Murder Most Fowl: A Meg Langslow Mystery (29)
Once again Donna Andrews takes readers to Caerphilly, Virginia, in this cozy mystery series that’s loaded with quirky characters and weird yet credible crimes.
It has become the norm that Meg Langslow’s home is community central for her innumerable relatives and associates. There’s always something complicated going on, which she manages with the help of her “notebook-that-tells-me-when-to-breathe.”
This time the action is centered around a production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, directed by Meg’s husband, Michael. It’s a joint project of Caerphilly College’s highly—and sometimes viciously—competitive English and History departments, between which Michael’s Drama department is pushed and pulled because it fits into neither and both.
As a result of the departmental rivalry, obnoxious parties have gotten injected into the confusion to accommodate political interests. These parties include a group of medieval reenactors supplying a Scottish military camp to provide historical veracity in support of the play. In theory. All they do in fact is make mischief, ranging from sanitary problems to petty thievery of livestock, and introducing red herrings.
There are also visiting professors doing a lecture series; a pseudo-coven of witches casting potions in the woods at night, aiming to harm the dramatic leads; a spiteful filmmaker documenting the production and peripheral events, making everyone look as bad as possible; and an equally spiteful vandal trying to sabotage the whole shebang. One of these people gets murdered, adding a police investigation to the mix.
Meg has worked with the Caerphilly police in 29 volumes now, so it’s inevitable she becomes involved in investigating both the major and minor crimes. Even without her history, it would be hard to avoid sleuthing when everything occurs on her doorstep. But thanks to her sprawling network of contacts, she can bring resources to the table to help the police solve the crimes.
Some of the situations in this series are so over the top you can’t help but wonder why any given character doesn’t just dig in their heels and say, “Why doesn’t he/she/they just [fill in the blank]?”
But there’s always a good story reason why not, so you read on, accepting the characters’ version of normal and wondering how everything is going to play out. This author excels at inviting suspension of disbelief. The scenarios are always current and relevant and plausible, at the same time a bit goofball.
Way back when the series started, Meg’s occupation as a blacksmith played a larger role in the stories. For too long she’s been forced by circumstances to be an administrator, sometimes seeming the only sane person responsible for herding a bunch of cuckoo cats. In this book she gets some time back in her smithy to make a ghoulishly funky prop for the play, which item also plays a role in the mixed-up mysteries.
Cozy mystery novels are unique in the way some of them can make murder fun. While this series isn’t laugh-out-loud comedic, it maintains a lightness of tone through believable absurdity, carried by crackling prose. It sets that tone through the titles: All are some clever play on words incorporating bird life into a familiar expression. This book, Murder Most Fowl; other examples, The Falcon Always Rings Twice, The Hen of the Baskervilles, Duck the Halls, Stork Raving Mad.
These titles cue readers into what to expect for a story style. Even those most familiar with the series can hardly guess what on earth is going to happen in each volume. This combo has earned Donna Andrews several awards and her status as a bestselling author.
For readers entering Meg Langslow’s world for the first time through Murder Most Fowl, they are likely better served by starting the series earlier. This latest volume relies more on fan familiarity than others, although it still carries itself well if read as a stand-alone. Either way, readers will get chuckles and shivers at an intelligent level and have a bundle of similar stories to read back through or look forward to—or both.