The Nightingale Before Christmas (Meg Langslow Series #18)

The Nightingale Before Christmas (Meg Langslow Series #18)

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by Donna Andrews

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Murder never takes a holiday!

'Tis the season for tree trimming, mistletoe-dangling, and a cut-throat competition that has everyone in Caerphilly on edge. Whatever happened to the simple joys and magical spirits of Christmas? Meg Langslow's own mother is among those participating in a holiday-themed design extravaganza in which each room in an


Murder never takes a holiday!

'Tis the season for tree trimming, mistletoe-dangling, and a cut-throat competition that has everyone in Caerphilly on edge. Whatever happened to the simple joys and magical spirits of Christmas? Meg Langslow's own mother is among those participating in a holiday-themed design extravaganza in which each room in an untenanted show house is decorated for the public to view. All the proceeds go to charity-so why are all the contestants fighting tooth and nail to win first prize?
"Intrigue...amusement...Andrews reliably delivers. She also manages to slip in profundities and sentiments that warm the heart."-New York Journal of Books
That is the question Meg is trying to answer after Clay Spottiswood, the most haughty and hostile of the designers, turns up dead. With tempers flaring and fears on the rise, can Meg sort through the tinsel-strewn mayhem and solve a murder...before the killer strikes again?

"Andrews does a spectacular job tying up all the loose ends into a big holiday bow!"-The Criminal Element

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Produces at least one chuckle--and sometimes a guffaw--per page. Joy to the world, indeed.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch on Six Geese A-Slaying

“Andrews . . . scores points for her witty writing and abundance of Yuletide tinsel and tradition.” —The Columbia, SC State on Six Geese A-Slaying

“Firmly in the grand tradition of Agatha Christie's Christmas books.” —Toronto Globe and Mail on Six Geese A-Slaying

Library Journal
The 18th Meg Langslow mystery (after The Good, the Bad, and the Emus) has Meg roped into helping organize the designer show house. Each room will be decorated by a different designer, including Meg's mother, and visitors will purchase tickets to tour the house with proceeds going to charity. Wrangling the demanding designers is difficult enough, but when one of them ends up murdered and the house vandalized, Meg has an even bigger challenge. She needs to get the house put back together and find a killer, which won't be easy since the victim seemed to be hated by most of the people he encountered. VERDICT The small town of Caerphilly, VA, and its inhabitants provide a charming backdrop for this Christmas cozy.

Product Details

Gale Group
Publication date:
Meg Langslow Series , #18
Edition description:
Large Print
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Nightingale Before Christmas

A Meg Langslow Mystery

By Donna Andrews

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2014 Donna Andrews
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-04957-5


December 20


Mother was standing in the evergreen-trimmed archway between the living room and the foyer, directly beneath the red-and-gold "Merry Christmas" banner, frowning at something she was holding.

Since I had no idea who or what "passementerie" was, I just sat there in the foyer of the Caerphilly Designer Show House with my pen poised over my notebook-that-tells-me-when-to-breathe, waiting for Mother to elaborate. For a few moments I heard nothing but the soothing strains of an orchestra playing "Silent Night" from a radio somewhere behind Mother.

Evidently Jessica, the reporter from the Caerphilly College student newspaper, wasn't as patient as I was. After all, she was here to interview the dozen interior designers who were decorating rooms in the show house, not to play guessing games with them.

"What's 'passementerie'?" she asked.

"Elegant, elaborate edgings or trimmings" — Mother stepped closer and showed us the little bit of black-and-purple braid she held in her hand — "with braid, cord, embroidery, or beads. The right passementerie can absolutely make or break an upholstery project."

"I see," Jessica said, although I could tell she didn't really. Nor was it clear to me why Mother had interrupted my interview with the reporter to display bits of upholstery trimming to us. But before answering, I glanced around and let the Christmas decorations surrounding me temper my mood. The holly and red velvet ribbons wrapping the stair rails. The gold mobile of stars and angels hanging from the ceiling light in the upper hallway. The fact that Mother had a few strands of gold tinsel snagged in her hair.

"Today's new word, then," I said aloud. "Passementerie. Do you want me to use it in a sentence?"

"That would be nice, dear," Mother said. "Particularly if the sentence is something like, 'Hello, Mother. The UPS man just delivered a package from the Braid Emporium containing the passementerie you ordered.'"

"Alas," I said. "The UPS man only delivered two packages, and neither of them contained passementerie." There. That was also a sentence.

"The Braid Emporium was supposed to overnight it," Mother said. "The day before yesterday."

