such excitement so early in the morning, Mrs. Raisin,” came a voice from behind Agatha, catching her by surprise.
“I was thinking exactly the same thing, Mrs. Bloxby,” Agatha replied, turning to greet her friend. It amused them to address each other in public with the customary formality of the Carsely Ladies Society, while in private, over a glass of wine or a schooner of sherry, they were Agatha and Margaret. “We don’t usually see such theatrics at the Carsely Village Fete until well after the beer tent has opened.”
Agatha nodded towards a marquee where staff from the local Red Lion pub were unpacking glasses, stocking shelves with bottles and exchanging friendly banter with a growing huddle of local men waiting patiently in the sunshine, all eagerly anticipating their first pint of the day.
“I hope you didn’t take what was being said literally,” said Mrs. Bloxby, smiling. “I’m sure Stephanie isn’t about to kill anyone. That’s just something people say when they’re upset.”
“I know,” Agatha said, “and something was certainly upsetting both of them. I take it you know them?”
“Yes, Stephanie and Gerald were married here.” Mrs. Bloxby looked to the edge of the field in which they were standing, where the steeple of the Church of St. Jude poked its spire above the trees. Agatha had never been a particularly religious person, but she had always found the fourteenth-century church, with its stained-glass windows set in mellow Cotswold stone, a gently comforting presence in the village. It helped, of course, that she knew Margaret Bloxby would generally be waiting with a warm welcome in the rectory next door. Her husband, Alf, was the vicar at St. Jude’s.
“Gerald’s father, Sir Godfrey Pride, owns Carseworth Manor, the big house in the woods over there.” Mrs. Bloxby pointed to the trees beyond the field in which they were standing. “His family donated this land to the church for the benefit of the local people. That’s why the fete is now held here each year.”
Agatha gazed out over the colourful collection of tents arranged in neat rows around an open arena in the middle of the field. Jolly, candy-striped canvas structures stood shoulder-to-shoulder with sun-bleached white bell tents and traditional ridge tents while tall teepees and elaborate marquees mingled with family campers and basic garden gazebos. Most had trestle tables set up outside displaying a variety of goods from homemade cakes and home-grown fruit and vegetables to children’s toys, second-hand tools and flowering plants.
Some tables and tents were overwhelmed with myriad articles that some liked to call bric-a-brac but Agatha called crap. Who really wanted to buy mismatched, discoloured crockery, chipped china ornaments, dull crystal decanters or plastic Buddhas? She could well imagine why people would want to rid their homes of such junk, but how on earth could anyone take delight in buying someone else’s junk?
“We seem to have rather a lot of pre-loved treasures for you to browse this year,” said Mrs. Bloxby, watching Agatha disdainfully appraising the closest of the bric-a-brac tables.
Agatha gave her friend a sideways glance, aware that she was sporting a mischievous smile. Margaret Bloxby was petite and neat with plain brown hair laced with occasional wispy strands of silver-grey and a kind face well-practised in forming expressions of sympathy and compassion. The impish smile was reserved for teasing Agatha. Although she would never normally tolerate anyone poking fun at her, the slightest spark of provocation easily igniting her infamously short fuse, Agatha could never be angry with Mrs. Bloxby. On so many occasions she had provided Agatha with a warm welcome, a patient ear, a shoulder to cry on and sage advice. She had always been a good friend.
Yet what had always impressed Agatha most about Mrs. Bloxby was not her gentle, caring nature, which she greatly respected, but her stalwart fortitude, which she hugely admired. She had a heart of gold and a backbone of steel. Was that, Agatha mused, too much metal in one person? No matter—Mrs. Bloxby’s unflinching courage had saved her more than once. She remembered the time when she had been punched by a man whom Mrs. Bloxby had immediately smacked over the head with a jar of homemade chutney. Then there was the gunman who would surely have killed them both had Mrs. Bloxby not wrestled the weapon from him and shot him in the chest. He had survived, but Agatha often wondered how Margaret Bloxby would have fared had he not. She had been distraught at the thought of having almost taken another’s life. Perhaps sometimes there was an overwhelmingly discordant clash of gold and steel.
“You know how much I hate all that stuff.” Agatha laughed, waving a hand at the bric-a-brac, dismissing the junk along with the disturbing memories. “Still, I suppose all of this goes towards helping good causes.”
“It does indeed,” Mrs. Bloxby agreed. “One of them this year is the restoration of our old graveyard.”
“I hope you’re not going to set all the old gravestones straight. They wouldn’t look right in tidy rows. They should stay as they are, all higgledy-piggledy, like a bunch of best pals growing old together, not soldiers on parade.”
“I agree. The restoration work’s all about rebuilding the graveyard wall and the paths. Besides, some of the stones are so fragile that they’d fall apart if anyone tried to move them.”
Having reached the front of the queue, Agatha insisted on paying for their coffees and was handing one of the recyclable paper cups to Mrs. Bloxby when she heard a jingle like sleigh bells. A middle-aged man walked past wearing a tall black hat, a red neckerchief and a white shirt with white trousers. His hat was decorated with a garland of flowers while red sashes fastened with rosettes crisscrossed his chest. The jingling bells were clustered on straps tied just below his knees.
“Ah, the morris men.” Mrs. Bloxby gave the man a cheery “Good morning!” and a generous smile. “I’ve always loved the morris men, haven’t you? We should really call them morris dancers now, of course—they’re no longer men-only groups.”
Agatha spotted the rest of the dancers in the distance, all similarly attired, approaching from the car park. She squinted at one of the figures. There was something familiar about the way he moved, the way he held his shoulders. It couldn’t be, could it?
“Quickly!” she breathed, holding her coffee cup out to Mrs. Bloxby. “Take this!”
In what appeared to be one swift movement, she produced a compact mirror from her handbag, smoothed her hair, checked her lipstick and straightened her dress. She felt a wave of relief that she had chosen that particular dress. The white flower pattern on a black background wasn’t too frivolously summery and the skirt reached well below the knee, but the neckline still dropped low enough to provide a certain…allure. A white rope belt cinched it neatly at the waist. An instant later, the compact was back in her handbag and she was retrieving her coffee.
“Slick.” Margaret Bloxby nodded her approval. “What was that in aid of?”
“John!” Agatha called to one of the approaching morris dancers, waving madly.
A tall, well-built man looked towards her and grinned. He removed his hat and pretended to hide behind it as he drew nearer, feigning embarrassment at having been exposed as a morris dancer.
“You never told me you were involved in this!” Agatha chided, wagging her finger in mock rebuke.
Copyright © 2023 by M. C. Beaton Ltd
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