The bestselling author MC Beaton is often referred to as the "queen of cozy crime". Her army of devoted fans can't get enough of the quirky, slightly amusing mystery stories about her two beloved characters Hamish Macbeth and Agatha Raisin, whose struggles with poisoned quiches and despicable dustmen have made them one of the ten most popular British library authors.
Not that she appreciates the title. "I don't like the word" cozy "because it's patronizing," she says firmly. "You don't say that Agatha Christie is cozy, do you? My books are very easy to read, which means people assume they are easy to write, which is not the case."
The bestselling author MC Beaton is often referred to as the "queen of cozy crime". Your army of dedicated fans can't get enough of the quirky, gently amusing mystery stories
At 82, she earned the right to criticize what she sees as condescension to the merits of her work, no matter how convenient it is. The Glasgow-born writer, real name Marion Chesney, has written more than 160 novels over the course of her 40-year career and still writes two a year.
Her latest edition, Agatha Raisin And The Dead Ringer, is the 29th in the hugely popular series about a retired PR who has become an amateur. "It's about ringing – a particularly English thing," she says. "There is an evil bishop and many murders."
Agatha begins investigating crimes after selling her PR firm in London's Mayfair district and moving to the Cotswolds to retire early. In the 15th book, Agatha Raisin And The Deadly Dance, she founds her own detective agency, although the police insist that her crime-finding skills are sheer luck.
During the series, Agatha grappled with a litany of rural villains, including a veterinarian who was murdered with his own sedative and a Lothario who was stabbed with the priest's letter opener.
Later this year, a second series of the television adaptation with Ashley Jensen as a chain-smoking, killer heels wearing Sleuth is shown on Sky. The first eight-part series of the comedy drama was a hit when it aired in 2016. Because of its wit, sharp social observations, and idyllic Cotswolds attitude, it was described by one reviewer as "Desperate Housewives Crossed with Midsomer Murders". The inspiration for the first Agatha Raisin book came in 1992 when Beaton was asked to bake something for a charity sale at her son's school. "I went to Waitrose and bought a quiche, wrapped it in parchment paper, and sold it," she says. "It was a great success." If Agatha follows suit, the quiche will poison one of the judges.
Today, 27 years later, the character has quite a moment. Her fans include bestselling author Lee Child and the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who spoke of going to bed with an aggie.
Beaton believes the secret of the series' popularity is the lack of political correctness. "Agatha swears she drinks and she smokes," she says. "She wears these very high heels and fur coats and says things that I would not say.
"She has aging and mustache weaknesses that women sometimes think are the only ones they have experienced." And the stories show village life in the Cotswolds, a British people thought to be dead and gone. "
We are speaking in a restaurant in such a village in the Cotswolds, near which she has lived alone since her husband Harry Gibbons, a former journalist, died in 2016. The sense of humor and the un-PC attitude that devotees love about their writing can be seen during our conversation.
When she started writing novels in 1979, she also worked as a journalist for many years, initially in Glasgow, where she experienced terrible poverty in the crime-ravaged apartment buildings. "There have been many murders, razor gangs, and middle-aged prostitutes without teeth," she says. "It kept me from real crime. It was so brutal. "
In the 1960s she worked on Fleet Street, where she met TV presenter Anne Robinson. "There were hardly any women, so we became close friends," she says.
Ashley Jensen as the amateur heroine Agatha Raisin in the Sky TV series
Their friendship endures; During Beaton's successful treatment for breast cancer in 2001, she regularly visited the impressive host of The Weakest Link in the hospital. "On the way out, she said to the staff," Remember that Marion is my best friend, "and startled them all to make sure they took good care of me," she giggles.
Despite her illness, she recently gave up her daily smoking habit. "I miss it terribly, especially when I write," she says. "I hate the nanny state."
Her first forays into fiction were Regency romances, for which she used the pseudonym Ann Fairfax. Disarming, she is open about her motivation and admits, "I was unemployed and had to pay my son's school fees. You shouldn't say that you write for money. But Dr. Johnson said only a fool would write for anything else."
You shouldn't say that you write for money, but I had to pay my son's school fees
While living in New York in the 1980s, she first came up with the idea of a series of crime novels in the Scottish highlands with an ambitious but intuitive policeman named Hamish Macbeth.
"I really wanted to go back to 1811 and I wanted to write the kind of novels that I enjoy reading myself," she says. "There wasn't much between Mills & Boon and the Booker Prize. All I ever wanted to do was tell stories and make people fun, to spend a wet day, or when they're going through a bad time."
The stories became a successful BBC series with Robert Carlyle in the 1990s. Beaton was one of the few viewers who didn't like it.
"The production company grinned at me and my nice policeman smoked a pot. I asked Robert Carlyle why and he said, "All cops smoke a pot," she says in a tone that shows her skepticism about the allegation.
Five more "cozy crime novels" to enjoy
The stone circle
Quercus £ 18.99
The key to a great cozy series is an endearing central figure – and there is none more appealing than forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway (not to mention her crew of unlikely helpers).
A shot in the dark
Raven £ 12.99
The consistently funny Lynne Truss released a new series of cozy crime novels in Brighton in the 1950s that evoke the sacred shadows of the Ealing comedies.
The way to Grantchester
Bloomsbury £ 14.99
The brand new prequel to Runcie's popular series takes Archdeacon Chambers back to his time as a demobilized young soldier in post-war London.
A quarter after death
HQ £ 8.99
An absolutely perfect tribute to the golden age of British crime writing, as Cornish Riviera reporter Judy Dimont finds trouble in paradise.
Aunt Poldi and the fruits of the Lord
John Murray £ 8.99
In the second episode of a charming Sicilian series, the undoubted Poldi competes against the mafia. There will always be only one winner …
The Agatha Raisin adaptation, on the other hand, is approved, although Ashley Jensen bears no resemblance to the grumpy Agatha of the books. "In the books, she is 53 with brown hair and comes from Birmingham, while Ashley is younger, slimmer, blonde and Scottish. But she is wonderful. She is funny and brings warmth and vulnerability into the role."
Fortunately for fans of the TV series who are now discovering the books, she has no plans to retire, although she admits that writing is sometimes the very last thing she wants to do. "I suddenly get the inspiration to defrost the freezer or iron my sheets." But then she hears a conversation in the hairdresser or sees a couple arguing on the street and the inspiration will strike. "As long as I find other people more interesting than myself, I will continue to have ideas," she says.
"Agatha Raisin And The Dead Ringer" is available now from Constable and costs £ 8.99. The first series of "Agatha Raisin" is available on Sky TV. The second series will be on Sky One in July. MC Beaton will perform at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate in 2019. Ticket sales from Tuesday
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