I lifted my hands and eyebrows in a gesture meant to convey the utmost sympathy along with a complete refusal to take responsibility for the shortcomings of either the United Parcel Service or the Braid Emporium.

"Maybe it's hidden under all the snow," Jessica said. "The drifts are two feet high in some places."

"I've checked the drifts," I said. "And packages began disappearing long before the first snowstorm."

"Perhaps one of the other decorators took it by mistake?" Mother gestured as if tucking a stray lock of her beautiful if implausible blond hair back into her chignon. I hadn't actually seen any strands out of place, so I assumed she was trying to suggest that she had been working so hard that she was in danger of becoming disheveled.

"Always possible that someone else picked it up by mistake," I said. "That's why I asked everyone yesterday to please stop having stuff shipped here to the show house — to avoid such misunderstandings." And to avoid the possibility that one of the more competitive decorators would try to sabotage the competition by diverting important packages. "But I assume your passa-whatzit had already been sent before then. I'll ask them all."

Mother closed her eyes and allowed one faint, long-suffering sigh to escape. The reporter didn't sigh, but she was clearly impatient. Or maybe just hyperactive, from the manic way she was tapping her feet on the floor and drumming her fingers on her knees. And upstairs someone's radio came on, tuned to a very different Christmas station. I liked both "Run, Run Rudolph" and "Silent Night," but not simultaneously.

"I'll be in my room when you find my package," Mother said.

She sailed back through the archway, head held even higher than usual. Her head brushed the evergreens framing the doorway, making all the tiny little bells attached to the branches tinkle merrily. The bells lifted my mood, and I glanced over to see if Jessica was impressed. Most people were when they met Mother, who in her seventies still had the slender elegance and regal blond looks of someone decades younger.

Jessica didn't look impressed. Just impatient.

"In her room?" Jessica asked. "I didn't realize anyone lived here."

"She doesn't," I said. "She's decorating the great room. Which is decorator-speak for what we normal humans call the living room. Or maybe the family room."

Jessica had stopped tapping, thank goodness, but now she was nervously twisting one lock of her copper-red hair around a finger.

"I thought the old guy with the beard and the Georgia accent was the decorator," she said.

"That's Eustace Goodwin," I said. "He's decorating the kitchen and the breakfast room." And would probably have a fit if he heard himself described as "the old guy with the beard." Eustace was a dapper if slightly plump fifty-something.

"You need a different decorator for each room?"

I managed to stop myself from responding with my own version of Mother's long-suffering sigh. Clearly Jessica hadn't read any of the material we'd sent over to the student paper before showing up here to do her story. I needed to start at the beginning, which meant the interview would probably take a lot more time. Not even ten o'clock, and I could already see my plan for the day going down the drain.

But instead of snapping at Jessica, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. At any other time of year, I'd have counted to ten, but this close to Christmas, all it took was the holiday scents to calm me: spruce, pine, cinnamon, and clove. And upstairs, someone had changed the "Run, Run, Rudolph" radio to the same channel Mother was on, so now I could hear "The First Noel," in stereo. I reminded myself that I'd finished all my Christmas shopping and most of the wrapping. I could do anything.

"This is a decorator show house," I said, opening my eyes and focusing back on Jessica.

She had pulled out a small digital camera and was craning her neck around, taking pictures of random things while she listened to me. At least I assumed she was listening.

"The house is sponsored by the Caerphilly Historical Society. In a show house, you get a different designer for each room, and they all show off their best possible work. When the show house opens — in three days, on Christmas Eve — people will pay to tour it, and the historical society gets half of the money."

"If there's any left after paying the decorators," she said.

"No, the decorators don't get paid," I replied. "They're doing this for free."

"For free? All of it?" Jessica looked up at the holly-decked crystal chandelier over our heads, which would not have been out of place in a small palace, and snapped a few pictures of it.

"They do it for the exposure," I said. "If you're someone with a big house and enough money to hire a decorator, what better way to check out the local talent than to come to a show house, where a whole bunch of designers are demonstrating their talent?"

"That really works?" Jessica sounded dubious. "I mean, have you actually gotten any clients for your decorating business that way?"

"I'm not a decorator," I said.

"You're not? Then what are you doing here?"

A question I asked myself at least once a day. What was I doing here when I could be home with my family, enjoying the holiday season? Maybe even spending a little time at my anvil since Caerphilly College was on winter break and my husband Michael would be home to watch our five-year-old twins. Ever since the boys had arrived, my once-thriving blacksmithing career had taken a backseat to sippy cups, naps, and lately T-ball.

I glanced up to see that Jessica was still waiting for an answer. And frowning as if I'd been trying to pull a fast one on her by impersonating a decorator. Well, I probably could if I wanted to. I couldn't tell a finial from a mullion, but after the last few weeks I could toss off the jargon like a real pro.

