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“The Twelve Jays of Christmas: A Meg Langslow Mystery” By:

“The Twelve Jays of Christmas: A Meg Langslow Mystery”

Author: Donna Andrews

Publisher: Minotaur Books

New York

2021

Pages: 320

Price: $25.99 (Hardcover)

Suspects Abound in Cozy Christmas Mystery

In August I read my first Donna Andrews mystery, “Murder Most Fowl,” a story loosely based around a theatrical production of “Macbeth.”

I had been unaware of Ms. Andrews and learned, to my chagrin, she was a best-selling author, had won many prizes and that this was her 29th book. I determined to be on the lookout for her next one. To my surprise, it came in only a few weeks.

Andrews titles her books with bird puns. Among my favorites are “We’ll Always Have Parrots,” and “The Falcon Always Wings Twice. “

“The Twelve Jays of Christmas” is of course a Christmas book. It appears Ms. Andrews has been doing two books a year: the summer book often features a family reunion, the second, a holiday gathering. Previous titles include “The Gift of the Magpie,” “The Nightingale Before Christmas,” “How the Finch Stole Christmas,” and “Six Geese A-Slaying.”

These mysteries are set in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The protagonist, Meg Langslow, is an iron artist, a blacksmith. Her husband, Michael, is a drama professor at the local college. Her father, an M.D., is also the local medical examiner, and her grandfather is a zoo director with a passion for birds.

The large cast makes for lots of confusion, suspects, and potential witnesses.

When this novel opens, we learn that Meg’s grandfather, to her dismay, is keeping two wombats, Ian and Bruce, in her basement. Wombats are not birds. Wikipedia tells us they are marsupials, from Australia, with a pouch, weigh between 44 and 77 pounds and have sharp teeth. A bunch of wombats is a wisdom. and wombats drop between 80 and 100 pellets of feces per day, shaped like dice. Males arrange them like Mahjong tiles to mark territory.

The wombats have little to do with this story, but who can resist looking up wombats?

The real narrative is of course about birds. Grandfather Langslow has hired an artist to paint pictures of blue jays and mockingbirds to illustrate his new ornithology guide.

The birds, 12 blue jays and 14 “overwrought” mockingbirds, get loose in the house. Everyone wears hats to keep from being pooped on and although we are told “… jays and mockingbirds are two of the birds that most commonly display aggression toward humans,” they are all very careful while capturing the birds because, as we all know, it is probably a sin to injure a mockingbird, much less kill it.

The artist, Roderick Castlemayne, is a crank. Everybody hates him. He torments Harris, his mild-mannered assistant, and has two angry ex-wives stalking him for back alimony payments.

In a subtle allusion to the O. Henry story, “The Cop and the Anthem,” Curley, the village drunk, is freed from his cell by a young over-zealous attorney and, unable to stay warm and fed, nearly dies from having his civil rights exercised so vigorously.

As is usual in Andrews’ cozies, the obnoxious person is killed and there are several possible murderers. To make it all harder, the Valley has a blizzard and power goes out for days. At one point there are three suspects or potential witnesses in the hospital, suffering from wounds and/or frostbite.

Blood is always a problem in cozies. Violence must be off-stage but there must be a corpse too. It is Meg who finds Castelmayne’s body, stabbed to death, and to my amusement does not seem overly perturbed. After all, at her house, this happens twice a year. She has any blood cleaned up as soon as legally permitted, to avoid upsetting her house guests and I suspect, her readers.

The Andrews’ novels are gentle, entertaining, amusing, diverting.

Enjoy.

Don Noble’s newest book is Alabama Noir, a collection of original stories by Winston Groom, Ace Atkins, Carolyn Haines, Brad Watson, and eleven other Alabama authors. 

Don Noble , Ph. D. Chapel Hill, Prof of English, Emeritus, taught American literature at UA for 32 years. He has been the host of the APTV literary interview show "Bookmark" since 1988 and has broadcast a weekly book review for APR since November of 2001, so far about 850 reviews. Noble is the editor of four anthologies of Alabama fiction and the winner of the Alabama state prizes for literary scholarship, service to the humanities and the Governor's Arts Award.
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  • ASCA_Small_logo.pngNow a retired English professor at The University of Alabama, Dr. Noble's specialties are Southern and American literature. He also hosts Bookmark on Alabama Public Television.Don Noble's reviews can be heard most Mondays at 7:45am and 4:44pm. and have been made possible in part through grants from the Alabama State Council for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, the support of The University of Alabama, and from the generous support from our listeners. Thank you!To listen to the audio version of Dr. Noble's reviews, just click on the book title to be taken to the full page. Audio is found either at the very beginning of the transcript or at the bottom of the page.Dr. Noble's Book Reviews are made possible in part with a grant from The Alabama State Council on the Arts,