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"Revenge is a dish best served warm..."
―The Quiche of Death's tagline

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death is the first book in the main Agatha Raisin Mysteries series by M. C. Beaton. The story was published December, 1992.

Synopsis

Putting all her eggs in one basket, Agatha Raisin gives up her successful PR firm, sells her London flat, and samples a taste of early retirement in the quiet village of Carsely. Bored, lonely and used to getting her way, she enters a local baking contest: Surely a blue ribbon for the best quiche will make her the toast of the town. But her recipe for social advancement sours when Judge Cummings-Browne not only snubs her entry—but falls over dead! After her quiche’s secret ingredient turns out to be poison, she must reveal the unsavory truth…

Agatha has never baked a thing in her life! In fact, she bought her entry ready-made from an upper crust London quicherie. Grating on the nerves of several Carsely residents, she is soon receiving sinister notes. Has her cheating and meddling landed her in hot water, or are the threats related to the suspicious death? It may mean the difference between egg on her face and a coroner’s tag on her toe…

Plot

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Agatha returned from her walk through the countryside to find three policemen waiting for her outside her cottage. After inviting them in, Agatha was questioned by Detective Chief Inspector Wilkes about her quiche before being asked to make another one for them. Agatha explained that she couldn't as she didn't have the ingredients to make one, prompting Detective Constable Wong to buy her the necessary ingredients from Harvey's. With DC Wong watching over her in the kitchen, Agatha attempted to bake a new quiche following a recipe book she had to hand.

While her freshly baked quiche cooled, DC Wong asked her questions about her dinner with the Cummings-Brownes at the Feathers before the police informed her that Reg Cummings-Browne died of cowbane poisoning from the quiche Agatha entered into the competition. Suspecting that Agatha had never even baked before, Bill urged Agatha to tell the truth about her entry. Agatha confessed to buying her quiche from Chelsea and found her receipt for the police to corroborate her story.

The next day, Mrs. Simpson came round to start her cleaning job. Agatha fixed her up a cold lunch, as promised, and left Mrs. Simpson her wages on the kitchen table before going out. She drove out the village, unsure where to go but knowing she needed to get out of Carsely for a short while. She ended up going to Moreton-in-Marsh as it was market day. She went shopping at the market, buying herself fresh ingredients to cook for dinner rather than heating up yet another frozen meal as well as some clothes and perfume. Having returned home to a sparkling cottage and fresh flowers left for her by Mrs. Simpson, Agatha was happy she had poached Mrs. Barr's cleaner.

The next morning, DC Wong popped over to Agatha's on an informal visit. She begrudgingly invited him in and poured them both a sherry. After properly introducing himself to her, Bill told her that the police had spoken to the owner of The Quicherie and that her story checked out. The police believed that cowbane had accidentally been baked into the quiche as the shop sources its ingredients from many locations and so Mr. Cummings-Browne's death was merely a tragic accident. After all, Agatha couldn't have known that he would end up eating the left overs. For it to be murder, it would suggest the act was premeditated which is unlikely as the average person wouldn't be able to identify cowbane. She continued to ask questions about the incident, with each question answered logically by Bill. Eventually, Bill asked her why someone like her was so concerned with winning the competition, to which she confessed that she felt out of place and just wanted to make her mark on the village. Bill assured her that she'd feel more at home in the village if she simply became more friendly with some of the villagers. Taking his advice on board, Agatha decided to start by getting to know Bill and quickly found herself befriending him.

The next day, Agatha drove back to London to speak to Mr. Economides, the owner of the Quicherie, after reflecting on the fact her regular custom at his shop meant that he was probably the closest she had to a friend. After the poisoned quiche he sold her had killed a man, despite Mrs. Cummings-Browne promising not to sue him, he was very guarded in his answers to Agatha's questions. Consequently, she left the Quicherie and browsed around London before returning to her home in Carsely. She continued to ponder whether Mr. Cummings-Browne had in fact been murdered, thinking about how wonderful it would look to the villagers if Agatha solved the crime. Yet the more she thought about it, the more she believed that things didn't quite add up. She concluded that there would be no harm in asking around with just a few questions.

As she finally returned to her cottage, she received a phone call from Roy. To her delight he was calling to ask whether he, and his friend Steve, could come visit her over the weekend to which she of course said yes.

