Poor Meg Langslow. She's blessed in so many ways. Michael, her boyfriend, is a handsome, delightful heartthrob who adores her. She's a successful blacksmith, known for her artistic wrought-iron creations. But somehow Meg's road to contentment is more rutted and filled with potholes than seems fair.
There are Michael's and Meg's doting but demanding mothers, for a start. And then there's the fruitless hunt for a place big enough for the couple to live together. And a succession of crises brought on by the well-meaning but utterly wacky demands of her friends and family. Demands that Meg has a hard time refusing---which is why she's tending the switchboard of Mutant Wizards, where her brother's computer games are created, and handling all the office management problems that no one else bothers with. For companionship, besides a crew of eccentric techies, she has a buzzard with one wing---who she must feed frozen mice thawed in the office microwave---and Michael's mother's nightmare dog. Not to mention the psychotherapists who refuse to give up their lease on half of the office space, and whose conflicting therapies cause continuing dissension. This is not what Meg had in mind when she agreed to help her brother move his staff to new offices.
In fact, the atmosphere is so consistently loony that the office mail cart makes several passes through the reception room, with the office practical joker lying on top of it pretending to be dead, before Meg realizes that he's become the victim of someone who wasn't joking at all. He's been murdered for real.
Donna Andrews's debut book, Murder with Peacocks, won the St. Martin's Malice Domestic best first novel contest and reaped a harvest of other honors as well. This is the fourth book in the Meg Langslow series, which features the intrepid Meg and her cast of oddball relatives. Their capers are a lighthearted joy to read.
About the Author
Donna Andrews is the author of the Meg Langslow mysteries, including Stork Raving Mad and Swan for the Money. She has won the Agatha, Anthony, and Barry awards, a Romantic Times award for best first novel, and two Lefty and two Toby Bromberg Awards for funniest mystery. When not writing fiction, Andrews is a self-confessed nerd, rarely found away from her computer, unless she's messing in the garden. She lives in Reston, Virginia.
Read an Excerpt
CROUCHING BUZZARD, LEAPING LOON
"Mutant Wizards," I said. "Could you hold, please?"
I switched the phone to my left ear, holding it with my awkwardly bandaged left hand, and stabbed at a button to answer another line.
"Eat Your Way Skinny," I said. "Could you hold, please?"
As I reached to punch the first line's button and deal with the Wizards' caller, I heard a gurgling noise. I looked up to see that the automatic mail cart had arrived while I was juggling phones. A man lay on top, his head thrown back, one arm flung out while the other clutched the knife handle rising from his chest. He gurgled again. Red drops fell from his outstretched hand onto the carpet.
"Very funny, Ted," I said, reaching out to press the button that would send the mail cart on its way again. "You can come back later to clean up the stage blood."
I could hear him snickering as the cart beeped and lurched away, following an invisible ultraviolet dye path that would lead it out of the reception room and into the main office area. I'd gotten used to seeing a set of metal shelves, six feet long and four high, creeping down the corridor under its own steam, but I was losing patience with the staff's insatiable appetite for playing pranks with the mail cart.
Ted leaned upside down over the side, waggled the rubberknife suggestively, and made faces at me until the cart turned to the left and disappeared.
I scanned the floor to see if he'd shed any more valuables this timeafter his first tour through the reception area, I'd found eighty-five cents in change and his ATM card, and a coworker had already turned in a set of keys that were probably his. No, apparently his pockets were now empty. I wondered how long before he came looking for his stuffI wasn't about to chase him down.
Then I glanced at the young temp I was teaching to run the switchboard. Uh-oh. Her eyes were very wide, and she was clutching her purse in front of her with both hands.
"What happened to him?" she asked.
"Ignore Ted; he's the office practical joker," I said. "He's harmless."
I could tell she didn't believe me.
"What about that?" she asked, pointing over my shoulder.
I followed her finger.
"Oh, that's just George, the office buzzard," I said. "He's harmless, too."
