Duck the Halls - Donna Andrews

Book Reaction (not a full review) 

I think this book may have jinxed me.

The story starts with an unknown prankster leaving a cage full of skunks in a church.

On two of the nights that I listened to the audiobook on the way home from work, I nearly ran right into our resident skunk. On one occasion, he hissed at me. I am deathly afraid of skunks.

As with the rest of the book, the story is charming, with a boatload of wacky characters and a protagonist who is both sympathetic and humorous. I love visiting Donna Andrews' Caerphilly in much the way that I used to enjoy my visits to Lillian Jackson Braun's Moose County: I read the books for the characters' antics, not for the mystery.

Which is a good thing, as there's not much of a mystery to speak of. Andrews follows the Cozy Mystery Formula for detective fiction, which makes the crime very easy for the reader to solve. First, identify the Unpleasant Newcomers (not necessarily to the town, but to the cast). There will likely be three or four of them. One of them will be distinguished early on as the chief antagonist and someone that everyone, including the protagonist, wants to kill. This will be the murderee. The others will split into two logical groupings. One, the one with the superficial but breakable alibi, will be guilty of the murder. The other will initially be suspected, but will turn out to be involved in a different crime. The protagonist will surprise the villian in the act, the villain will tie her up and monologue, and another member of the cast will surprise them and save the day.

One of the reasons that I don't tend to dip into the cozy mystery genre much is that this particular formula troubles me. It creates a division between the comfortable and comedic characters and those whose lives are of so little worth that their death or misery can be cheerfully put aside as the characters go on with their lives. After all, that's why the genre is called cozy.

But for all that, the Meg Lanslow series is so very charming and so much fun that even I can put aside my annoyance with cozies and join everyone else in treating murder as a minor inconvenience.

In this case, my favourite parts were Meg's sang-froid in dealing with the crazy circumstances that her family creates, such as a duck appearing in her bathtub. (She puts it in her brother's bathtub, and later, when she is faced with telling her sons about the duck's future as Christmas dinner, she presents it to her grandfather as a Christmas present for his petting zoo that she didn't have time to wrap.)

The ending, too, had me in stitches.