Later, Bill called round to catch Agatha up on what happened at the inquest. He commented on Mrs. Cummings-Browne's behaviour, suggesting that perhaps she was putting on a performance. This prompted Agatha to remark that Mrs. Cummings-Browne's alibi seemed very unlikely to her. Mrs. Cummings-Browne said that she returned home shortly after midnight, believing her husband to still be out drinking at the Red Lion; yet, the Red Lion closes at eleven o'clock and is just a short walk from the Cummings-Browne residence and so she must have expected her husband to already be home. Bill also let Agatha know that there were plenty of sobbing ladies at the inquest without their husbands, causing Agatha to wonder whether Mr. Cummings-Browne was a philanderer and if that might explain why Mrs. Cartwright continually wins best quiche. Before leaving, he showed her the newspaper article that covered the inquest, in which a verdict of accidental death by eating poisoned quiche was pronounced.

Chapter 4

Agatha met Roy and Steve at the train station before taking them out for dinner in Bourton-on-the-Hill. Over dinner she explained to them what had happened to Mr. Cummings-Browne. Steve helped Agatha to realise that cowbane couldn't have been accidentally moved up in with the spinach at the Quicherie, as cowbane doesn't grow among the regular vegetables. Furthermore, Steve pointed out that if cowbane had somehow been harvested with some spinach, surely it would have found its way into other spinach quiches sold by Mr. Economides - yet none of his other customers reported poisoned quiches. Steve suggested that as competitors were required to submit their bakes the night before the competition, someone could have easily baked another quiche with cowbane in it and substituted it for Agatha's quiche without anyone else realising.

The next day the trio visited Carsely's village fete. Agatha bumped into Mrs. Cartwright and officially introduced herself. Mrs. Cartwright reassured Agatha that the whole affair with the poisoned quiche was an accident and so Agatha needn't think about leaving the village. She also admitted how flatter she was that Agatha felt the need to buy a quiche in order to beat her. Whilst not exactly thrilled about that last remark, Agatha smiled in order to maintain a friendly connection with Mrs. Cartwright.

Later on she drove Roy and Steve to Bourton-on-the-Water before visiting Stratford-on-Avon at Steve's request, all the while Agatha continued to contemplate Mr. Cummings-Browne's possible murder. They returned home in the evening and Steve cooked dinner for them all. The next day they all went to Warwick Castle, again at Steve's request, before travelling around other villages nearby Carsely. In addition to journaling his trip in his notepads, Steve documented the day's activities on his video camera. Back at Agatha's cottage that night, they watched back some of the footage only to find an unnerving woman glaring at Agatha in the background of the shot. Steve printed out a photo of the mystery woman for Agatha so she could investigate who this stranger was. The next day, Roy and Steve got the train back home to London.

Chapter 5

Agatha visited the vicarage with a car full of items she hoped the church could sell to benefit some charity. Mr. and Mrs. Bloxby were delighted by Agatha's generosity and invited her in for a coffee and to look through her donations. Mr. Bloxby quickly left Agatha with his wife as he preached at three different churches and preferred to prepare different sermons rather than reuse the same on three times. Agatha found the reverend's genuine care for his parishioners refreshing, and for the first time she began to feel happy in Carsely. Mrs. Bloxby set out coffees and cakes, further welcoming and comforting Agatha, while explaining that Agatha was not the first person to have cheated in village affairs. Agatha also learnt from the vicar's wife that Mr. Cummings-Browne was not a fair judge, as he had a penchant for giving prizes to particular people he favourited.

She returned home to prepare lunch for Mrs. Simpson, who revealed that Mrs. Cummings-Browne had been very distraught about her husband's death. This made Agatha feel even more guilty. She remembered that she had planned on calling round to Mrs. Cartwright and set of to do so in an attempt to distract herself. Mrs. Cartwright welcomed Agatha in and fixed her a glass of gin. Agatha learnt that Mrs. Cartwright enjoyed playing bingo but that her husband controlled her money and thus forcing her to keep out of the bingo hall. In order to find out more information from and strengthen her rapport with Mrs. Cartwirght, Agatha gave her twenty pounds. The visit was quickly cut short, however, as Mr. Cartwright came home early and was not pleased to find Agatha in his home talking to his wife alone. Sensing the tension, Agatha explained to him that she had just popped round in the hopes of collecting a charity donation. Mr. Cartwirght was not impressed, claiming that thanks to his wife they had no money to spare. Mrs. Cartwright then showed Agatha out, telling her to come back the next afternoon when her husband was sure to be out.