When he saw me looking at him, George shuffled from foot to foot, bobbed his head, and hunched his shoulders. I suspected this behavior was the buzzardly equivalent of a cat rubbing itself against your ankle when it hears the can opener. At any rate, George had started doing it on my second or third day here, when he realized I was the one delivering his meals. I'd actually begun to find this endearingdoubtless a sign I'd been at Mutant Wizards too long. The temp edged away, as if expecting George to pounce.
"Don't worry," I said. "He can't fly or anything. He's got only one wing. One of the staff rescued him from some dogs and brought him back for a company mascot."
I vowed once again to try convincing my brother that abuzzard was an unsuitable mascot for his computer game company. Or at least that the mascot shouldn't live in the reception area, where visitors had to see him. And smell him.
"He stinks," the temp said.
"You get used to it."
"You've got four lines lit up," the temp said, pointing to the switchboard, and then jumped as a loud snarling noise erupted from beneath the counter of the reception desk. I knew it was only Spike, the nine-pound canine-shaped demon for whom I was dog-sitting, testing the wire mesh on the front of his crate, but the sound seemed to unnerve the temp.
"Why don't you take over now?" I suggested. "I can stick around until you get the hang of it, and then"
"I'm sorry," she said, backing toward the door. "I probably should have told the agency not to send me out at all today. I'm really not feeling very well. Maybe I should"
"Meg!" my brother, Rob, shouted, bursting into the reception room. "Take a look!"
He proceeded to fling himself about the room, performing a series of intricate shuffling movements with his legs while flailing his arms around, hunching his shoulders up and down, and uttering strange, harsh shrieks at irregular intervals.
Normally, the appearance of my tall, blond, and gorgeous brother might have provided some additional incentive for a temp to stay. At least a temp this young. Under the circumstances, though, I wasn't surprised that the temp fled long before he ended up, perched on his left toes with his right leg thrust awkwardly out to the side and both arms stretched over his head.
"Ta-da!" he said, teetering slightly.
I sighed and punched a ringing phone line.
"Meg?" Rob said, sounding less triumphant. "Was my kata okay?"
"Much better," I said as I transferred the call. "I just wish you wouldn't practice in the reception room."
"Oh, sorry," he said, breaking the pose. "Who was that running out, anyway?"
"Today's temporary switchboard operator," I said. "She decided not to stay."
"I'm sorry," he said. "I guess I did it again."
I shrugged. It was partly my fault, after all. I was the one who'd invented the fictitious Crouching Buzzard katanamed, of course, for our mascot, Georgeand taught it to Rob in a moment of impatience. Or perhaps frustration at his unique combination of rabid enthusiasm and utter incompetence.
And to think that when Rob first became obsessed with the martial arts, I'd encouraged him, naively believing it would help build his character.
"Give him backbone," one of my uncles had said, and everyone else around the Langslow family dinner table had nodded in agreement.
Rob had brains enough to graduate from the University of Virginia Law School. Not at the top of his class, of course, which would have required sustained effort. But still, brains enough to graduate and to pass the bar exam on the first try, even though instead of studying he'd spent his preparation classes inventing a role-playing game called Lawyers from Hell.
He then turned Lawyers from Hell into a computer game, with the help of some computer-savvy friends, and failing to sell it to an existing computer-game maker, he'd decided to start his own company.
As usual, his family and friends tripped over each other to help. My parents lent him the initial capital. I lent him some money myself when he hit a cash flow problem and was too embarrassed to go back to Mother and Dad. Michael Waterston, my boyfriend, who taught drama at Caerphilly College,introduced him to a computer science professor and a business professor who were restless and looking for real-life projects. The desire to stay close to these useful mentors was the main reason Mutant Wizards ended up in the small, rural college town of Caerphilly, instead of some high-tech Mecca like San Jose or Northern Virginia's Dulles-Reston corridor.
And now, less than a year later, Rob was president of a multimillion-dollar company, inventor of the hottest new computer game of the decade, and founder of Caerphilly's small but thriving high-tech industry.
Not bad for someone who knew next to nothing about either computers or business, as Rob would readily admit to anyone who askedincluding Forbes magazine, Computer Gaming World, and especially the pretty coed who profiled him in the Caerphilly student paper.
