Fresh Meat: Lord of the Wings by Donna Andrews

Lord of the Wings by Donna Andrews is the 19th cozy mystery in the Meg Langslow series set amidst the spooky Halloween festival that's overtaken Caerphilly, Virginia (available August 4, 2015).

Donna Andrews’ nineteenth Meg Langslow Mystery, Lord of the Wings, finds her fictitious town of Caerphilly, Virginia smack in the middle of a ten-day Halloween festival. Nobody in Caerphilly does anything by halves, so it’s hardly a surprise that Meg’s neighbors have turned decorating for the festival into a bit of an arms race:

…this year, Caerphillians had applied to their Halloween decorating the frenzy they usually saved for Christmas. The local craft store had made valiant efforts to keep up, pumping tons of black and orange decorations into the local economy. The more energetic house holders had made pilgrimages to larger craft stores and Halloween emporiums in Richmond and Washington, D.C., and not long ago, at one of Trinity Episcopal’s potluck suppers, I’d spotted two matrons off to one side, in furtive conversation. I sidled close enough to eavesdrop and found that one was lending the other her collection of mail order catalogs with a good selection of Halloween merchandise.

But Meg and company are less concerned with residents using props to turn their homes into the stuff of nightmares than they are with the actual horrors popping up all over town. Assaults, break-ins, dead bodies—the powers that be are determined to put an end to it all before anyone else gets hurt (or, more importantly, the mayhem starts scaring away the tourists).

If you ask me, good holiday mysteries are hard to come by; too often, pomp detracts from plot, circumstance upstages character, and the end result feels more like fan-fiction than a full-fledged book. Such is not the case with Lord of the Wings, though, largely because of the balanced approach Andrews takes to her tale. The trappings may be over-the-top in their Halloweeniness (and delightfully so), but the crimes plaguing Caerphilly are not; in fact, the actual mystery makes only subtle—and occasionally punny—nods to the holiday backdrop.

For example, while most Caerphillians are focused on putting literal skeletons on display, at least a couple are preoccupied with keeping figurative ones tucked out of sight:

“Mrs. Paltroon, aware of her family secret, and fearing that the deterioration of the painting was about to strip away her claim to being descended from a Revolutionary War hero, attempted to sneak into the museum after hours to steal it back?”

Granted, Chief Burke isn’t 100% sold on the notion of Mrs. Paltroon as Caerphilly’s Most Wanted, but he’d be remiss if he didn’t entertain the idea. (The protection of family skeletons as motive for a Halloween-set crime spree? Word-play genius.)

It also doesn’t hurt that Andrews’ character work is so strong. Because the residents of her fictional universe are already larger than life, they aren’t upstaged by holiday hoopla—they thrive on it. In fact some, like the town’s former medical examiner, Dr. Smoot, appear to have been waiting all series (in a coffin, perhaps?) for a book like this to come along:

“Good evening,” Dr. Smoot intoned, in his best B-movie vampire fashion.

Out beyond the fence, the tourists murmured restlessly and several camera flashes went off.

Then Dr. Smoot’s eyes lit up as he recognized us.

“Meg! And Michael! Thank goodness you’re here!” Actually, it sounded more like “thank goodneth,” because Dr. Smoot was wearing a particularly prominent set of vampire fangs. Rumor was that the fangs were permanent— fang-shaped crowns created by a Goth-friendly dentist in New Orleans—but no one had had the nerve to ask, so everyone in town was obsessed with peering at Dr. Smoot’s mouth to see if the rumors were true.

With Lord of the Wings, Donna Andrews has crafted a holiday-themed cozy where you don’t have to choose between style and substance; you can revel in the pageantry and solve a cleverly plotted mystery, too.

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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 Crimespree Magazine and The Maine Suspect, and you can find her on Twitter.

Read all Katrina Niidas Holm’s posts for Criminal Element.

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