She Loves Him Still

I absolutely adore the Meg Langslow series by Donna Andrews.

When I was taping Susan Larson’s radio show the other day (oooh, how fabulous do I sound?), one of the things she asked me about was, simply, what exactly is a cozy mystery? I don’t remember what I said–something about how the primary point of them was to make the reader feel comfortable, and escape the worries of the every day, or something equally moronic–and of course, as always, later on I came up with the perfect example of how to define a cozy. Cozies are about communities, pleasant and warm communities where neighbors take care of neighbors and everyone watches out for each other and primarily is operating from a good place. The main character has to be someone the reader can not only identify with but has to like; and whenever there’s a new volume in the series it feels like we as readers are getting another lovey vacation to visit with dear old friends we only get to see once or maybe twice a year (fortunately, Andrews is on a two-book per year schedule; her Christmas crime caper for this year just landed at the Lost Apartment this week).

This is precisely the feeling i get when I read one of the Meg Langslow novels; like I’ve taken a lovely little vacation to my favorite little city in Virginia, Caerphilly (which I always pronounce “carefully”), and see Meg and her friends and family. It’s a place where everyone is neighborly or nice–and those who aren’t, everyone tries to steer clear of or just accepts that they just aren’t as nice as everyone else (they inevitably end up dead, anyway). Caerphilly College, where Meg’s husband is chair of the Drama Department, has served up any number of choice murder victims over the years–there was that horrible English department for awhile, and of course everyone loathes the Business Department; which is the source for the mystery in this exceptionally fun and funny mystery.

“We need more peacocks!”

I glanced up from my notebook-that-tells-me-when-to-breathe, as I call my combination to-do list and calendar. Dad was standing just inside the back door. He wore elbow-length white leather gauntlets and a pith helmet with heavy netting thrown back to reveal his face. His beekeeping outfit.

“If you’re looking for peacocks in the beehives, that’s probably why you’re not finding any,I said. “The pair you gave us for Christmas tend to hang out at the far end of Rose Noir’s herb field.”

“I know,” Dad said. “I was tending the hives when I noticed them. They’ve lost all their feathers.”

“It’s called molting,” I said. “I hear they do it every year.”

“Well, I know that.” He knocked some mud off his garden boots and clomped over to sit across the kitchen table from me. “I’ve already called Clarence Rutledge.”

I looked down at my notebook. I was up earlier than I liked and had a busy day ahead of me–busier than usual, thanks to all the things Mother had asked me to take care of in preparation for my brother Rob’s upcoming wedding to Delaney, his fiancée, now only a few days away. Then I glanced up at the clock. Already eight o’clock. Which said everything about how I expected my day to fo. Most mornings I’d have said “only eight o’clock.” But if there was something wrong with our peacocks…

The series comes full circle with this volume; the first in the series was Murder with Peacocks, and our first introduction to Meg came with her heavily involved in the planning on not just one, but three weddings, including her mother’s and her brother Rob’s; Rob’s fiancée is the one with the bright idea for peacocks as wedding decor (I remember thinking as I read this, that woman has no knowledge whatsoever about peacocks) and here we are again, with Meg heavily involved in planning another wedding for her brother Rob…and once again, peacocks are involved (there’s one hilarious scene in which Meg has to take a truck to “borrow” peacocks for the wedding since hers are molting, and she gets trapped in the truck when the peafowl launch an attack).

But as Meg goes about her day to day life with all the added burdens of the wedding planning, her nephew Kevin asks her for help. He and a friend have been doing a podcast about cold cases in Virginia, and someone tried to run his partner over with a car the previous weekend. Could this be connected with one of their cold cases? Meg, mainly to get out of wedding duties, agrees to look into the cold cases–which include a cheating scandal at the business school and a suicide, as well as the disappearance of an exceptionally talented coffee house singer from Charlottesville–which leads her to a lot of questionable antics (such as breaking into the business department to look at donor records) that are not only hilarious and improbable but Andrews always makes it completely realistic and completely believable, which is one of the many reasons I love this series so much: each volume is hilarious, completely unexpected, and absolutely marvelous, with Meg managing to never be caught off-guard or nonplused by anything that happens or comes up.

I absolutely love this series, and it’s always a delight when there’s a new one to read–and I do have the new one to read already! Huzzah!

Up To My Neck In Muddy Water

There seems to be a trend–at least to me–in mystery publishing that I am not sure how I feel about; primarily, that authors are moving away from writing series and going the stand alone route. Far be it from me to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t write–if the market is stand alone novels are flying off the shelves while series books aren’t quite as popular, well, you have to write what is selling if you want to have a career; writing may be an art form, but publishing is a business. Why this is happening–or it’s entirely happening inside my brain and it’s completely made up from observations–is up for debate. I know with me, while I love discovering a new-to-me author and steadily working my way through their backlist is a joy, I also understand that you can look at an author’s backlist and think to yourself, oh dear God I will never have the time to read all of those books so why even try?