When she got back to her cottage, Mrs. Simpson informed her that the post had arrived. Agatha found a large envelope delivered, inside of which was an enlarged copy of the photograph of the mystery women watching Agatha at Warwick Castle and a note from Steve thanking Agatha for a splendid weekend. Overcome by the need for some escapist literature, she drove down to Moreton-in-Marsh and bought some detective stories from a secondhand bookstore. As she returned back to Carsely, she found Bill on her doorstep checking up to see how she was doing. She invited him in for tea and shared with him the story and the photo of the mystery woman from Warwick Castle. Bill didn't recognise her, but agreed to help her figure out the woman's identity.

Later that evening after having her dinner at the Red Lion, Agatha returned to the vicarage to attend a meeting of the Carsely Ladies' Society that the vicar's wife had previously invited her to. After some light chit chat and some refreshments, the first order of business was to receipt volunteers with cars to help chauffeur some of the village's older residents who struggle to get out as much. To reclaim her reputation and impress Mrs. Bloxby, Agatha found herself volunteering to take out Mr. and Mrs. Boggle the following Thursday. Next, after brief hesitation, Agatha signed herself up for a visit to Mircester where the Mircester Ladies' Society were to host the women of Carsely. Finally, Mrs. Bloxby shared with the group about Agatha's donations and proposed the group organise a special event to sell the items. The members seemed to be very interested and Agatha put herself forward to act as auctioneer for the event, as an auction could help raise their earnings. Agatha was starting to feel more like her old self and felt she was finally being accepted in the village. As everyone left, Miss Simms informed Agatha that the Boggles were in fact the grouchiest residents of the village! However Mrs. Bloxby reminded Agatha of how much they'd appreciate her time, which was all the encouragement she needed. The rather pleasant and successful night was disrupted, however, as Agatha arrived home to find a note saying, "Stop nosey-parking, you innerfering old bich," lying on her doormat.

Chapter 6

Having initially thrown the note in the bin, the next morning Agatha retrieved the note and tucked it away in a recipe book deciding to keep it just in case. After breakfast, Mrs. Bloxby came round, bringing Mrs. Cummings-Browne with her. Mrs. Cummings-Browne explained that while still upset about her husband's death, she is now in a calmer state of mind and wanted to let Agatha know that she did not blame her for his death but rather believed it to be a most unfortunate accident. Having forgiven Agatha, Mrs. Cummings-Browne and Mrs. Bloxby left.

Agatha then began phoning up local newspapers to raise publicity for the auction. Feeling accomplished, she had her lunch before heading back over to Mrs. Cartwright's. She asked about Mr. Cummings-Browne and her successes in the quiche completion, noticing the Cartwright's kitchen was incredibly messy and not the kitchen one would expect from a dedicated baker. Upon further inspection, however, Agatha found evidence that Mrs. Cartwright was in fact a skilled baker. Mrs. Cartwright explained that she didn't bake too often anymore as she could never find the time, but she used to bake quiches which she sold to Harvey's grocery store. Agatha felt she was not getting anywhere with Mrs. Cartwright but with the promise of more bingo money, Mrs. Cartwright revealed to her that she was surprised Mr. Cummings-Browne was dead as she had always figured he would be the one to kill Mrs. Cummins- Browne! She went on to explain that he had confided in her that Reg couldn't stand Vera making him jump through hoops for money. The only money of his own was his pension, which didn't stretch far. Mrs. Cartwright went on to share that Vera hated Reg too. Agatha told her that Mrs. Cummings-Browne had called by earlier, seeming to be genuinely upset about her husband's death. Mrs. Cartwright claimed it was merely a performance, as Vera acted with the Carsely Dramatic Society. Being so stubborn, however, Agatha refused to believe that Vera may have fooled her. She paid her another twenty pounds as promised before promptly leaving. As she left, she bumped into John who pulled her aside. He was annoyed that Agatha had been snooping around about the Cummings-Browne's and threatened to break Agatha's neck if she bothered Ella again. Agatha pulled herself free and rushed home, now sure that the threatening note was from John. She mailed the note to Bill at the police station for him to investigate further.

