Monday, April 22, 2013

Book Review: Cockatiels at Seven by Donna Andrews (Meg Langslow #9)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Good mystery, lots of fun
Cons: New comers might not get all of it.
The Bottom Line:
Meg's babysitting
Searching for missing woman
Hard juggling act

Hunting for the Missing Mommy

I was shocked today when I realized Cockatiels at Seven was the ninth entry in the Meg Langslow series. I knew the series had been going for a while, but I never would have guessed just how long. Time really does fly when you are having fun.

And fun is the key word. While mysteries, the series features just as much humor as it does red herrings. Usually, the antics come from Meg's rather large extended family and whatever their latest obsession is. Ironically enough, Meg's profession of blacksmithing hardly comes into play in the series.

As this book opens, Meg and Michael are settling into married life and their farm house. Michael is gearing up for a new school year with faculty meetings at Caerphilly College in Virginia. And Meg is in blacksmith mode that Monday morning, wanting to build up inventory for an upcoming show.

All that stops when her friend Karen stops by. Meg hasn't seen Karen for a couple years, so she is a bit surprised when Karen asks her to watch her toddler, Timmy, for a couple hours. As much as she wants to, Meg can't ignore Karen's obvious desperation, so she says yes.

When Karen hasn't reappeared by that evening, Meg is beyond panicked. And watching Timmy hasn't helped her nerves. So Meg begins to hunt for the missing Karen. She's just begun when she finds the police searching Karen's apartment. Suddenly, it's looking like Karen might be on the run. Is she a criminal? Why did she leave Timmy with Meg? And can Meg find her and the truth?

This series is always a balance between the humor and the mystery. Most of the time, author Donna Andrews gets it right. I felt the last couple of books were a little off, but I felt the balance was back here. Okay, maybe things are a little unbalanced in favor of the mystery here. It actually starts rather quickly and develops nicely throughout the entire book. The climax was entertaining and surprising. Yet I was smacking myself for not having figured it out myself.

But don't worry. There's still plenty of humor here. This time around, it comes more from Timmy or Meg's attempts to get someone to watch him so she can sleuth. Frankly, I was beginning to feel that Meg's family was overused in the series, so it was nice to see them getting a bit of a break. They do still provide some laughs as well, but they aren't the focus of the jokes. Either way, I laughed several times over the course of the book and had a grin on my face almost the entire way through.

If there is any weakness here, it might be the series characters. Having read all nine books in the series (a couple more than once), it's impossible for me to judge this as a newbie to the series. My instinct says that some of the extended family won't make much sense to someone who hasn't read some of the previous entries in the series. A couple of them suddenly appear with hardly any introduction. Most of them get enough of an introduction to make it work for the new reader, however. And really, it isn't a chore to read the earlier volumes any way.

The good news is the new characters are real. They aren't just two dimensional suspects. A couple are that way, but that's only because we don't see them for more than a few pages.

As always, the writing style is perfect. It's first person; light and fun. Frankly, some of the humor comes from Meg's sarcastic commentary on the events surrounding her.

A brief word about the title. Some fans seem upset that cockatiels aren't the main focus of the story. It's often the case that the title bird only makes a cameo appearance. Frankly, I look for the punny title and enjoy the story regardless of how involved the bird is.

This book proves that Donna Andrews isn't losing her touch. Here's hoping that Cockatiels at Seven is book nine out of ninety.

Missing some of Meg's earlier adventures?  Here are the Meg Langslow Mysteries in order.

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