Meg and Michael's house is serving as the marshaling point for the annual Caerphilly Christmas parade. The theme is "The Twelve Days of Christmas," and it features twelve drummers from the school marching band, eleven bagpipers, and so on. As organizer, Meg's job is hard enough. But when her nephew Eric, wide eyed and ashen faced, whispers, "Meg, something's wrong with Santa," things take a tragic turn. The local curmudgeon, whose beard and belly made him a natural for the role, has been murdered. Now it's up to Meg and Chief Burke to tackle the two-fold mission of solving the murder and saving Christmas!
This latest adventure from award-winning Donna Andrews is filled with outrageous Christmas spirit and malice.
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
Six Geese A-Slaying
By Donna Andrews
St. Martin's MinotaurCopyright © 2008 Donna Andrews
All rights reserved.
December 23, 8:30 A .M.
"We wish you a merry Christmas
We wish you a merry Christmas
We wish you a merry Christmas
And a happy New—"
"Bah, humbug," I said.
Under my breath, of course. As Caerphilly County's reigning Mistress of the Revels, I didn't dare let anyone hear me bad-mouthing Christmas or showing less than the brightest of holiday spirits. I took a deep breath and straightened my holly wreath headdress before saying anything aloud.
"Could you please tell the drummers and pipers to stop drumming and piping immediately," I finally said. Shouted, actually, to be heard above the din.
"They won't like it, Meg," my brother, Rob, shouted back. "They're having a competition to see who can make the most noise."
"I never would have guessed," I muttered. But I kept smiling as I said it. And I reminded myself that muttering wasn't particularly inconspicuous in weather so cold your breath smoked.
If only someone had warned me beforehand that "Mistress of the Revels" wasn't an honorary title. It meant I was in charge of organizing Caerphilly's annual holiday parade.
This year's theme was "The Twelve Days of Christmas." The twelve drummers drumming were represented by twelve members of the Caerphilly College fife and drum corps, while the pipers piping were eleven assorted bagpipers—currently playing in at least eleven different keys.
The drummers outnumbered the pipers, especially since they'd also brought along twelve matching fifers. But the bagpipers seemed quite capable of holding their own in the noise department. They were definitely going to win if this turned into an endurance test. The drummers were already showing signs of fatigue, and the bagpipers hadn't even hit their stride yet. And while "Silent Night" and "The Little Drummer Boy" are both lovely Christmas carols when played separately, they didn't work well when played simultaneously by dueling groups of musicians.
None of which would have bothered me if they'd been doing it farther off—say, down in the cow pasture where they'd been asked to muster. Why did they insist on hovering right across the street from our house, all too near the spot in our front yard where I'd stationed myself, clipboard in hand, to check in the arriving parade participants?
"Go and tell them—" I began, and then stopped. Rob looked at me expectantly. He was quite dashing in one of the medieval costumes we'd borrowed from the Caerphilly College drama department. The blue brocade tunic matched his eyes, and unlike some of the volunteers, he was skinny enough to get away with wearing tights. As one of the ten lords a-leaping he was going to be a smashing success.
But as an enforcer, Rob would be a disaster. I knew what would happen if I sent him over to quell the riotous music. He'd ask them politely. They'd ignore him—if they even heard him. A little later, I'd go over to see why they hadn't shut up and find Rob taking bagpiping lessons or practicing his leaping in time with the fife and drums.
Some things you have to do yourself.
"Never mind," I said, as I turned to head in the direction of the musical duel. "Go make sure none of the other leaping lords have hopped off anywhere. And can you check the Weather Channel and get the latest prediction on when the snow will start? I'm going to—damn!"
I'd stepped in something squishy. I remembered that the eight maids a-milking had recently strolled by, leading their eight purebred Holstein milk cows.
"Please tell me I didn't just step in cow dung."
"Okay, you didn't just step in cow dung," Rob said. "I'm pretty sure the cleanup crew has been by at least once since the cows came through here."
"That's a relief," I said. Though I was energetically scraping my foot on the gravel anyway.
"So that's almost certainly camel dung."
As if that made a difference. I lost it, briefly.
