Fresh Meat: The Nightingale Before Christmas by Donna Andrews

The Nightingale Before Christmas is the 18th book in the Meg Langslow series by Donna Andrews (available October 21, 2014).

Meg Langslow immediately stands out as a unique character because she is a modern day female blacksmith. She lives in Virginia, and those that follow the series have seen the changes as Meg gets married and becomes a mother. In part, it’s those kind of changes that keeps the series going, with family playing such an important role. The reader gets to know Meg’s parents, cousins, mother-in-law, and more, and they are far from boring relatives.

In the newest book, Meg has been drafted (by her interior decorator mother) to be the coordinator of the Christmas show house. She has to wrangle the decorators as they scurry to get their individual rooms decorated with their meticulous styles, as well as adding holiday themes. The only thing that keeps Meg sane is remembering that the reason she agreed to take on the job was to avoid having her own house volunteered as the showcase.

“Passementerie.”

Mother was standing in the evergreen-trimmed archway between the living room and the foyer, directly beneath the red-and-gold “Merry Christmas” banner, frowning at something she was holding.

Since I had no idea who or what “passementerie” was, I just sat there in the foyer of the Caerphilly Designer Show House with my pen poised over my notebook-that-tells-me-when-to-breathe, waiting for Mother to elaborate.

A series of mishaps at the show house begins with missing UPS packages. The decorators continually order new accessories and against Meg’s wishes, have them shipped to the house. Their unique personalities and competitive nature is a large part of the interactions at the house. From quilts to chintz to goth, the various rooms were being transformed from the dilapidated foreclosed house (borrowed from the bank for the show), to upscale museum quality décor. Of course, there is one bad apple that no one likes, and he seems to be right there whenever disaster strikes. Clay Spottiswood is handsome, arrogant, and not a nice guy.

If one of the other designers had been causing a problem, I’d have postponed dealing with it until after Jessica left.  But Clay had already used up his last chance and then some.

“Claiborne Spottiswood!” I yelled. “Get out here before—”

“Where’s that package I asked you for?” The hammering stopped, and Clay reappeared from the master bath, evidently attempting to deflect me with a counterattack.

“I don’t know and I don’t care.” In fact, I didn’t even believe he was missing a package.  More likely he was pretending to have lost one.  He’d probably overheard some of the designers speculating that he was behind the disappearances. “You’ve splashed red paint all over Ivy’s hallway, Violet’s rug, and Martha’s bathroom.”

“How do you know it’s my paint?” he said. “There are eleven other decorators in this house—”

The emotions and frustrations surrounding the rush to meet the deadline, along with the clash of styles, lead to very interesting dialogue and a cast of characters that keep the pace of the story moving. There are also interesting and innovative resources used to get the reader thinking about information that may or may not be relevant to solving both the crime and the reasons behind it.

The book gets you into the holiday spirit right away (even if it’s not December yet). The Christmas plays, sledding, and the array of holiday decorations being put up, taken down and moved around at the show house give the perfect image of the week of Christmas.

Meg is constantly answering questions from her mother-in-law, who generously offered to cook the entire holiday meal. However it may have taken Meg less time to cook it herself! The reader also gets to enjoy Christmas through the eyes of Meg’s five year old twins, whose biggest holiday challenge is trying to come up with the perfect present for their mother.

“But turkey’s so bland.”

I wanted to say “that’s why we put gravy on it,” but I held my tongue.

“Maybe I should have both.”

“That’s an excellent idea,” I said. “That should keep both parties happy.”

“Not the vegetarians,” she said. “But I’ll worry about them later. Oh, by the way—do you really want an Xbox for Christmas?”

“No,” I said. “I can’t say that I do, and Michael and I agreed that we don’t want the boys exposed to video games this young.”

“I thought as much,” she said. “So I told Jamie that I couldn’t help him buy you one for Christmas.”

The Nightingale Before Christmas is a fun book with characters that will keep you engaged. I did figure out a few of the connections, (but at the time I was supposed to figure them out), and Donna Andrews does a spectacular job tying up all the loose ends into a big holiday bow!

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Nikki Bonanni is an Exercise Physiologist and is currently working on her first mystery. Out of the Barnes & Noble in Ithaca, NY, she also runs the Killer Coffee Club, a mystery book club that integrates author discussion with its members.

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