Book Review: Duck the Halls by Donna Andrews

Posted December 16, 2013 by Stormi in Book Reviews, Review Archive / 0 Comments

Book Review: Duck the Halls by Donna Andrews

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Duck the Halls by Donna Andrews
Series: Meg Langslow #16
Genres: Mystery
Published by Minotaur Books on October 22, 2013
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library

Also in this series: The Hen of the Baskervilles, Lark! The Herald Angels Sing, The Gift of the Magpie

A few nights before Christmas, Meg is awakened when Michael is summoned to the New Life Baptist Church, where someone has rigged a cage full of skunks in the choir loft. The lengthy process of de-skunking the church requires its annual pre-Christmas concert to relocate to Trinity Episcopal, where Mother insists the show must go on, despite the budget-related protests of Mr. Otis, an elderly vestryman. Meanwhile, when Meg helps her grandfather take the skunks to the zoo, they discover that his boa has been stolen—only to turn up later during the concert slithering out from the ribbon-bedecked evergreens.

It’s clear that some serious holiday pranksters are on the loose, and Meg is determined to find them. But before she can, a fire breaks out at Trinity, and Mr. Otis is discovered dead. Could this be a bit of nasty revenge from the now deposed Pruitt family? Or harassment from the Evil Lender? As Meg searches for answers she also races to finish all of her Christmas shopping, wrapping, cooking, caroling, and decorating in time to make the season jolly for Michael and the twins.

Also by this author: The Hen of the Baskervilles, The Nightingale Before Christmas, Die Like an Eagle, Gone Gull, How the Finch Stole Christmas!, Toucan Keep a Secret, Lark! The Herald Angels Sing, The Falcon Always Wings Twice, The Gift of the Magpie

Sixteenth in the Meg Langslow humorous mystery series based in Caerphilly, Virginia, and revolving around the village blacksmith and her extended family.

My Take
A sweetly easy mystery with a focus on merry and not-so-merry pranksters and the goodwill and cooperation of truly Christian people as they help each other out. I do love this example of true Christianity with people of different denominations helping each other out so beautifully. Exactly how it should be.

Lucky for Meg, both Michael and Rob have joined the Caerphilly Volunteer Firefighters, which means she learns quickly where the mysterious excitement is. Our girl simply cannot resist being in on all the action.

I love the description of the Christmas decorations Mother has put up—definitely my style, LOL. But it’s the sound of the old ballroom-turned-library that really has me melting in my wing chair.

It’s a different sort of Nativity scene in several ways with a surfeit of skunks, a brace of ducks, a herd of rabbits, a table for one (I love the twins’ hopeful looking around at all concerts and performances after that first time, LOL), appearing in churches while the most official reason requiring critters in this holiday season is the menagerie Mrs. D requires for the living Nativity play on Christmas Eve. Then there’s the Nativity play with its assortment of animals, including dinosaurs. Hey, God created them two-by-two, LOL.

Definitely a lesson in how to handle skunks!

I do have to laugh as we read of all the different ways Meg is scheming to get out of her mother’s plans for organizing repairs and scheduling. I think we should vote Mother in for president of the U.S.A. She’d tidy the country up right quick.

How unreasonable can someone get? Remove the communion rail? When it’s just as easy for a couple rows to stand in front of it?? Fortunately there are more in town who simply step up to help—I do love the description of the port-a-potties!

That sneaky Christmas Eve dinner implodes. There’s just too much nosiness rampant. Definitely worth a rueful laugh.

This particular story was an excellent example of how not to do an info dump and still convey the relevant information as well as help us catch up with who’s doing what. Very nice. Good point on the boy-who-cried-wolf…a very useful character device.

LOL, I need to buy this one if only for Meg’s finely developed plan to counter her mother-in-law’s nasty comments. Too, too funny…and even more fun is watching mama-in-law’s reactions when she can’t get a rise out of Meg. It’s such a positive way to approach this divisive, mean holiday problem. Oh, lord, if you have family who never crafts you the right gift, this could well be another reason to buy! You’ll crack up reading about Cousin Sylvia’s Christmas gift giving propensities! And it’s a great segue into the denouement of the story!

The Story
Someone is pranking the churches in Caerphilly until it turns to murder. Until that point, however, rooms, concert halls, and spaces for the myriad of activities—including a much-beloved choir performance—that a church enjoys during the holiday season must be accommodated while repairs are made, and it’s up to Meg to coordinate it all. Much better than having to help with clean-up!