In my case, a great example of this is Michael Connelly. I had never read him, but a few years ago I read his debut Bosch novel, The Black Echo, and absolutely loved it. Yay! I thought. A new-to-me author with an extensive backlist I can dive into without fear of ever running out of something new to read! I had the same reaction when I read Louise Penny’s first Gamache novel, Still Life.

And yet here I sit, several years later, having not read anything else either of them have written. This isn’t a dis of either Connelly or Penny, for the record; I loved both books and sang their praises to the skies here on this blog when I finished reading them. I have the next two books in the Bosch series on hand, and I have the next four Penny novels here as well. I’m not sure why I don’t ever think to pick up their next novels when I am in search of my next read through the endless stacks and stacks of my TBR pile, but I do think it has something to do with the extant of the enormous backlists by both–and of course new books are coming out daily, and on and on and so it goes, forever and ever, amen.

I have also fallen behind on reading one of my favorite series of all time, Donna Andrews’ marvelous Meg Langslow series. Addictive as oxycontin, clever and witty and charming, I absolutely love these books. Caerphilly, where Meg and her cast of colorful, unique and lovable characters, made up of friends and family, is kind of like Schitt’s Creek to me; a charming, wonderful place with an underlying level and degree of kindness that always shines through in a believable and realistic way that you cannot help but love to go back to; it really does feel like coming home when you open the book to page one and start reading.

“Do you really think there’s room for all this luggage on the boat?”

“Ship,” I corrected. “I know it’s only a cruise ship, but I understand it demoralizes the crew when you call it a boat. And don’t worry, the porters will handle everything.”

Trevor Ponsonby-West sighed and looked put-upon. Well, he was put-upon. Being put-open was more or less his job. He was my grandfather’s personal assistant, which meant Grandfather delegated to him anything he didn’t want to bother with himself and couldn’t cajole his friends or family to do. Trevor’s job was demanding under normal circumstances and almost overwhelming when Grandfather traveled. And he traveled a lot. After all, even though he was now in his nineties, the world still expected to see Dr. J. Montgomery Blake rescuing endangered species, leading environmental protests, and appearing in the nature documentaries that had become such a staple on television channels like National Geographic and Animal Planet.

Trevor did a great job of getting Grandfather where he had to go, when he was supposed to be there, and equipped with whatever he needed to bring. If only he could do it without quite so much sighing.

What I wouldn’t give to write such a clever, witty, put-the-reader-right-into-the-middle-of-the-story opening for one of my books!

Meg and company are about to embark on a cruise–her grandfather is being paid to give lectures on board–but the cruise company is a smaller, less-famous one; one that isn’t an enormous floating hotel with thousands packed on board. Much of the regular cast–including her parents, cousin Horace the CSI, brother Rob and fiancee Delaney, cousin Rose Noire, husband and twin sons–are coming along for the cruise to Bermuda and back (it really wouldn’t be a Meg novel without the rest of the cast). And of course, whenever the lovably eccentric Langslow family goes or does anything…murder is sure to spring up along the way.

Sure enough, the arrival of a Diva at the pier, named Desiree St. Christophe, arrives in her Christian Laboutin stilettos, and all the pieces are in place. Desiree is a very successful romance novelist–early success, faded away, made a massive comeback–and there’s another group of writers also on board–who all hate her and blame her for the death of one of their group, a writer who’d been struggling with block for years, but had finally come up with a surefire winning manuscript (complete with bids from several publishers) before Desiree claimed she’d stolen one of Desiree’s manuscripts. The publishers withdrew their offers, her agent dropped her, and drowning in debt from a terrible divorce, their friend Nancy committed suicide. Desiree isn’t likable–demanding, unfriendly, and always drunk. On their first night at sea, Desiree apparently jumps overboard in a suicide…but it doesn’t make sense, and Meg and her mystery novel fan father soon think there may be foul play. The ship also becomes stranded out in the middle of the ocean, Trevor (from the opening paragraphs) appears to be missing, and the cruise quickly becomes one of those horrific Cruises from Hell.

But no one is more adept than Meg in a crisis!

The book is charming and wonderfully, cleverly written–there were times when I laughed out loud–as are all of the books in this marvelous series. The plotting is also terrific; I had no idea what skullduggery was going on, until Meg’s intrepid investigation starts uncovering clues and links in the chain of a diabolical conspiracy, and right up to the very end I had no idea who was responsible for all the things going on aboard the ship; which is the mark of a truly great mystery writer.

I can never stop reading once I’ve started reading a Meg adventure (misadventure?) and if you’ve not read this series, and it’s length (this is book 25) concerns you–you needn’t worry. You don’t have to start at the beginning (Murder with Peacocks), but can pick it up in the middle (I actually mistakenly started with book two)…but this is a series you absolutely should read from the beginning, because they are all a lot of fun, clever, charming, and like Schitt’s Creek, a lovely, wonderful world of love and kindness you’ll want to escape into over and over.