M C Beaton

Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham

The eighth book in the Agatha Raisin series, 1999

The author wishes to thank Marie Steele of Thomas Oliver,

the real wizard of Evesham, for her help in this book.


THE weather was tropical. And this was England and this was Evesham in the Cotswolds. Agatha Raisin drove into the car-park at Merstow Green, turned off the air-conditioning, switched off the engine and braced herself to meet the wall of soupy heat which she knew would greet her the minute she stepped out of the car.

Like many, she had decided that all the scares about the greenhouse effect were simply lies made up by eco- terrorists. But this August had seen clammy, sweaty days followed by monsoon thunderstorms at night. Most odd.

Agatha groaned as she left her car and walked across to the parking-ticket machine. What a hell of a day to decide to get one’s hair tinted!

She returned to her car and pasted the ticket on the window and then bent down and squinted at herself in the driving-mirror. Her hair was still dark brown but now streaked with purple.

Agatha had gone into a mild depression following her “last case.” Mrs. Agatha Raisin fancied herself to be a detective to rival the fictional ones like Poirot and Lord Peter Wimsey. She was a stocky middle-aged woman with good legs, a round face and small bearlike eyes which looked suspiciously out at the world. Her hair had always been her pride, thick and brown and glossy.

But only that week she had discovered grey hairs, nasty grey hairs appearing all over. She had bought one of those colour rinses but it had turned the grey purple. “Go to Mr. John,” advised Mrs. Bloxby, the vicar’s wife. “His place is in the High Street in Evesham. He’s supposed to be very good. They say he’s a wizard at tinting hair.”

So Agatha had made the appointment and here she was in Evesham, a town situated some ten miles from her home village of Carsely.

The cynics say Evesham is famous for dole and asparagus. Situated beside the river Avon in the Vale of Evesham, the Garden of England, well-known for its nurseries, orchards, and, of course, asparagus, Evesham nonetheless can present itself to the visitor who comes to see its historical buildings as a down-at-heel town. Despite the increasing population, shops keep closing up and the boards over the windows are decorated with old Evesham scenes by local artists, so that sometimes it seems a town of pictures and thrift shops. Enormous fecund women trundle push-chairs with small children. The fashion they favour is leggings topped by a baggy blouse. As columnist and TV celebrity Ann Robinson said, she thought leggings came along with push-chairs and babies.

Agatha sometimes thought that a lot of the clothes shops closed down because the buyers would not look out of the window at the size of the female population and stocked only up to size sixteen instead of up to size twenty- two.

She walked over to the High Street, not even stopping to look at the magnificent bulk of the old churches. Agatha was not interested in history as was James Lacey, the love of her life, her neighbour, who was off once more on his travels, leaving his cottage deserted and Agatha depressed and with grey hairs on her head.

The hairdresser’s was simply called Mr. John. Mrs. Bloxby had urged Agatha to make sure she got Mr. John in person.

And there it was, glittering in the heat of the High Street, a discreet shop frontage with MR. JOHN emblazoned in curly brass letters over the door.

Agatha pushed open the door and went in. No air-conditioning, of course. This was Britain and there were too many recent memories of cold summers for shopkeepers to decide to put in air-conditioning.

A receptionist marked off Agatha’s name in the book and called to a thin, pimply girl to escort Agatha to the salon. Agatha began to wish she had not come. She trudged through to a room at the back and the girl said she would fetch Mr. John.

Agatha gazed sullenly at her reflection in the mirror. She felt old and frumpy.

Then suddenly behind her in the mirror, a vision appeared and a pleasant voice said, “Good afternoon, Mrs. Raisin. I’m Mr. John.”

Agatha blinked. Mr. John was tall and very, very handsome. He had thick blond hair and very bright blue eyes, startlingly blue, as blue as a kingfisher’s wing. His face was lightly tanned.

“Now what have we here,” he said.

“We have purple hair,” snapped Agatha, feeling diminished in front of this handsome vision.

“It’s easily remedied. Would you also like me to style your hair?”

Agatha, who usually kept her hair short, had let it grow quite long. She shrugged. In for a penny, in for a pound. “Why not?”

“You’re not local, are you?” Mr. John stirred the hair tint with strong, well-manicured hands.

“No, I’m from London.” Agatha had no intention of telling Mr. John or anyone about her childhood background in a Birmingham slum. “I had my own public relations business and sold up and took early retirement and moved to Carsely.”

“Pretty village.”

“Yes, very pleasant.”

“And does your husband like it?”

“My husband is dead.”

His hands hovered above her head. “Raisin. Raisin? That name rings a bell.”

“It should do. He was murdered.”

“Ah, yes, I remember. How terrible for you.”

“I’m over it now. I hadn’t seen him in years anyway.”

“Well, an attractive lady like yourself won’t remain single for long.”

“I am sure you mean well and that’s what you say to all your dreary customers,” said Agatha tetchily, “but I am well aware of what I look like.”

“Ah, but I haven’t done your hair before. By the time I’ve finished with you, you’ll be fighting them off with clubs.”

Agatha suddenly laughed. “You’re very sure of your skill.”

“I have every reason to be.”

“So if you’re that good, why Evesham?”

“Why not? I like Evesham. The people are nice. I am king here. I might be lost among the competition in London. There you are. Now, I’ll set the timer. Sharon, a coffee and some magazines for Mrs. Raisin.”

A woman had entered and was sitting in the chair alongside Agatha. “Ready to have your colour done again, Maggie?” Mr. John greeted her.

“If you think so,” said Maggie, gazing up at him with adoring eyes.

“Did your husband like the new style?”

“He doesn’t like anything about me.” Maggie’s voice had taken on a querulous moan. “Insults from morning to

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