"I'm the on-site coordinator," I said. "Here to keep everyone organized."

"Sounds like a thankless job," she said. "How'd they rope you into that?"

"They threatened to turn my house into the show house," I said. "I agreed to organize it if they'd hold it somewhere else. Anywhere else."

"Yeah, that'd be worth it. So, the people who come to see this are mostly rich people, right?"

"Or people who want to see what the pros do to help them get some ideas for their own do-it-yourself projects," I said. I actually wanted to ask why she was taking so many pictures of the banister and the stair treads. "Some people come to get holiday inspiration — since this is a Christmas show house, after the designers finish doing their rooms, they get to decorate them for Christmas." Should I remind them again about the holiday part of their marching orders? Some of them, like Mother, had gone overboard, but others had yet to hang a single strand of tinsel.

"And every room decorated in a different style?" she asked.

"By a different decorator," I said. "And so probably in a different style. For example, as you can see, Ivy Vernier, the decorator in charge here in the foyer, is an expert in trompe l'oeil. Painting stuff so it looks real," I added, seeing her blank look at the French phrase. A few weeks ago I might not have known it myself. I pointed downward. "That floor's not really marble."

"It's not?" Jessica bent over, and then plopped down on the floor, the better to study it at close range. She began tapping on the floor, as if testing to see if it really was wood. "Wow. Can I talk to the painter?"

"She's not here at the moment." Ivy had gone home with another headache. She'd been doing that a lot lately. Was it, as she claimed, a combination of paint fumes and eyestrain from so much close work? Or was the pressure of our deadline getting to her? Or was she reacting to the stress of dealing with the other designers? Dealing with one in particular —

"She'll be around a lot in the next two days," I said aloud. "To finish up her work before our opening. She might even come back before you leave today, and if she doesn't, I can give you her contact information."

Jessica nodded, and took several pictures of the faux marble floor. And then several of the faux oriental carpet in the center of the marble.

"And on the walls she's illustrating Christmas carols and the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen," I added. To one side of the door, the Little Match Girl already sat shivering in sparkling painted snow. The three kings processed majestically up the wall beside the stairs, bearing the richest, most bejeweled gifts I'd ever seen. But the seascape of "I Saw Three Ships A-Sailing In" was only three quarters finished, and the painting of "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" barely begun — how could Ivy possibly find time to finish?

I banished those thoughts and concentrated on the reporter, who was staring at the three kings. And reaching out to tap them.

"Careful," I said, grabbing her arm. "Some of the paint might still be wet."

"Yeah," she said. "Wow. So what's in here?" She scrambled up and headed for the double French doors at the right side of the foyer.

"The study," I said. "Done in a modern interpretation of the Art Deco style by Sarah Byrne from the decorating firm of Byrne, Banks, and Bailey."

"Wow!" She was peering through the glass panes. And probably leaving a nose print. For a reporter, she hadn't yet displayed a very impressive vocabulary. I hoped she'd find a few more varied expressions for her article. But I had to admit that, like Ivy's painting, Sarah's black, red-and-gold Deco-themed fantasy was worth a few wows. I coveted it, just a little. A good thing Michael and I were very happy with our Arts and Crafts style interior — decorated, naturally, by Mother.

Of course, if seeing Sarah's room inspired Mother to do a little Art Deco experimentation, I could find a room in our oversized Victorian house for it. Michael's office, perhaps? Or one of the guest rooms?

"This designer's not around either?" Jessica stepped into the room and ran her finger over the dramatically curved arm of the closest of a pair of Art Deco armchairs upholstered in red velvet.

"She was here a minute ago," I said. "Probably had to fetch something." I was disappointed not to find Sarah around. If Jessica was going to interview some of the decorators, Sarah was one of the ones I wanted to steer her toward, and not just because I found her congenial. She was also articulate, upbeat, and funny. She usually wore a streak of some bright color in her blond hair — green, purple, red; whatever fit her mood — and dressed in odd but interesting clothes.

I was hoping Jessica would illustrate her article not only with pictures of the rooms but also a few of the more presentable designers. Mother's cool blond elegance. Eustace's dapper charm. Sarah's puckish grin and funky retro style.

Yes, definitely a good idea to keep Jessica here till Sarah came back. I nodded with approval as the reporter drifted around the room, taking pictures.

"Try out the chair," I suggested. "You'd be amazed how comfortable it is."

She perched tentatively on the edge of the red-velvet seat and then smiled and relaxed back into it.