At the moment, the young giant of the interactive multimedia entertainment industry was looking at George and frowning. George ignored him, of course, as he ignored everyone too squeamish to feed him. Although I noticed that when Rob was doing his phony kata, George had paid more attention than he usually did to humans. Maybe I'd accidentally invented something that resembled buzzard mating rituals. At least George wasn't upset. I'd found out, on moving day, that when George got upset, he lost his lunch. Keeping George calm and happy had become one of my primary goals in life.
"He's looking a little seedy," Rob said finally.
"Only a little?" I said. "That's rather an improvement."
"Seedier than usual," Rob clarified. "Sort of ... dirty. Do you suppose he needs a bath?"
"Absolutely not," I said, firmly. "That would destroy the natural oils on his feathers. Upset the chemical balance of his system. Play havoc with his innate defenses against infection."
"Oh, right," Rob said.
Actually, I had no idea what washing would do to a buzzard. All I knew is that if George needed washing, I'd be the one stuck doing it. And I suspected it would upset him. No way.
"Then what about birdbaths?" Rob said.
"For small birds," I said. "Songbirds. And they only splash gently."
"That's right," Rob said, his face brightening. "They clean themselves with sand."
"We can get him a sandbox, then," Rob said. "You can rearrange the chairs to make some room for it. What do you think?"
He was wearing the expression he usually wore these days when he suggested something around the office. The expression that clearly showed he expected his hearers to exclaim, "What an incredible idea!" and then run off to carry it out. At least that was what his staff usually did. I was opening my mouth to speak when
"Rob ! There you are!"
We both looked up to see Mutant Wizards' chief financial officer at the entrance to the reception area.
"We've got a conference call in three minutes."
Rob ambled off, and I dealt with the stacked-up calls. A sandbox. I'd been on the verge of coming clean. Confessing to Rob that Crouching Buzzard was a practical joke, not an abstruse kata.
Instead, as I whittled down the backlog of phone calls for Mutant Wizards and for the motley collection of therapists with whom we shared office space, I began inventing a new kata, one even more fiendishly difficult and amusing to watch.
Stop that, I told myself, when I realized what I was thinking. I wasn't here to invent imaginary katas. Or to mind the switchboard.I was supposed to find out what was wrong at Mutant Wizards.
It all started two weeks ago, when Dad and Michael brought me back from the emergency room with my left hand hidden in a mass of bandages the size of my head.
"Wow, what happened?" asked Rob, through a mouthful of Frosted Flakes. He'd come over to Michael's apartment to feed and walk Spike while the rest of us were at the hospital, and had stayed to empty the pantry.
"Long story," I said, and disappeared into the bathroom for a little privacy. Michael went to the kitchen to fix me some iced tea, while Dad, a semiretired general practitioner, began telling Rob in excruciating detail exactly what was wrong with my hand and what the doctors at Caerphilly Community Hospital had done to repair it, along with a largely favorable critique of their professional expertise. I sighed, and Michael reached over to pat my good hand.
Yes, I know I said he was in the kitchen and I was in the bathroom. The kitchen of the Cave, as we called Michael's one-room basement apartment, consisted of a microwave and a hot plate perched atop a mini refrigerator. The bathroom was separated from the kitchen by a curtain I'd hung five minutes after walking in the door on my first visit. The seven-foot ceiling felt claustrophobic to me, so I could only imagine how it affected Michael at six feet four inches. The fact that several of Michael's colleagues envied him for snagging these princely quarters showed how tight living space was in Caerphilly.
"Actually, I meant how did she injure it?" Rob said. I could tell by his voice that he was turning a little green. Rob fainted at the thought of blood. "What happened, Meg?"
"Like I said, long story."
"My fault," Michael said. "She was trying do her blacksmithing in that tiny studio I found for her, and it was just too small. She hit her elbow on a wall while hammering something, and hammered her other hand instead."
"Too bad," Rob said.