There’s also the new clash of mothers over who’s doing the most fabulous Christmas dinner—and not a traditional one.

Ah yes, it’ll be a Dickens of a Christmas…

The Characters
Meg Langslow is a blacksmith and her husband, Michael Waterston, is a drama professor at the local college. Their twin sons, Josh and Jamie, are now four years old and have chosen to have their own bedrooms. A brave move on their parts. Rob is her klutzy but very computer-literate game developer little brother who lives with them in their renovated old (and big) Victorian farmhouse along with Rose Noire, a cousin into organics and nature. Tinkerbell is Rob’s Irish wolfhound while Spike is the vicious little furball.

Dad is Dr. Langslow, one-half of where Meg got her desire to be involved. He can’t resist keeping an ear out for the action on the police band radio. Mother, a very classy lady, is more circumspect but doesn’t hesitate to take over and impose her decorative taste on everything and everyone.

Dr. Montgomery Blake is Dad’s father, the distinguished zoologist who has a show on Animal Planet; he runs a private zoo in Caerphilly. Victor is the zoo’s night-shift head keeper. Caroline Willner is an old friend of Grandfather’s and a frequent partner in mischief who runs a wildlife sanctuary. Cleopatra is an emerald tree boa.

Dahlia Waterston is Michael’s mother with the mean comments. She normally takes a cruise at Christmas. This time around she’s thinking of an Asian dinner.

The Shiffley family
It’s a big family with their fingers in a lot of different pies. Randall is the town’s mayor and runs a construction company that handles a lot of things including snow removal, vandal repair, and hay bale placement. Caleb is one of the young ones. Quincy Shiffley is a bachelor recovering from heart surgery; his farm has been a source of multiple complaints. Judge Jane Shiffley prefers to hold court in her family barn.

Sammy Wendell is one of Rose Noire’s beaus. Charlie Gardner is the registrar at the college with the tips on where to look to confirm someone’s bona fides; he’s also the friend loaning Michael the basement apartment.

Caerphilly PD
Chief Henry Burke is a good guy and has come to accept Meg’s sleuthing; Minerva is his truly lovely wife. Debbie Ann is the local police and emergency dispatcher. Eli Slattery, the animal control guy, get a break when Grandfather shows up at the scene. Horace Hollingsworth, Meg’s cousin, is the lone crime scene specialist. Aida Butler is one Burke’s deputies and a member of New Life Baptist; Ronnie is her son. Vern Shiffley is another deputy.

Caerphilly Volunteer Firefighters
Chief Featherstone is the new fire chief and still trying to get used to how much the people in a small town know.

New Life Baptist church
Ambrose Wilson is the reverend. Nelson Dandridge is the church’s caretaker. The Burkes are members of the congregation, and Minerva heads up the Ladies’ Auxiliary, similar to St. Clotilda’s Guild. Jerome Lightfoot, a.k.a., Bigfoot, is the pain in the butt choir director with no clue how to handle people and a pushy attitude.

Trinity Episcopal Church
Robyn Smith is the new reverend / rector / pastor at the church, replacing Dr. Rufus Womble. She’s married to Matt who may well be bringing Great-Aunt Brynhild (eek) back with him. St. Clotilda’s Guild is filled with volunteer ladies who take up the slack for most things. Riddick Hedges is the office manager, bookkeeper, and general factotum—the only paid staff member who never seems to get anything done unless it’s to hinder others. The Langslows and family belong to this congregation. Barliman Vess is a member of the vestry and everyone’s bête noir, picking away at anything he sees as an excessive expense.

Mrs. Thornefield donated her entire estate to Trinity Episcopal. A lovely thought, only it’s taking up so much room in the church’s undercroft.

Temple Beth-El
Rabbi Grossman sends over a brilliant calendar with thorough information.

St. Byblig
Father Donnelly is concerned about whether the church will need to be reconsecrated. Thankfully, the Bowl-o-Rama steps up to help out.

Methodist Church
Mrs. Dahlgren, the church secretary, has a rep for being difficult. Doesn’t sound like she thinks much, either. Reverends Trask and Larsen are quite cheerful about the addition and the children’s help.

The Cover
The cover is an orangey red with a lighter focus on a green sleigh loaded with a Christmas tree and presents popping out all over the skies, haphazardly pulled by two white Pekin ducks in belled harness and green-and-white striped scarves, LOL.

The title focuses on one of the pranks, one that seems to spread itself through this Christmas story, and Duck the Halls.

Reviewed by Kathy Davie

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