The fourteenth outing for Agatha Raisin, the beloved but prickly amateur sleuth.
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October 12, 2003
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Excerpt from Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House by M. C. Beaton
FOOT-AND-MOUTH disease had closed down the countryside. Country walks and farm gates were padlocked. The spring was chilly and wet, with the first daffodils hanging their yellow heads under torrents of rain.
The thatch on Agatha Raisin's cottage dripped mournfully. She sat on the kitchen floor with her cats and wondered what to do to ward off a familiar feeling of approaching boredom. With boredom came nervous depression, as she well knew.
An interesting-looking man had moved into the cottage next door, formerly owned by her ex-husband, James, but interest in any man at all had died in Agatha's bosom. She had not joined the other village ladies in taking around cakes or homemade jam. Nor had she heard any of the gossip because she had just returned from London where, in her capacity as free-lance public relations officer, she had been helping to launch a new fashion line for young people called Mr. Harry. All it had served to do was make middle-aged Agatha feel old. Some of the skinny models -- heroin-chic was still the fashion -- had made her feel fatter and older. Her conscience had disturbed her because she knew the clothes were made in Taiwan out of the cheapest material and guaranteed to fall apart at the seams if worn for very long.
She got to her feet and went upstairs to her bedroom and studied herself in a full-length mirror. A stocky middle-aged woman with good legs, shiny brown hair, and small bearlike eyes stared back at her.
Action, she said to herself. She would put on make-up and go and see her friend Mrs. Bloxby, the vicar's wife, and catch up on the village gossip. Agatha put on a foundation base of pale make-up, reflecting that it was not so long ago when bronzed skin had been all the rage. Now that the unfashionable could afford to go abroad in the middle of winter, it was no longer smart to sport a tan or even to wear brownish make-up. She plucked nervously at the skin under her chin. Was it getting loose She slapped herself under the chin sixty times and then was cross to see a red flush on her neck.
She changed out of the old trousers and sweater she had put on that morning and changed into a biscuit-coloured linen suit over a gold silk blouse. Not that this sudden desire to dress up had anything to do with the new tenant in the cottage next door, she told herself. At least, as the clich ' went, time was a great healer. She hardly ever thought of James now and had given up any hope of seeing him again.