I fell in love with Meg Langslow and her family of whack-jobs when I first picked up Murder with Peacocks lo those many years ago. This is one of those series I went out of my way to 'upgrade' to a complete hardcover collection. They're light, funny, really well-written and almost always well plotted. Even if one of the plots isn't completely up to snuff, I'm having so much fun with the characters, I find myself not caring.
I've been saving Duck the Halls to read during the Christmas season, since I have been really struggling to feel the season since moving to the Southern Hemisphere. I didn't quite realise how much my Christmas cheer was tied to shorter, colder days (even in Florida - it's all relative). Here, I'm just getting stuck into Spring, gardening, long, warm days and then someone comes up and says "so, what are you guys doing for Christmas next week?" and I suddenly feel like Schrödinger's Cat - except it's summer and winter (holidays) at the same time.
So this year I've been saving up my Christmas books to read the two weeks before the holiday. I'm not sure if it's working, but I've read some great books and this one is the very best one! I can't recommend it enough and if I could give it the sixth star, I would. This book made me nostalgic for church!!!
It all begins with a surfeit of skunks released in the Baptist Church 4 days before Christmas. Meg is roped into rearranging the schedules of all the churches and the synagogue to make room for all the events the Baptist Church can't have because of the need to de-skunk. This becomes a sisyphean task as more pranks are played on neighbouring churches, culminating in a dead body.
The mystery isn't the hardest or most surprising, but well done just the same. Quite a few suspects, some false leads, a red herring or two.
But the best part of this book wasn't the mystery, it was the characters and the holiday. Donna Andrews does a fantastic job of showing what religion should be about. People pulling together and working together. Plus, the fantabulous animal pranks and how animals play a large part to the story. I loved the ending of this book. There's a scene towards the end that involves a living nativity that had me simultaneously wanting to giggle and get weepy at the same time - the imagery was vivid and touching, while at the same time being a bit absurd. Pure Gold.
I'll end this review by coming back around to what else I struggle with during the Southern Hemisphere Holiday Season. By virtue of it being summer, the traditional Christmas dinner here is not my idea of a traditional dinner. Not bad, just different. There was a great parallel to this in the book and I love the way Meg and Michael resolve it. It brings the book to a perfect, Christmas, wrapped-in-a-bow ending. Perfect.
Thank you to Donna Andrews for giving me some Christmas Spirit.