Murder with Peacocks – Donna Andrews

Murder With Peacocks (Meg Langslow, #1) - Donna Andrews

I am sorely tempted to give this five stars, just because. It's a cozy mystery – a young woman who blacksmiths for a living takes the summer off to plan not one, not two, but three weddings (for her best friend, her brother, and her divorced mother, in that order), and when her mother's fiancé's dead wife's sister (still with me?) is found dead it's only the beginning of the mayhem. I have prejudices and whatnot that generally keep me from giving a cozy mystery five stars – it always feels like the perfect score should be saved for the truly superlative: Litrachure. Except when I just couldn't enjoy a book more if there were a twenty dollar bill stapled to the inside cover, and then I throw caution to the winds. And you know? This may be "just" a cozy mystery, but it has no pretensions of being anything but a really fun story really well told, and as a cozy it hits all the right notes and not a single wrong one. There were a small handful of places where the writing hitched slightly – a word used twice in a compound sentence, that sort of thing – but … Abraham Lincoln said "Whatever you are, be a good one". Murder with Peacocks is a cozy, and a very good one, and it deserves credit for that. Consider it four and a half.

I've read several "bridezilla" cozies; with so many of the heroines of the subgenre working as caterers, it's inevitable that weddings will crop up here and there. And they've been my least favorite of their respective series, usually. The women are always rich, entitled, anorexic, vicious, and beyond unreasonable, and usually have mothers to match, and they harry the poor caterer day and night and into the weekend until she wants to frost their cakes with white lead icing and the reader hopes for a funeral instead of a wedding. Here, though, the author pulls off as remarkable a feat as her Meg does: three brides who are thoughtless, demanding, and frazzled, and the only one I hated was the one I was meant to hate. Moreover, I believed this brand of thoughtlessness and heedless mind-changing as I never did in those other cozies.

A little while back I complained bitterly about a book which was advertised as madcap, with which descriptor I disagreed strongly. This? This was madcap. One of the quotes the book used promised the reader she would "laugh heartlessly" – and I sighed, because usually when a book promises to make me laugh it fails miserably. It tries too hard, and before long I picture it as the little man in the bad suit up on stage, sweating and stammering and repeating himself in the spotlight as a drunk heckles him from the second row. Donna Andrews, however, used a light and deft touch, and this book did make me laugh. Not uproariously; not on every page; I wouldn't necessarily agree with "heartlessly" (there was no cruelty in this book beyond that any thoroughly hassled person might express toward her tormentors). But I laughed, and smiled more than I laughed, and wanted to know what was going to happen, and in the end that's all I'm looking for in my day to day reading. With the weddings, the murders, frequent power outages, the almost-derailed-before-it-started romance for Meg, and not only a little boy with a pet duck but also the title peacocks, it's all frothy as a meringue – and I know firsthand how hard a meringue can be. It's well managed.

On the one hand, I'm pleased that this launched a series: I enjoyed the characters, Meg and David and her family, and I enjoyed the heck out of the writing, and I enjoyed the storytelling. But this was a book about a young woman dropped into a bizarre chain of events, with theft and murder and blackmail, poison and explosives and sabotage suddenly rife as weeds in her small hometown. The plotline is frenetic, and what keeps it from stretching suspension of disbelief to its limits is the skill with which Andrews handles her blacksmith main character's reactions to the mayhem: in part, with her duties as unpaid and unthanked planner for three ever-changing weddings within weeks of each other, with an attitude of I don't have time for this. The book adeptly threw flaming torch after chainsaw after live chicken into Meg's juggling act, and it was fun to watch her grit her teeth and adapt. I don't know if this will get old over the course of the series, as Meg inevitably becomes one of those cozy mystery heroines who would be utterly alarming to know in reality – "Have you ever noticed that wherever she goes bodies begin to stack up?" We'll have to see. I liked the characters, and their writer, more than enough to give them some slack.