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Duck the Halls (Meg Langslow Series #16)

Duck the Halls (Meg Langslow Series #16)

4.2 26
by Donna Andrews

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'Tis the season to be jolly - and for Meg Langslow to round up stray animals of all sorts as well as a killer. Duck the Halls!

The brilliantly funny Donna Andrews delivers boughs of holly and barrels of laughs with Meg's latest adventure in her award-winning, New York Times bestselling series. A few nights before Christmas, Meg is awakened when volunteer


'Tis the season to be jolly - and for Meg Langslow to round up stray animals of all sorts as well as a killer. Duck the Halls!

The brilliantly funny Donna Andrews delivers boughs of holly and barrels of laughs with Meg's latest adventure in her award-winning, New York Times bestselling series. A few nights before Christmas, Meg is awakened when volunteer fireman Michael is summoned to the New Life Baptist Church, where someone has rigged a cage full of skunks in the choir loft. The lengthy process of de-skunking the church requires its annual pre-Christmas concert to relocate to Trinity Episcopal, where Mother insists the show must go on, despite the budget-related protests of Mr. Vess, an elderly vestryman. Meanwhile, when Meg helps her grandfather take the skunks to the zoo, they discover that his boa has been stolen - only to turn up later during the concert, slithering out from the ribbon-bedecked evergreens. The next morning is Sunday, and the congregation of St. Byblig's, the local Catholic church, arrive to find it completely filled with several hundred ducks.

It's clear that some serious holiday pranksters are on the loose, and Meg is determined to find them. But before she can, a fire breaks out at Trinity, and Mr. Vess is discovered dead. Who would have murdered such a harmless - if slightly cranky - old man? Who has the time during the busy holiday season to herd all of these animals into the town's churches? And will Meg ever be able to finish all of her shopping, wrapping, cooking, caroling, and decorating in time for Christmas Eve? A Yuletide treasure for the ages, Duck the Halls is guaranteed to put the "ho ho hos" into readers' holidays.

Now with an excerpt from Donna Andrews' next Meg Langslow holiday mystery How the Finch Stole Christmas!, available in October 2017.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In this 16th entry (after The Hen of the Baskervilles) of this avian-themed mystery series, someone is playing pranks on the local churches by leaving skunks, a snake, and then ducks locked in the buildings and wreaking havoc on the planned Christmas events. Meg Langslow is enlisted to find space for rehearsals and programs and reschedule everything, but when the pranks turn deadly, she also takes on the role of sleuth. VERDICT A fun and uncomplicated cozy mystery that will make you long to visit small-town Virginia for the Christmas holidays.
Publishers Weekly
The residents of Caerphilly, Va., must struggle to maintain their Christmas cheer in Andrews’s lighthearted 16th Meg Langslow mystery (after The Hen of the Baskervilles). Pranksters are creating some not-so-merry problems for police chief Henry Burke, volunteer fire chief Jim Featherstone, and the parishioners of the town’s churches. Some very unhappy skunks fill the choir loft of the New Life Baptist Church; a large snake puts in a surprise appearance at Trinity Episcopal’s Christmas concert; and the sanctuary of St. Byblig plays host to a flock of messy ducks. Meg’s organizational skills come in handy as she takes charge of coordinating revamped schedules for the many holiday activities that can’t take place in the affected churches. The stakes rise when another prank takes a life at Trinity. Andrews leavens the action with her trademark humor, including dueling Christmas dinners and an extravagant—and extravagantly funny—live nativity scene. Agent: Ellen Geiger, Frances Goldin Literary Agency. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

“Andrews leavens the action with her trademark humor, including dueling Christmas dinners and an extravagant--and extravagantly funny--live nativity scene.” —Publishers Weekly

Duck the Halls offers a wealth of yuletide yuks amid the Christmas carnage, and Andrews' faithful fans will flock to greet the birth of her latest funfest.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Meg, as well as her quirky extended family, makes this humorous cozy a holiday treat.” —Booklist

