Book Review: Dashing Through the Snowbirds by Donna Andrews
By Janet WebbNovember 22, 2022
Meg Langslow has a merry mess on her hands, although it wouldn’t be Christmas in the fictional town of Caerphilly, Virginia if all was well. Meg’s brother Rob, the creator/owner of the software company Mutant Wizards, is “doing a rush project” for AcerGen, a Canadian firm that specializes in “forensic genealogy and DNA analysis.” There is no room at the town’s inns and B&Bs, so Ian Meredith (AcerGen’s president) and a dozen of his programmers are bunking with Meg, her husband Michael, and their sons. Ian has dragged his entire crew to Virginia, and they’re missing the delights of a snowy Canadian holiday with their friends and family, as snow in Caerphilly is by no means guaranteed. Admittedly, Meg’s house is massive, but providing beds, meals, and entertainment is a lot.
Meg doesn’t care for Ian, as she makes clear to her grandmother Cordelia.
I heard footsteps behind me and turned to see a tall and slightly pudgy figure slouching into the room.
“Speak of the devil,” I muttered.
Ian is not prepossessing: “… the morning Ian, unshaven and unshowered, didn’t exactly look like someone you wanted to be in the same room with, much less touch.” At ten thirty in the morning, he inconsiderately complains that no one is cooking. Meg tells him that breakfast shuts down at nine am. Cordelia is unimpressed as well, particularly after Ian ransacks four bagged lunches and abruptly leaves the kitchen whilst dragging a chair and leaving a nasty scratch on the wood floor.
“Are they all that rude?” she asked.
“No, the rest of them are just as nice as you’d expect. Polite, considerate—not as cheerful as I’d like, but then you have to make allowances for the fact that they’re all homesick, overworked, and mortally embarrassed at everything Ian does.”
Meg’s Christmas squad is phenomenal. Her entire extended family pitches in to clean, entertain, organize outings, and decorate. As for the food, under the phenomenal talents of Rose Noire, meals are a cornucopia of deliciousness. Meg’s mother does it up in style, with no worries about whether it’s excessive. Meg’s role (other than being a blacksmith, wife/mother, avid volunteer and organizer—need one go on?) is simply to keep the cooks supplied with ingredients. Beyond keeping their guests fed and housed, Meg and her helpers worry about their mental well-being. What is it that they miss most about Canada? Can that be re-created in Virginia? Would serving up poutine make them feel less homesick?
Ian Meredith, the head of AcerGen, is the worst type of leader—bombastic, inconsiderate, and incompetent—but it’s not only his employees who despise him. Do they despise him enough to kill him? In the middle of the night, Ian is found “sprawled on the ice”—an ice rink Meg’s dad constructed as a Christmas surprise.
His legs were splayed, and the bright orange skates on his feet would have made the only spot of color if not for the small pool of blood still slowly spreading out from his head.
Unfortunately, Ian doesn’t make it. Grief is pro forma at best. AcerGen is being sued by unhappy customers: could one of them be his murderer? Meg’s starring role seems to be Solver of Mysteries in Chief—once again, her sleuthing skills are put to the test.
Dashing Through the Snowbirds, the 32nd Meg Langslow mystery, gives her loyal readers what they crave. Perhaps in real life folks are downsizing and simplifying holiday traditions but in Donna Andrew’s world, there are no limits on festive frivolity. Celebrations are super-charged in Caerphilly. The village decorations alone are almost indescribable.
As I opined when I reviewed The Gift of the Magpie, “There’s a soupçon of fantasy too.”
There are fabulous meals at the drop of a hat, mostly of the smorgasbord everyone-bring-something variety. The Christmas decorations are practically at a professional level. But perhaps that’s just what we need, a heartwarming vision of a magical Christmas rather than a focus on the mayhem of the holidays.
The appeal of the crime-riddled community of Caerphilly, as summarized in Murder Most Fowl (N.B., there’s an avian metaphor behind each of the most than thirty titles) is universal: “What makes Meg Langslow’s world so enticing is her brilliant and ever-expanding team of experts and hands-on helpers. It’s almost fantastical, reading about a madcap world that frequently teeters on the edge of mayhem…” At its core is a community that really cares about the happiness of its inhabitants. Meg Langslow solves mysteries without breaking a sweat and Donna Andrews consistently surprises the reader with the cleverness of her plots. DNA testing, particularly as it’s employed by law enforcement, has been much in the news. It’s a mixed blessing, to say the least. Andrews is talented at examining societal issues that are of the moment and incorporating ethical conundrums into her plots.
Dashing Through the Snowbirds is another keeper; an entrée into a magical world of mirth and kindness leavened with more than a dash of murder.