You have no idea, I thought, staring into the cracked mirror, fingering the bruises and lacerations that covered my face. Michael had forgotten to mention that, along with my hand, I'd also banged the hell out of a structural wall and brought part of the ceiling down on my own head. The studio might have worked for a painter, but it was just too small for a blacksmith. Still, I'd tried to make it work. Tried desperately, because after nearly a year of looking for somewhere for the two of us to live and me to work, the tiny basement apartment and the even tinier converted garden-shed studio were the best we'd found. Apart from being painful and keeping me out of work for weeks, my injury meant that I still hadn't found a place to work in Caerphilly, and we'd have to go back to square one, with me living several hours away in suburban northern Virginia, seeing Michael only when one or the other of us could get away from work for long enough.
Although obviously I wouldn't be working for a little while, I thought, staring at the bandage.
"How long till she can do her blacksmithing again?" Rob had asked, as if reading my mind.
"At least two months," Dad said.
"That's great!" Rob exclaimed.
"Rob!" Dad and Michael said it in unison, and I stuck my head through the bathroom curtains to glare at him.
"What I meant was, it's too bad about the hand, but I have a great idea about what she can do in the meantime," Rob said hastily. "Remember how I was saying that I think there's something wrong at Mutant Wizards? Maybe Meg could come andpretend to work there and figure out what's going on."
"That's brilliant, Rob!" Dad exclaimed.
"Except for one tiny detail," I said. "What on earth could I possibly do at a computer company?"
"You can organize us!" Rob said, flinging his arms out with enthusiasm. "You said yourself that you can't imagine how we'll ever get moved into our new offices and that we should hire a competent office manager. You're perfect for it!"
I wondered if he really was worried about the company, or if that was just an excuse to get me to come and organize them.
"I was rather thinking Meg could come back to California for the last few weeks of my shoot," Michael said. "You'll have plenty of time to rest while I'm filming, and then we can spend time together in the evenings."
Nice try, but I knew better. Oh, not that he didn't mean it. But I'd seen what Michael's life was like when he was filming these TV guest shots. He'd be up at dawn for makeup call. I'd twiddle my one working thumb during the twelve to fourteen hours he was shooting. And then, over dinner, when he wasn't mumbling lines under his breath, he'd be fretting about whether playing a lecherous, power-mad sorcerer on a cheesy syndicated TV show was really how a serious actornot to mention a professor of dramashould spend his summer break.
Maybe not. But he enjoyed it so much that I didn't have the heart to say so. And besides, it paid well.
And while the few decent houses we'd found for sale in Caerphilly over the past year were well beyond the means of Professor Waterston and Meg the blacksmith, they might not be unreachable for Mephisto the sorcerer. Especially if they signed him for several more episodes.
And if you added in what my Mutant Wizards stock mightbe worth if the company continued successful, home ownership might eventually be within our means. Which, I realized, gave me more than an idle interest in why Rob thought there was something wrong at his company.
I glanced up to see that all three were looking at me expectantly.
"So, what's your decision?" Michael asked.
I should know better than to make major decisions while taking Percocet.
Copyright © 2003 by Donna Andrews.
Table of Contents
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Love all her books, they are fun and keep you guessing till the end
Her animal books are always fun to read. I can recommend them
A blacksmith cannot work with only one hand so when Rob Langslow asks his sister to take on the job as office manager, Meg can¿t think of a reason to refuse although she wishes she could. Being office manager at Mutant Wizards is a cross between being a den mother at a college dorm or perhaps an older sister to a pack of brilliant eccentric adult children. Rob thinks something is wrong at the company and he wants Meg to find out what it is. With all the craziness going on at the company Meg doesn¿t have a clue what is going on until someone is murdered on the automated mail cart and everyone in the company has a reason to want to see him dead. Meg finds a list showing the victim is trying to blackmail many of the workers at the company and once she breaks the code she¿s sure she will find the perpetrator. Unfortunately, the killer doesn¿t give Meg time to decipher the data before the culprit makes another move. One of the reasons this series is so successful is that Donna Andrews keeps moving the heroine into a different environment with each new novel. This ensures the story line remains fresh and original as Meg leaps into new arenas. CROUCHING BUZZARD, LEAPING LOON is a humorous amateur sleuth novel that will have the audience chuckling out loud at some of the events that take place in various portions of the novel especially in the office space. The support cast is so loony that they manage to make the lead champion look like a levelheaded, down-to-earth changeling sort of like Marilyn Munster. Harriet Klausner
Another fun Meg Langslow cozy - this one set in brother Rob's Mutant Wizard office - and a pleasure to read and solve the mystery along with Meg.