Next door, Mrs. Barr was entertaining a couple who seemed familiar to Agatha. She realised that the couple had been present at the restaurant where Agatha discussed the 'murder' with Roy and Steve. Once again feeling the need to get out of Carsely, she took a trip to the town of Cheltenham Spa in the hopes of buying some antique furniture to make her cottage feel as homely as the vicarage. After a small shopping spree, she returned home. As she prepared herself for bed she remembered that she was to pick up the Boggles the following morning. She picked them up and was surprised when, without expressing any sign of gratitude, they demanded to be taken to Bath. Agatha was hoping they'd want to visit somewhere nearer but, at their insistence, begrudgingly complied with their request. Once they arrived in Bath, Agatha found the pair to be increasingly difficult and fussy, refusing to walk any distance and inciting on Agatha dropping them off at the very doorstep of wherever they wanted to go. During dinner, the Boggles had requested champagne. Agatha was reluctant at first but once again complied, and later after complaining about the poor service, the restaurant gave them the the bottle on the house. The Boggles became more talkative once they began drinking, revealing that Ella had been having an affair with Reg. Something everyone in the village except John seemed to know. Mrs. Boggle even asked if Agatha had been sleeping with him too, since she was spending so much time with Ella. Now having confirmed that Reg was a philanderer, she suspected his favourites in the neighbouring villages were more of his mistresses, a theory seeming very likely when she remembered just how many sobbing women were present at the inquest. Mrs. Boggle then suggested the poisoned quiche was intended for Agatha, possibly from Mrs. Barr. This got Agatha wondering whether Mrs. Barr was also one of Reg's mistresses and if she entered any of his competitions.

After enduring a long day with the Boggles, Agatha returned home to find Bill waiting for her. He had received the threatening note and wanted to ask her more about it, she explained that she suspected it was from John Cartwright because she had been talking with Ella. Although unimpressed with Agatha's continued attempts to prove Reg's death a murder, Bill shared with her that the note didn't have any fingerprints on it. Agatha wasn't as surprised by this find as Bill, as everyone knew not to leave fingerprints. Bill then pointed out that the police can only trace fingerprints for someone who already has a criminal record. Before leaving, Bill pleaded that for her own safety, Agatha should stop her sleuthing.

Chapter 7

Noticing that she had began to put on some weight from all her driving about in Carseley, compared to walking everywhere in London, Agatha decided to buy herself a bicycle. Not yet ready to be seen cycling in Carsely, she opted to begin cycling elsewhere until she had built up her confidence. After cycling through some fields near the village, Agatha returned to her car to go home when she spotted the Cartwright's car driving past. Without giving it a second thought, she followed the car. She could make out Ella driving the car, which was heading towards the village of Ancombe. As she approached the village, she noticed signs directing drivers to the Ancombe annual fair, which Ella was following. Agatha parked away from Ella and made her way to the fair. She purchased a programme, looking to find the home baking tent, before bumping into Ella. Ella was suspicious of Agatha's sudden appearance at the fair and questioned why she was there. Agatha pretended that she had heard about the fair and thought she'd check it out as something to do. Ella explained that she was entering a spinach quiche in the baking competition as the Ancombe prizes were better than the ones in Carsely. Sensing an opportunity for cash, Ella teased to Agatha that she had useful gossip about Ancombe. Agatha begrudgingly paid her ten pounds in return of the news that Reg used to judge the best dog competition at the Ancombe fair and had favoured a Scottie owned by Barbara James, who happened to be one of the sobbing women at the inquest.

Agatha headed over to the best of breed competition in time to hear the winners being announced. It transpired that without Reg judging the competition, Barbara James did not win any prizes. Furious, Barbara headed straight for the beer tent. Agatha followed her and waited until Barbara had ordered herself a drink before approaching. Trying to butter her up, Agatha feigned admiration for Barbara's dog and stated how she was sure Barbara was going to win before steering the exchange towards to Reg. Barbara told her that she was good friends with Reg and was very upset about his death, attributing the incident to arrival of some big city piece of work called Raisin who cheated in the competition. Agatha asked if Barbara ever baked, but Barbara confessed she wasn't a baker. Before Agatha could continue her questioning, Ella entered the tent and called out to greet Agatha, thereby revealing her identity to Barbara. Barbara, having had a drink, lunged towards Agatha out of rage but Agatha was able to jump out of the way. Barbara continued her attempts to attack Agatha, forcing Agatha to hide behind the serving counter and reach for a nearby knife to defend herself. Barbara eventually backed off, but not before a photographer was able to take a picture of Agatha brandishing a knife. Barbara stormed off and Agatha ran back to the safety of her car.

