Some Like It Hawk is the latest in Donna Andrews’s humorous cozy mystery series featuring blacksmith Meg Langslow (available July 17, 2012).
When the recession hit the United States in 2007, the going officially got tough, and ever since, news and pop culture both have been overrun with stories of economic devastation. Some of the stories have been infuriating. Many have been heartbreaking. But few, if any, have been uplifting—and even fewer still have had the audacity to be funny. That is, until the incomparable Donna Andrews put pen to paper and wrote the latest of her wildly popular Meg Langslow mysteries, the utterly fabulous Some Like It Hawk.
Andrews’s latest finds series heroine Meg Langslow’s hometown of Caerphilly, Virginia, in the throes of a somewhat unique financial crisis:
“So Eric, you heard about what happened with all the town buildings?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Mayor Pruitt mortgaged them and stole the money.”
“We don’t know for sure about the stealing part,” Rose Noire said. “It hasn’t been proven in court.”
“I know you’re reluctant to think ill of any other sentient being, even a Pruitt,” I said. “But if you want to make a bet on what the verdict will be if they finally manage to try the mayor for embezzlement . . .”
“Ex-mayor,” she said. “And no. But I still think we should be careful to say ‘alleged.’ ”
“If it makes you happy,” I said. “I’m sure our alleged horse thief of an ex-mayor will appreciate the consideration.”
Not only did Ex-Mayor Pruitt take his ill-gotten gains and flee to Mexico, but the Evil Lender with whom Pruitt did his dirty dealings has foreclosed upon the town’s court house, jail, and other public buildings, forcing its employees to set up shop in tents and barns all over town.
But the good citizens of Caerphilly aren’t taking the situation lying down. Meg’s cousin, one of the top property law experts in the state, is helping the town mount a legal defense. And the county clerk? He’s staging the mother of all sit-ins:
“. . . Eric, did you hear about Phineas K. Throckmorton?”
“You mean the crazy guy who refused to get out when the lender repossessed the town buildings? The one who barricaded himself in the courthouse basement?”
“Eric . . .” Rose Noire began.
“The allegedly crazy guy who allegedly barricaded himself,” Eric said quickly.
“Not crazy, just eccentric,” I said. “Reclusive. And there’s nothing alleged about the barricading. He’s been down there since April of last year.”
Sounds impossible, right? How on earth could a man survive alone in a basement for an entire year with absolutely no access to the outside world? Why, with a little help from his friends, of course:
“Only a few people in town knew about the tunnel when the siege began,” I said. “In fact, for most of the twentieth century, only the county clerks knew it had ever existed. After all, it was in the courthouse basement, and there’s nothing worth stealing down there. Never has been anything down there except the clerk—currently Mr. Throckmorton—and over two centuries’ worth of gently crumbling town and county records.”
“For the first few weeks of the siege, we kept pretty busy hauling in supplies,” Rose Noire said. “We all expected that sooner or later the Pruitts would remember about the tunnel and find a way to shut it down.”
“We?” Eric repeated.
“A lot of townspeople are in on the secret,” I said.
A cheer went up overhead. Eric had opened his mouth and was saying something, but he was drowned out by the thunder of half a dozen steel drums.
Eric drew closer.
“So this whole time everyone in town has been just strolling through the tunnel with supplies?” he asked. He had to shout to be heard.
“Heavens, no,” Rose Noire said, with a shudder.
“It’s no stroll,” I said. “Here, I’ll show you. Help me move this stuff.”
Rose Noire went back to the front of the tent to keep watch. Eric and I crawled under the bandstand, where he helped me pull aside the tires and boxes to reveal an ancient-looking iron trapdoor with oversized hinges on one side and a huge, slightly rusty ring on the other. It was set into a wide slab of eighteenth-century stonework, heavily patched with early twentieth-century concrete. Overhead, the steel drums had subsided and we could hear the drama student who served as today’s emcee formally introducing the band, his words punctuated by random notes from the drums or guitars.
“Grab the ring,” I said. “Get ready to pull. But wait until the music starts.”
The calypso players launched into their first number. I nodded to Eric and we heaved on the ring. The trapdoor rose with a screech that would have alerted half the county if the musicians above hadn’t been playing their hearts out, with occasional deliberate squawks of feedback.