Kirkus Reviews
To celebrate the most wonderful time of the year, Caerphilly, Va., goes to the birds. And snakes. And skunks. It all begins when some miscreant leaves a cage of skunks--sorry, a surfeit of skunks--in the choir loft of the New Life Baptist Church. Agitated to be abandoned in the run-up to Christmas, one of them sprays New Life caretaker Nelson Dandridge in the eye. Things get worse when decorative blacksmith Meg Langslow's grandfather, distinguished zoologist Montgomery Blake, is called in to rusticate the skunks and discovers in the process that his boa constrictor has gone missing, not to reappear until a strategic moment in the New Life Christmas concert, which has been relocated to Trinity Episcopal. Not to be left out, St. Byblig Church is the unwilling recipient of a flock of ducks who've settled in the sanctuary. What makes this rash of outrages against religious communities still more outrageous is that Caleb Shiffley and Ronnie Butler, the pranksters responsible for the skunks and the snake, insist that they had nothing to do with the ducks. Oh, and that fussbudget retired banker Barliman Vess has been murdered, maybe since he interrupted whoever was leaving the rabbits in the basement of Trinity Episcopal. Given her vast experience as an amateur sleuth (The Hen of the Baskervilles, 2013, etc.), it's a foregone conclusion that Meg will track down the killer--or at least be on hand when her mother tells him, "Take that, you rude man!" Not many felonies, clues or deductions, and rather too many pranks and Shiffley cousins who wander through the story with little motivation. There's charm enough here to get by with Meg's many fans, but newcomers will want to open other gifts in this waggish series first.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Meg Langslow Series , #16
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688 KB