"Wonderful," she said. "I would love to have a chair this comfy for studying back at my dorm room. Why do I suspect it might cost a little more than I want to pay?"

"It probably costs as much as your annual tuition," I said. "And my husband's on the faculty at Caerphilly College, so yes, I know how high tuition is. Those chairs are Sarah's pride and joy. Authentic something-or-others."

"If I ever get filthy rich, I'll buy one," she said, wriggling a little deeper into the chair. "But what happens to the chairs when the show is over? The owner of the house doesn't get to keep them, surely?"

"The owner of the house is the First Bank of Caerphilly," I said, "which has been trying to sell it ever since they foreclosed on it six years ago. They very graciously agreed to let us use it for the Christmas show house. They're putting it up for sale as soon as the show is over, so of course they're hoping that someone will fall in love with it and want to buy it."

"Weird that it wouldn't sell before," she said. "It's a nice house. Or did it need a lot of fixing up after being empty for six years?"

"The Shiffley Construction Company did a little fixing up, as their donation to the project."

"That's the company Mayor Shiffley owns?"

"Yes. Randall Shiffley's a big supporter of the historical society." And luckily, not here to hear me call thousands of dollars in major repairs "a little fixing up."

"So if all the decorators —" Jessica began.

"I am going to kill that man," came a voice from the doorway.


Jessica and I looked up to see a tall ash-blond woman standing in the doorway. Martha Blaine, another designer. The one Mother and I called "the other Martha" — though not, of course, to her face, because we'd figured out she wasn't a big Martha Stewart fan. Like Mother, she was tall enough that her head brushed the trailing evergreens, and she whacked them aside with a vicious swipe.

A loud hammering began upstairs.

"I said —" Martha began, raising her voice to be heard over the hammering.

"You're going to kill him," I said. "I get it. You'll have to take a number, though. What's he done now?"

I didn't have to ask who she wanted to kill. There were only two male decorators in the house, and everyone loved Eustace Goodwin.

"What hasn't he done?" She paused as if briefly overcome by the weight of Clay Spottiswood's transgressions. I heard the whir of Jessica's camera as she took a few pictures of Martha in the doorway.

I wondered, not for the first time, if Martha had stage experience. Not only did she carry herself with a certain dramatic flair, she also had the trick of speaking from the diaphragm so her voice could easily be heard in the last row of the theater. Or, in this case, in the farthest corners of the house. Outside the study the hammering stopped, and everything suddenly seemed very still, as if all the other designers on the premises were pausing to eavesdrop.


Excerpted from The Nightingale Before Christmas by Donna Andrews. Copyright © 2014 Donna Andrews. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

DONNA ANDREWS is a winner of the Agatha, Anthony, and Barry Awards, a Romantic Times Award for best first novel, and three Lefty and two Toby Bromberg awards for funniest mystery. She is a member of MWA, Sisters in Crime, and the Private Investigators and Security Association. Andrews lives in Reston, Virginia.

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The Nightingale Before Christmas 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous 18 hours ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For some reason ravens has no access to reviews posted one from another nook book
Annefj More than 1 year ago
I've always loved Donna Andrews' books and have read every one with great delight. This latest one was as thoroughly enjoyable as all the others. I can't praise her enough!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
loved it
Carstairs38 More than 1 year ago
Decorating for Murder   Once again, Meg has found herself roped into a project at Christmas time.  This year, she’s coordinating a decorator show house that will help raise money via ticket sales for local charities once it opens on Christmas Eve.  Also, it will hopefully help the decorators get new clients.  Each decorator is responsible for a room or two, so the styles are as different as their various personalities.   As you might expect, that many strong personalities in one house is cause for conflict.  However, the worst offender is Clay Spottiswood, a man who seems to go out of his way to set others back in their efforts to finish their rooms by the deadline.  Going back late to lock up one night, Meg finds the man shot to death in the master bedroom he was decorating.  Is one of the decorators a murderer?  Or has something from Clay’s past caused him to be murdered?   Arguably, this book could have been set at any time of the year, however, there are touches that definitely give it a Christmas feel.  Meg’s twins absolutely steal any scene they are in, and they made me laugh out loud a few times.  The rest of the characters are as fun as always, of course.  I was disappointed that one thread from the last book was only touched on in passing; hope it’s picked up in the next book.  I thought I had the mystery solved early, but I was actually surprised by the ending.   This book was wonderful to read at Christmas time, but any fan of Meg will enjoy it no matter the season.  I absolutely recommend it to anyone looking for a fun, light mystery.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I always enjoy the characters in this series and this was no exception. It was a great mystery and a fun read. Wish I had as much energy as Meg!