Realising the photograph was bound to make the front cover of the local papers, and possibly even appear in London publications, she reluctantly headed back out of the car to find the photographer and destroy the film. She found the photographer and followed him around, waiting until after he had finished photographing more events at the fair and then stealing the film while he was distracted at the wine tent. Successful in her mission, she raced back to her car and was nearly out of the carpark before she was pulled over by a policeman asking whether she'd seen any missing camera equipment. Luckily, someone in the distance shouted to the policeman that they'd found the missing film and Agatha was able to make her escape. Back at the cottage, she burned all the rolls of film she had stolen in her fireplace. She heard a car pull up outside and looked out the window to see none other than Barbara James on her doorstep! She hid behind furniture as Barbara aggressively knocked on her door. The knocking stopped for a few moments and then Agatha heard something hit her window. She waited until after she heard Barbara drive off again before investigating. She found that Barbara had thrown her dog's excrement against Agatha's windows. Agatha wasted no time cleaning up the mess, much to the delight of Mrs. Barr who was watching from the comfort of her kitchen. Soon after she was finished, Roy rang up moaning about a new project he was given at work promoting baby food. He felt they had given this to him hoping he would fail, but Agatha was quick to come up with several ideas to help him out. She then invited him to visit on the weekend of her charity auction before ending the call when she saw the police pull up outside.

Bill asked Agatha about her confrontation with Barbara James at the Ancombe fair before questioning the involvement with the disappearance of the photographer's film and letting her know that PC Griggs had a report that Barbara threw faeces at Agatha's cottage. Agatha claimed Barbara was mad and that Agatha didn't want to press charges against her because she never wanted to see the woman again. Bill then told her that his investigations into Reg had confirmed that Reg was indeed Lothario and that he had identified Agatha's mystery woman from Warwick Castle as Maria Borrow. He said that Maria had won the jam making competition, judged by Reg, for the last three years. Bill warned her not to speak to Maria, as that was his job.

Over the next few days, Agatha tried hard to forget about Reg's death. She went out cycling and took up more walking, feeling that she was becoming healthier already. Before she knew it, it was time for the trip to visit the Mircester Ladies' Society. To Agatha's relief, Mrs. Simpson was also attending and so Agatha sat with her on the bus ride making idle chit chat. Agatha was pleased to find herself now on a first name basis with Doris as a result. Upon arriving in Mircester, the Carsely ladies were treated to lunch before they were taken to the local theatre for some surprise entertainment. Indeed the entertainment was surprising, for instead of the stuffy ballet performance Agatha was expecting was a show of male strippers! After the show Agatha was surprised to find Mrs. Bloxby approved of the show but she explained that the proceeds from the show helped to pay for restorations at the abbey. Agatha was quite impressed by the men's good PR. Finally, the ladies grouped together to discuss the usual business of village fetes. Mrs. Bloxby advertised Agatha's auction the ladies from Mircester, who all seemed accepting and approving of her. Agatha finally realised that Bill was right, if she let Reg's death go she could in fact enjoy her retirement after all.

Characters

In order of appearance:

Trivia

Cultural references

  • For Mrs. Simpson's lunch Agatha prepares a Linda McCartney frozen meal, a popular real life British brand specialising in vegetarian and vegan food.
  • Mrs. Cartwright's love of pink reminds Agatha of novelist Barbara Cartland, who was known for her pink chiffon gowns.
  • Agatha buys detective stories from authors Ruth Rendell, Colin Dexter and Colin Watson.
  • Bill jokingly compares Agatha to famed fictitious detective Miss Marple and later she mockingly compares him to Sherlock Holmes.
  • Agatha buys some food from British retailer Marks and Spencers.

Adaptations

Radio

Main article: The Quiche of Death

The events of this story were adapted as the pilot episode of the Agatha Raisin radio series.

Television

Main article: Agatha Raisin & the Quiche of Death

The events of this story were adapted as the pilot episode of the Agatha Raisin television series.

Notable differences between the book and the episode include the change of Reg and Vera Cummings-Browne to Andy and Jo Cummings-Browne, respectively, and the change of Doris Simpson to Gemma Simpson. Reverend Alfred Bloxby is also changed to Reverend Jez Bloxby.

Other covers

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