Jingle Bells

You really can never go wrong with Donna Andrews.

There aren’t many authors who’ve written as many novels as she that I’ve managed to somehow not only get caught up on but stayed current with, but every Andrews novel is an absolute delight that doesn’t miss the mark. It’s actually a master class in how to keep a long-running series going while managing to keep it fresh and interesting without repeating one’s self or ever letting the quality–in character, writing, and plotting–ever slip or slide. (As someone currently struggling with volume nine of a series, I do not make those kinds of claims without foundation.)

It’s always a pleasure to revisit Caerphilly and Meg’s enormous group of family and friends; it’s also lovely to revisit an idealized small town with such a strong sense of community that everyone gets along, everyone cooperates, and everyone pitches in to help out a friend or neighbor in need. Caerphilly is not only a great place to visit, but it’s also a great place to live–the winter and snow that inevitably plays a large role in the annual Christmas murder mystery that Andrews does every year notwithstanding. Even with my faulty memory, I can somehow manage to keep the enormous cast of recurring characters in this series straight, to the point where I smile delightedly when someone I’ve encountered and liked in the series reappears again in the latest. I also love the idea of making Donna’s Christmas mystery an annual tradition for me to read over the holiday.

“Blast! You scared it away!”

My grandmother Cordelia turned around and frowned at me. She held a pair of binoculars and stood in front of one of the kitchen windows, so I deduced my arrival had startled some rare bird into flight.

“And a Merry Christmas to you, too.” I strode over and gave her a hug of greeting in spite of the frown. “Did you just get here?”

“Sorry,” she said, hugging me back. “It’s just that we were so hoping…ah, well. Either it was or it wasn’t.”

“But unless you see it, you won’t be able to add it to your life list,” I said. “What unique and fabulous feathered creature did I deprive you of seeing?”

“Nothing rare,” she said. “I’ve seen thousands of Junco hyemalis in my life. It’s just that it would be encouraging to see one here today.”

Turns out, juncos are supposedly harbingers of snow, and everyone is hoping for a white Christmas in Caerphilly (past Christmas novels have involved blizzards and other catastrophic winter weather events), but so far it’s just been cold with no sign of snow. As usual, Meg has a houseful of people–really, almost every Meg book could be considered a “vintage house party murder mystery”–which not only includes numerous relatives and cousins, but people from a company called AcerGen, a Canadian genealogical website that has hired Meg’s brother’s software company Mutant Wizards to develop some programs for them as well as to beef up their website. The company’s owner, Ian Meredith, is a self-absorbed jerk with questionable ethics and morals. Within a few chapters his shitty personality has been well-established, as well as several potential killers for the man–because rest assured, in a Meg Langslow mystery, the victim is rarely lamented–and a new addition to Meg’s farm has been completed as a gift for Meg and family from her father: a skating rink in one of their pastures.

Naturally, it’s at the rink that the murder takes place, and Meg’s sleuthing cap is firmly planted back on her head–and with her ubiquitous lists, connections with the law in the county, and her family–Meg is soon on the track of the killer.

Written with her trademark wit–I laughed aloud several times during the course of reading the book–and charm, the book flows smoothly and you get so caught up in Meg’s world and point of view that before you know, dozens of pages have been flipped and chapters read, and you don’t want to put it down and get back to your own reality.

An enormously satisfying and delightful entry in the Meg Langslow series. You can start here, if you’ve not read the series already, but I would highly recommend starting at the beginning so you don’t miss any part of Andrews’ brilliant world-building.

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