Another fun read about the lady blacksmith with the loony family sleuthing away. She's staying in the college town where the boyfriend has a flat known as The Cave while he's in California on a temporary job and her brother has a burgeoning gaming software company because she smashed her hand and the brother asked for help with the office part and to investigate a hunch that something hinky is going on. The title refers to a sort of imaginary karate stance based on the rescued injured buzzard who resides in the office. There are lots of loony characters and situations that simply have to be read to enjoy. Which I certainly did! Bernadette Dunne did a fine job as narrator.
Meg helps out at her brother's software company, and winds up (of course!) in the middle of a murder mystery. There are suspects a-plenty too keep things interesting, as well as a menagerie of critters (furry and winged) who get into the act.The humor often borders on slapstick. At times, this book had me laughing out loud. Some of the humor, however, left me offended. There was one character whose personality traits seemed very much those of someone with Asperger's Syndrome (quite common among those in the computer industry), and those traits (in terms of body language, social awkwardness, etc.) were ridiculed and treated with absolutely no understanding -- and, as the plot developed, some misunderstandings that are not helpful for those on the autism spectrum were perpetuated. This disappointed me greatly. I've enjoyed this series up until now -- and I enjoyed this book except for this fact. I realize that this is a book to not be taken too seriously -- the humor is generally of the madcap variety, and the climactic scene is totally over-the-top. I think Ms. Andrews is basically a good writer, but I can't enjoy someone making fun of symptoms of a developmental disability. I'm actually re-evaluating whether to read the rest of this series.
A fun crime series with a likeable blacksmith protagonist with an eccentric family. This one is set in Meg's brother's computer game company (he came up with Lawyers from Hell) and is lots of geeky fun. There are also birds involved, as always in this series.
A very good installment in the series. A lot of humor and a very surprising perpetrator. The characters are delightful.
When Meg Langslow hurts her hand and is unable to work as a blacksmith, she agrees to work at her brother Rob's computer game company Mutant Wizards. Rob feels that something isn't right at the company and asks Meg to look around while she is working there. Before long, Meg has a real problem on her hands when one of the workers is murdered. There are plenty of suspects: a disgruntled ex-employee; a biker who has been lurking around the place; and a fan who keeps sneaking in to try and get a copy of the newest game from Mutant Wizards. Plus, Ted was blackmailing several of his coworkers. But the police suspect Rob is the killer and Meg must clear her brother while trying to find the real murderer. "Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon" is a screwball comedy in book form. Nothing is meant to be taken seriously - how many offices do you know that have a buzzard as an office pet? There are laughs galore and the Affirmation Bears are extremely funny. The murder is nicely plotted and it will be fun for readers to try to figure out who was who in the code names that Ted, the murder victim, had for the people he was blackmailing. And who the murderer is will come as a surprise. The book isn't without flaws; for one thing, it's a bit tiring to have the police suspect Rob is a murderer in yet another book. And for some reason Meg never mentions the fact that she has solved murders in the past. Still, the real reason to read Donna Andrews's books is for the humor and there's plenty of that throughout the book. The book is worth reading just for the end where the murderer is revealed. It's way over the top, highly improbable, and the funniest thing I've read in a long time. "Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon" is a nice, humorous cozy mystery.