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
The buzzing noise woke me from an already restless sleep. In my dream, it was Christmas morning. We were opening presents and all the boxes I’d wrapped so neatly had suddenly become empty. Or worse, they contained odd, inappropriate objects, like bottles of vodka for my four-year-old twin sons and a subscription to Guns & Ammo for my cousin Rose Noire, who couldn’t even stand to see anyone use a flyswatter for its intended purpose.
“What interesting choices,” Mother was murmuring, holding up the power drill that had been in her box. Where had the drill come from? And why did she keep turning it on and off, on and off, making that irritating noise?
Just then I woke up. I fumbled on my bedside table for my phone. It was a little past 4:00 A.M. December twenty-first, not the twenty-fifth.
“Only a dream,” I murmured.
The buzzing wasn’t coming from my phone and I could still hear it. Not a power drill. It appeared to be coming from Michael’s side of the bed, from under the pillow. Some battery-operated toy, perhaps, that the boys had dropped while Michael had been reading them How the Grinch Stole Christmas before bedtime?
Michael stirred.
“Blast.” His voice was sleepy and annoyed. Then he sat bolt upright and began searching frantically under his pillow.
“What is it?” I asked.
“My pager.” He found the offending object, pressed something, and the buzzing stopped. A female voice took its place.
“Box fourteen oh four for the structure fire. One thirteen Clay County Road. Engine companies fourteen and two, truck twelve, rescue squad two, ambulance fourteen respond. Oh four fourteen.”
I recognized the voice of Debbie Ann, the local police and emergency dispatcher. And the “oh four fourteen” part must be the time. As for the rest—
“We have a call!” Michael sounded excited and leaped out of bed.
My stomach clenched. Ever since Michael, in a burst of civic zeal, had joined the Caerphilly Volunteer Firefighters, I’d been dreading this moment. The pager had been his constant companion since he’d finished his training a week ago. And now here it was: His first fire.
The address sounded familiar, too. I had the feeling if I were a little more awake, I’d remember exactly what was located at 113 Clay County Road.
Michael dove into the walk-in closet.
“Maybe you should wake Rob,” he called over his shoulder.
“Doesn’t he have a pager, too?”
“You know Rob.”
Yes. My brother—also a newly fledged firefighter—was capable of sleeping with a brass band rehearsing at the foot of his bed. I got up and winced when my feet hit the cold floor. It was in the twenties outside, and didn’t seem much warmer inside. Not a night for running around barefoot or in pajamas. I threw on my clothes, then raced out into the hall, and headed up the stairs to the third floor of our overlarge Victorian farmhouse, where my brother lived in one of our many spare rooms.
On my way upstairs I passed my cousin Rose Noire who occupied yet another third-floor spare room.
“Rob’s awake,” she said. “His pager woke me from across the hall, so I woke him. I’ll make them some coffee.”
I could hear thuds and exclamations from down the hall. Rob was in motion. Had the noise awakened my twin sons? They’d only recently moved to separate bedrooms. Although it had been their own request and they were vastly proud of their new solo lairs, they were both still a little anxious when awakened in the middle of the night and prone to creeping into our room or each other’s.
I went back down and peeked into Josh’s room first. A few less beloved stuffed animals were scattered across the royal blue sheets and blankets on his bed. Both boys were fast asleep in Jamie’s room, curled up together beneath the bright red bedding. I pulled the door closed to make sure they didn’t wake when Rob came thundering down the stairs in full gear, including the world’s noisiest boots. He’d probably have tried sliding down the banister for greater speed if the polished oak hadn’t been completely swathed in evergreen and tinsel. Then when the noise died down, I slipped out again. Rob was standing in the hallway outside Michael’s and my bedroom door.
“Where’s Michael?” he stage-whispered.
“Here.” Michael stepped out of our room, still fastening bits of gear. “I’ll drive.”
“Right,” Rob said. “Meet you out front.”
I pitched in to help Michael with his gear. Rob clattered the rest of the way down to the front hall, where Rose Noire was standing beside the Christmas tree, holding two travel coffee mugs.
“It’s only instant,” she said as she handed one to Rob. “So I added just a hint of nutmeg.”
“But it’s caffeinated, right?” he asked as he grabbed the mug and opened the door.
“Of course.” Rose Noire looked mildly affronted that he’d doubted her, but given her fondness for trying to reform everyone else’s caffeine habits with odd-tasting herbal concoctions, I could understand why he’d asked.
Rob ran out. I finished fastening the last buckle holding bits of gear to Michael’s belt.
“Thanks,” he said, giving me a kiss. “And yes, I’ll be careful.”
“Where’s the fire?” Rose Noire asked.
“At one thirteen Clay County Road,” I said. “Whatever that is.”
“The New Life Baptist Church.” Michael frowned. “At least I think. It would help if they just came out and said it.”
“Sounds right to me,” I said. “Somewhere in town—you can have Rob look it up on his cell phone well before you need to make any turns.”
“Good idea.” Michael took the second travel mug, murmured his thanks, and followed Rob.
Rose Noire and I looked at each other. We knew many of the New Life congregation—particularly Henry Burke, our local police chief, and his wife, Minerva. And I’d been over at the church last night when a friend who had to work the night shift asked me to take her daughter to choir rehearsal.
We heard Michael’s car start up and race off.
“It’s four twenty—a.m.,” Rose Noire added, as if she thought I might not have noticed the darkness. “I doubt if there would be anyone there now.”
If she was trying to make me feel better, it wasn’t working.
“Which could mean the fire would have plenty of time to become big and dangerous before anyone reported it,” I said. “Watch the boys, will you? I’m heading over there.”
I grabbed my coat from the enormous Victorian hat rack and my purse and keys from the hall table and dashed out into the bitter cold night.
Then I dashed in again, and upstairs to add another layer of clothes.
Even though I prided myself on how quickly I could get dressed and ready in the morning, I was at least five minutes behind Michael and Rob when I set out. Maybe ten.
A good thing this hadn’t happened two nights ago, when we’d had near-blizzard conditions. Or last night, when the plows still hadn’t finished moving the foot of snow off our roads. All we had tonight was the bitter cold, which meant the huge mounds of snow lining the roads weren’t going away any time soon.
I was relieved when I drew near the New Life Church and could still see its enormous steeple rising proudly into the air, illuminated by floodlights below—and with no flames or smoke.
By the time I pulled into the parking lot, I was not just relieved but downright puzzled. The church looked unharmed. All three of Caerphilly County’s fire vehicles were there, along with four police cruisers. All their lights were flashing. The firefighters and deputies were all standing around in clumps, staring at the church, except for one larger group that seemed to be staring at something at the back of the ambulance.
I scanned the scene. No, the church was fine. Not just the church but the entire sprawling complex, including two wings and a small outbuilding, all filled with classrooms, meeting rooms, and the multiple rehearsal rooms for New Life’s nationally renowned gospel choir. The floodlit façade was serene and unmarred by any signs of a conflagration.
I pulled into a parking space toward the side of the lot, about twenty feet from the ambulance, and close to where Michael and the other firefighters had parked. I was aiming to be far enough away that I wouldn’t be underfoot, but close enough that I might overhear what was going on. And my chosen spot was partly behind one of the mountains of snow that the snowplows had piled up, so maybe the firefighters wouldn’t notice me quite as easily.
As I turned the engine off, I saw a particularly tall fireman detach himself from the group around the ambulance and stride over toward my car. So much for my attempt to stay unnoticed. I braced myself to defend my right to rubberneck, and then relaxed. It was Michael. I opened the door and stepped out.
“The good news is there’s no fire,” he said.
“What’s the bad— Oh, gross!”
The wind had shifted, bringing with it an unmistakable odor, like garlic, rotten eggs, and burned rubber all mixed together.
“Is that what I think it is?” I asked.
“Yes. The church has been skunked.”

Copyright © 2013 by Donna Andrews

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.
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 four 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.

