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Let It Crow, Let It Crow, Let It Crow

This week, Don reviews "Let It Crow, Let It Crow, Let It Crow" by Donna Andrews.

“Let It Crow” is the thirty-fourth of the Meg Langslow mystery series. It seems nearly impossible to generate two novels a year and keep it fresh and not every number is up to snuff, but this one definitely is. In “Let It Crow,” Meg finds herself in an unusual situation. In the countryside outside of her hometown of Caerphilly, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley, her friend Ragnar has agreed to let his estate be used to shoot a reality TV show.

Ragnar became rich as the drummer for heavy metal bands. With his wealth, he bought a big mansion and is converting it into a gothic castle. So far, he’s had four towers built. The color scheme is inflexibly black and red, even at Christmas. The library is heavy with Lovecraft and Dracula novels. He’s eccentric but a kind and generous soul, a lavish host.

The reality show to be filmed is “Blades of Glory,” a bladesmithing contest. The contestants will forge, under pressure and while on camera, a knife then a sword. The forged creations will be judged on strength, sharpness, beauty, balance and historical accuracy. Before they can even begin, William Faulkner Cates, called Faulk, Meg’s blacksmith mentor, a gay man and the favorite to win this contest, is attacked, his arm broken. Meg, a veteran blacksmith but NOT a specialist in blade forging, is recruited to take his place.

The five remaining smithies are mostly awful: muscular, macho, egotistical, and needy. They undercut and sabotage one another’s work, tampering with the heat of the forge and stealing tools, so all are suspects in the attack on Faulk. In Andrews’ novels, usually the most unpleasant character is attacked or killed. Faulk was a loveable fellow. Many of the other characters are not, and the chief of police remarks: “… all these possible suspects and motives. It’s giving me a headache.”

This mystery series is famous for the bird titles. Usually these are amusing puns like “The Gift of the Magpie” and “We’ll Always have Parrots.” In this number, the novel for Christmas 2023, the crows in the title are more than an allusion to the Christmas song: they observe everything and become characters, active participants. In these mysteries, one assault is never the end of things. There are additional crimes, a good deal of sleuthing over the countryside, on foot and on horseback, and the crows helpfully show Meg where the gates in the fences are.

Crows—and ravens and blue jays—are, as we are learning, very bright, perhaps as intelligent as seven-year-olds. If they don’t like you for some reason, they might drop some gooey white liquid on your head. They can recognize human faces and remember who has been naughty to them and who has been nice. Meg Langslow is, no surprise, always nice.

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.