It is widely believed that Americans read less these days. That may be, but no doubt we publish more than ever, hundreds of thousands of books a year, more than anyone can keep up.
Recently “Murder Most Fowl” came in the mail. I had never heard of Donna Andrews before but the cover was cute so I checked it out. It turns out Andrews has won no fewer than six different awards, including the prestigious Agatha, and Murder Most Fowl is 29th in the Meg Langslow Series.
As is often the case nowadays, the series titles are clever word games, in this case based on birds. The first was “The Gift of the Magpie”. There is also “We’ll Always Have Parrots”, “Cockatiels at Seven” and “The Real Macaw”.
These cozy detective novels are all set in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. Our protagonist / detective Meg Langslow is a metal artist. It has its own forge and produces decorative items, works of art and wrought iron benches. In this novel, she makes a vicious looking dagger. Her husband Michael is a professor of acting at the local Caerphilly College and rehearses “Macbeth”.
So the dagger.
The word “Macbeth” must never be pronounced aloud. It’s bad luck. You should say “The Scottish Play”. But there you are
At the same time, the Langslows organize a kind of family reunion with many cousins, the actors of “The Scottish Play” live in their house, in sheds, barns and tents.
Out in their woods, a group of hapless reenactors portray not a civil war battle as one might expect, but a medieval village they call Birnam Wood – yes, the one that would have to come to Dunsinane if Macbeth were to be defeated. They are led by a thug called McLeod who uses a weirdly faked Scottish accent.
These reenactors are terrible and pathetic. They are said to be an 11th century Scottish military camp, but their little huts made of logs, branches and vines are falling down. They are wet, dirty and miserable.
The Langslows insist that they bring portable toilets, which is sure to be anachronistic, but this bunch woo disease.
Even out in the woods there are witches with a cauldron who brew potions and cast spells that may or may not be evil.
These false medievalists are encouraged by the English department, especially by Professor Philpotts. We get a lot of comedy about the unresolved anger the English department still feels because the acting department was successfully split off 10 years earlier.
Academic satire is almost too easy.
The actors, many of them students, are jealous and competitive. The pompous professors preach, and among them is a disgusting documentary filmmaker, Damien Goodwin, whose camera is everywhere. He’s constantly spinning, focusing on mistakes and errors, like slurred lines at rehearsal and the desperate, hungry reenactors trying to steal sheep.
Nobody likes him in the first place, and one night after he checks his vicious work, a lot of people want to kill him and someone does.
Suspects abound and strangely enough, this mystery imbued with primitive Scotland is brought to life with the highest technology of the 21st. Detectives are infrequent from their phones, texting and sending pictures from dawn to dusk.
Hercule Poirot used the little gray cells. Contemporary detectives use the small cell phones.
Don Noble’s latest book is Alabama Noir, a collection of original stories by Winston Groom, Ace Atkins, Carolyn Haines, Brad Watson, and eleven other Alabama authors.
“Mord Most Fowl: A Meg Langslow Mystery”
Author: Donna Andrews
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Price: $ 26.99 (Hardcover)