Although this book certainly can stand on its own, you should really start this series at the beginning, with Murder With Peacocks. This book is definitely the laugh-out-loud funniest of the series thus far. (The weakest--in my opinion--is the second book, Murder with Puffins.) [return][return]Some people will find this book a tad on the "too outrageous" side. The stereotypical programmers and psychiatrists are funny because they're *meant* to be funny; if you are expecting a serious character study, you won't find it here. Meg remains the only finely-drawn individual, but that's okay because the rest of the characters are just that: characters. [return][return]To get a sense of what happens in this book and the general level of bizarre humor, here's the basic hook: Meg takes a job at her brother's software company. They have an electronic mail cart that one of the office jokers like to ride around on playing dead. Because of this ghoulish habit, it takes a while for anyone to realize that he really *is* dead when the mail cart makes its final run. [return][return]And the "affirmation bear"...that alone is worth the price of admission.
Although this book certainly can stand on its own, you should really start this series at the beginning, with Murder With Peacocks. This book is definitely the laugh-out-loud funniest of the series thus far. (The weakest--in my opinion--is the second book, Murder with Puffins.) Some people will find this book a tad on the "too outrageous" side. The stereotypical programmers and psychiatrists are funny because they're *meant* to be funny; if you are expecting a serious character study, you won't find it here. Meg remains the only finely-drawn individual, but that's okay because the rest of the characters are just that: characters. To get a sense of what happens in this book and the general level of bizarre humor, here's the basic hook: Meg takes a job at her brother's software company. They have an electronic mail cart that one of the office jokers like to ride around on playing dead. Because of this ghoulish habit, it takes a while for anyone to realize that he really *is* dead when the mail cart makes its final run. And the "affirmation bear"...that alone is worth the price of admission.
This was a quick and fun read. I saw someone on Amazon refer to the first book in this series as a "cozy mystery" and I think that's an accurate description. There's not a lot of horror, and what horror there is, with regards to the murder that has taken place, is somewhat silly and zany. Meg is a likeable character and based on this book, I've added the others in this series to my wish list now too. :)
While the first in the series is the best, I loved this one too. It helps to know someone who works in the computer industry--the humor is that much easier to appreciate. It wasn't really grabbing my attention until the buzzard has his little star scene--that was hilarious! And the ending is really great. Go, Meg!CMB
The was the most entertaining of the flurry of cozy mysteries I've read recently. I even snickered a few times. There were a few of the inevitable errors made by a non-IT professional when describing work in an IT company, but nothing bad enough to be really annoying. I'll be looking out for the other books in this series.
meg goes to work at her brother's software company, Mutant Wizards, to find any problems and someone ends up dead.Love this series, one of my favorites!
I think this series is great fun. They're a quick, funny read with a decent mystery. Certainly, iI didn't peg the murderer - although I have to admit that I don't actually try when reading mysteries these days. I'm along for the ride, not the mental exercise and I just want to enjoy the book, not have to do any work. I actually think the greatest weakness of this book was the lack of Meg's crazy family. They take things up a notch or two and having only her dad and Rob present toned things down a lot. Rob as the accidental corporate computer guru was a nice joke; knowing him as we do from the days he was creating Lawyers from Hell back in Murder with Peacocks, the awe given to him by his staff is rather funny. When it gets turned on Meg as well (the original 'Judge Hammer' - snicker) that's a lovely touch. I felt the lack of Michael, who works as a good foil for Meg and his presence only via cell phone was a disappointment. I have collected my favourite recent quote from this book. Living with an it guru of my own who is often late at work as they upgrade the latest piece of software, I was delighted by this: A build, I'd learned in the last two weeks, was an important recurring event in companies that developed computer software. As far as I could understand, it meant that Jack, as team leader, told everybody to stop messing around with their parts of the program - yes, right now dammit, not in half an hour - and launched a two-hour semiautomated process that was as temperamental as cooking a soufflé.I just love the temperamental soufflé part, which Dave assures me is an accurate description.
Meg is helping out her brother at his new computer company, Mutant Wizards. Unofficially, she's trying to figure out what is going wrong in the company. Unfortunately, before she can figure it out, the office practical joker is killed. The humor is a little light, but the mystery is strong.
LOVE Andrews' meg langslow series, especially Crouching Buzzard. The end was a huge surprise for me, often cozy mysteries are predictable but this one kept me guessing right up to the end. Plus, you've got to love a book that can make you lol!