The tunnel access is crucial to Throckmorton’s campaign, but only if the Evil Lender remains ignorant of its existence—hence the creation of Caerphilly Days. That’s right: Meg and her neighbors have actually united to organize a summer-long festival with the sole aim of protecting the secret of the tunnel and helping Phineas hold the basement until the town and its lawyers can figure out a way to reclaim what’s rightfully theirs. (And if the increased tourism just so happens to bring in a little extra money for the town, so much the better.)
For some, joining the fight means making a joyful noise unto the Lord:
An expectant silence fell over the crowd, and then a rich, mezzo-soprano voice rang out with familiar words:
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.”
Althea, Deacon Washington’s wife, and probably my favorite singer in the New Life Baptist choir. She wasn’t singing full out, but deliberately holding back, making her voice sound soft and hushed. I found myself holding my breath to make sure I could hear every note, which was silly, because even when she was holding back you could hear Althea just fine from across the town square. The rest of the audience must have been holding their breath, too, because all you could hear between the notes were the frogs and crickets down in Pruitt Pond.
She sang the second verse the same way—a lot softer than we all knew she could, and with no frills or improvisations—just an achingly beautiful rendition of the familiar melody.
When she launched into “Through many dangers, toils and snares” at the beginning of the third verse, the choir began humming along—soft at first, so you almost thought you were imagining it, and then getting gradually louder and splitting off into harmonies.
By the time they got to “And Grace will lead me home” at the end of that verse, the whole choir was singing full out in three- or four-part harmony, and the bandstand vibrated with the force of the music.
For the next two verses, the soprano section carried the tune while Althea and a soprano with almost as powerful a voice danced around and above the melody. And then for the final verse, they just sang the melody, unadorned, over a hundred voices in perfect unison.
It was so overwhelming that the entire audience was silent for a few moments, and then the applause started, all at once, like a crack of thunder.
And for some, it just means making noise:
Rancid Dread exploded onto the stage, all pumping both fists in the air as if to acknowledge the frenzied cheers of their fans. Unfortunately their audience was a mix of indulgently smiling locals, who had known the musicians since they were in diapers, and the tourists, who were perfectly happy to applaud politely for almost any act that walked onstage.
The fist-pumping petered out as the five Dreads took their places. Orvis scurried over to his drums and crouched behind them, peeking out from time to time as if surprised that no one was throwing anything at him. The vocalist clung to the microphone stand as if in need of support, while the guitar, bass, and keyboard players stumbled around onstage, peering at all the available instruments as if unsure which they’d been assigned. Finally the vocalist turned around and stage whispered, “One! Two! Three! Four!” All three instrumentalists quickly grabbed an instrument and began to play.
My initial thought was that they’d also failed to reach agreement on what their first number would be. The guitar player and the keyboardist were playing something that resembled a reggae version of Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild,” while the bass player and Orvis launched into the rhythm of “Louie Louie.” I cringed, expecting that after a few bars they’d stop and regroup, or perhaps one side or the other would give in gracefully and switch. But either they were all incredibly stubborn or the mishmash they were playing was exactly what they had in mind.
After a few bars more, the vocalist joined in with an earsplitting wail, sort of a cross between chalk on a blackboard and the feedback our sound crew had become so adept at producing. The band responded by turning up the volume—a feat I wouldn’t have dreamed possible—and the first few ashen-faced tourists began stumbling toward safety.
But for all their differences, the goal is the same for everyone involved. When the going got tough, the citizens of Caerphilly joined forces to fight for what’s theirs—and not theirs individually, but theirs as a community. Some Like It Hawk likely won’t be the only book released this summer to comment on the country’s financial crisis, but I can almost guarantee it’ll be the only one to make you grin like a fool. Not only will it have you rolling you in the aisles from the uproarious start all the way to the thrilling conclusion, but it’ll help remind you what’s so great about the often quirky and always fiercely independent nature of small-town America—and it may even help convince you that our Founding Fathers were onto something when they said: “United we stand.”
Katrina Niidas Holm loves mysteries. She lives in Maine with her husband, fabulously talented pulp writer Chris F. Holm, and a noisy, noisy cat. She writes reviews for The Season E-Zine and The Maine Suspect, and you can find her on Twitter.
See coverage of more new releases in our Fresh Meat series.