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Duck the Halls 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Boring! The mystery was predicable as always but at least the other books were entertaining. Most of the story consists of Meg scheduling and rescheduling choir practice and Christmas for churchgoers. Who cares! The book could have been 1/2 as long and been more entertaining. This is the worst book she has written. Hopefully it was just a fluke.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Light, cheerful, easy read. Perfect for this busy time of year. A little outrageous, not real believable, but harmless and fun. This one has Meg running all over town, leaving you almost breathless with her boundless energy! If you enjoy small towns, Church Christmas programs and wacky mysteries - you will enjoy. Not real deep, but well written and edited. No need to have read others in the series - you'll figure it out. Clean read, nothing graphic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
How was anyone even able to finish this book?  I couldn't get through half of it, it was so uninteresting.  It's shocking it got good major reviews on the cover.  Life is too short to read books that are mediocre, and this book falls short of even that less than desirable mark.
BNreader56SC More than 1 year ago
I look forward to each Donna Andrews book. I love the humor and the quirky characters. Some books are better than others and none have topped the first one in the series. That being said this outing by Ms. Andrews holds true to form. It is a light, humorous and very enjoyable read. Just right for the holidays.
lobowolf More than 1 year ago
Donna Andrews never misses. She adds great local color and makes for interesting reading.
Mom2all More than 1 year ago
A fun read with the pranks and all the volunteers that stepped forward to fix all the problems. Good to read about people supporting each other even if only in fiction.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
borrow suggest author do back flash stories cause never been the sane since married mother gets worse and worse
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this story lacking .I have read her other books and find the plot lines becoming totally out side the realm of plausibility. Got bored early on
KathyAR More than 1 year ago
Totally enjoyable read that has you laughing all the way to the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
robyngoodfellow More than 1 year ago
I am a huge fan of Donna Andrews' books, and this was no exception. I will admit to being surprised at how long it took the story to actually produce a murder. Usually the murder happens quite a bit sooner. All in all, a good story, with just enough sketchy characters to keep you guessing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it!  Well-written characters, nicely plotted story, lots of laughs, and a satisfying solution to the mystery. Read it now--and buy extra copies for Christmas presents is my recommendation.
mysteryloverVP More than 1 year ago
TessT More than 1 year ago
This book was great! I love the way Ms. Andrews has with words. The book was funny, heart warming, and a joy to read! The entire series about Mag and her family is one of my favorites. If only the writers could write as fast as I can read!  A solid 5 stars, would have given it more, if possible.
SnarlaD More than 1 year ago
A pleasant reading experience for those who enjoy the "cozy" mystery. The comic elements & interesting recurring characters let the fun overwhelm the improbabilties.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I remember picking up the first book in this series (Murder With Peacocks)because the title caught my eye. After laughing my way through the book, I was hooked. I anxiously await each new installment of this series and am always left wanting more. The characters are a hoot (I am especially fond of Cousin Horace and his gorilla suit and Meg's grandfather)and the story lines so much fun. If you like cozy mysteries with a sense of humor, this series is for you.
judiOH More than 1 year ago
wish i could give this moe thn 5 stars!! meg langslow's family is a bit eccentric to say the least. but they are lovable. Christmas is nearing, and all the churches are gearing up for the season, with each of their holiday programs. first, the new life baptist church is populated by skunks, making the church unusable until the odor is removed. meg offers to help relocate the proceedings. next triinity episcopal is found to have a boa in its tree. as if that's n ot enough, a horde of ducks is found in st.byblig's, the catholic church. okay, what's going on? who's the culprit, or culprits? not enough happening? well, there is the matter of the death of mr vess, ot trinity church. well, in the midst of all this meg amd mike decide to have a secret thanksgiving dinner the old fashioned way with all the 'normal' trimmings. it wasn't a too well kept secret as the whole family shows up to share it. seems as though meg's mom and mike's mom had planned a lot of seafood for Christmas dinner this year. meg is allergic to seafood. it was hard to put this story down, because i never knew what outrageous act would happen next! this story was a chuckle all the way through..at times a real guffaw rolled out too! a most delightful story, and i can't wait for the next one.
jbrooxd More than 1 year ago
Great addition to this fun series. I laughed out loud several times and had to read parts to my family because they were so funny and clever. A great holiday mystery!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dang it. You stole my thunder there. But still, you are correct. Have you noticed that he never runs out of arrows? Awesome. Someone get me some ice, because he's too hot!
jonikw More than 1 year ago
I'm looking forward to reading this during the holiday season.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Imma girl. Claire. 16 and have brown eyes and yeah a sophmore and have a bf. Hbu