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“Round Up the Usual Peacocks” By: Donna Andrews


“Round Up the Usual Peacocks”

Author: Donna Andrews

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Pages: 300

Price: $26.99 (Hardcover)

Madcap Mystery Explores Cold Cases

For a number of years I have been a fan of the Meg Langslow mysteries by Donna Andrews. These cozies, set in the Shenandoah Valley in fictional Caerphilly, Virginia are a gentle delight.

(Caerphilly is a town in Wales; the name means the fort of Ffili. It also can refer to a white cheese made there.)

No one can resist the amusing titles, all fowl-oriented. Among my favorites are “We’ll Always Have Parrots,” “The Lord of the Wings,” and “The Falcon Always Wings Twice.”

This title, a “Casablanca” allusion, is OK, but not my favorite.

Meg, our heroine, is a blacksmith/iron artist married to a professor of theatre in the local university. Andrews has a pleasing pattern in these novels. In almost every one, and there are now 31 of them, the Langslows are having some kind of family event—Christmas, family reunion, etc. This adds to the general confusion and sometimes increases the number of suspects.

In “’Peacocks,” Meg’s brother Rob is getting married. The house is crammed with guests. Meg’s mother, and the bride’s mother, are driving everyone crazy making the events leading up to the ceremony more and more elaborate.

In the midst of this wedding chaos Meg learns that her nephew Kevin and his friend Casey have been making and releasing true crime podcasts about cold cases in the area and now someone has, perhaps, tried to run Casey over.

There are three old cases: a robbery/homicide in neighboring Clay County, the suspicious suicide of a young business college professor, and the disappearance of a talented young singer, Madeleine duPlaine, in nearby Charlottesville.

Meg figures it might be possible that the podcasts have struck a nerve with someone who does not want one of these cases reopened.

Cozies have no torture or dismemberment or even much blood for that matter, and whatever violence there is takes place off stage.

In this case, offstage and many years ago.

Meg investigates all three cases, but Andrews has the most fun with the Business School scandal.

Academic satire, or in this case outright savage slander, is always amusing.

To Meg, even investigating the business school is distasteful. She learns: “They kind of stick to themselves. Which is fine with the rest of the college—I mean, who wants to hang out with a bunch of people who have no interest in art, music, theatre, literature, history or science?”

They turn out “little replicas of the old nineteenth-century robber barons,” “laissez-faire, conscience-free businessmen” only interested in profit and loss.

Drama professor Michael adds: “They’re basically Philistines.”

(We should remember that the Theatre Department at Caerphilly U. also looks down on the English Department, from which they have seceded.)

More relevant, the Business School is suspected of soliciting donations in exchange for changing grades.

And they keep their donor lists secret and don’t share with the rest of the University.

Like it or not, there is also a wedding on. Her mother insists that there be decorative peacocks, but the Langslows’ peacocks are molting. Meg borrows some.

If peacocks are half as violent and dangerous as Andrews presents them you don’t want any, Flannery O’Conner notwithstanding. There is a long, hysterical scene, “The attack of the angry peacocks.” The birds run amok, terrorizing the chickens and many of the wedding guests, biting and scratching.

“…at least a dozen [guests] had received …nasty scratches on arms, legs, or faces.” And shins.

The next day is spent adding long sleeves to dresses and lowering hemlines to hide the wounds. The peacocks have torn up turf, broken flower pots, and mangled decorative garlands around the yard.

In a confusion of animal metaphors one might call this peacock raid “jumping the shark.” It’s fun but the tone of these three stooges scenes is jarring when Meg is confronted a few hours later with killers with real guns.

Charming as it is, I think this book is out of balance, with conflicting tones, too little time spent on the crime-solving and too much on the birds, llamas, dogs.

I know Andrews fans will disagree and quite rightly enjoy the book anyway. Good.

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.