"Can't those stupid wise men keep their beastly camels out of the road?" I snapped. Rob had turned to go and either didn't hear me or pretended not to. It occurred to me that perhaps I shouldn't be so harsh on the wise men, since Michael Waterston, my husband of six months, was one of them.
"Don't blame the stupid wise men," came a voice from behind me. "It was my fault."
I turned around to see an enormous, bushy-bearded figure clad in a peculiar feathered garment. One of the six geese a-laying, I realized—I'd have recognized that immediately if he'd been wearing the goose head and had been waving wings instead of a pair of brawny arms covered with thick hair and a colorful collection of biker-and wildlife-themed tattoos. But never mind the incomplete costume—I was just glad to see its wearer.
"Clarence!" I said. "You made it!"
"Wouldn't miss it for the world," he said, giving me a bear hug.
"So this is one of the six geese a-laying?" said a nasal voice with a hint of a southern drawl. I glanced over to see who was talking and saw a tall, cadaverously thin man in jeans and a faded brown parka. And he wasn't just tall compared to my five feet ten—he even looked tall standing beside Clarence, who was six and a half feet tall and almost as wide.
Brown parka was scribbling in a pocket notebook. Around his neck he wore a small silver digital camera and a lanyard with a laminated badge.
"You must be the reporter from The Washington Star-Tribune," I said.
"Are you—" he paused to look into his notebook. "Meg Lansdowne? The parade organizer?"
"Meg Langslow," I corrected.
"J. Ainsley Werzel," he said. He stuck out a hand and I shook it, somewhat awkwardly, since he was still holding the ballpoint pen in it.
"So, one of your geese, I presume?" he repeated. He stuck his pen behind his ear and grabbed his digital camera, apparently intent on getting a festive holiday shot of the ferrets inked up and down Clarence's arms.
"And also one of our vets," I said. "This is Dr. Clarence Rutledge. He'll be helping look after the welfare of the many live animals appearing in today's parade."
I winced inwardly at how stilted I sounded, like something out of a press release from the town council. But better stilted than dimwitted.
Clarence shook the reporter's hand with a great deal less caution than I had. He was so used to enduring the teeth and claws of his more recalcitrant patients that a mere ballpoint pen wound meant nothing to him. Werzel was the one who winced.
"Damn," Werzel said, as he continued to gape at Clarence. "I wish my photographer would get here already. You haven't seen him, have you—short guy with a big Nikon?"
I shook my head.
"Damn," Werzel repeated. "He said ten minutes half an hour ago. Ah, well."
He stood looking around with an odd expression on his face, as if tracking down the source of a bad smell. I checked my foot again. No, it was clean. And when I took a deep breath, the icy air held only the tantalizing odors of the coffee, cocoa, and spiced cider at a nearby refreshment stand. I could hear sleigh bells jingling in the distance, and strains of Christmas carols drifting from various parts of the yard. A brace of cousins hurried by pushing a cart loaded high with poinsettias, and several small children dressed as elves were handing out candy canes, courtesy of the Caerphilly Candy Shop. What could possibly be causing that sour face?
"Quaint," Werzel pronounced.
"Clearly that's going to have to be my angle on this story. Quaint."
He nodded as he said it, and a satisfied expression replaced the frown. He couldn't have been here more than five minutes, the parade itself wouldn't start for hours—and he'd already decided on his angle?
"Pity I can't think of something more sexy," he said, shaking his head.
Not that he'd tried.
"I've never really considered Christmas all that sexy," I said aloud.
"It's all a big conspiracy by the stores," he said.
I hoped that wasn't going to be the theme of his story. But then, I didn't have high hopes about the story anyway. The Caerphilly Town Council members might have been thrilled when they heard that the Trib wanted to cover our event, but I was far more pessimistic about how much could go wrong today. Not to mention more cynical about how ridiculous an un-sympathetic reporter could make us look if he wanted to.
And why was the Washington Star-Tribune sending a reporter to cover our parade, anyway? Caerphilly County and the town of Caerphilly were in rural Virginia, two hours' south of Washington, D.C., and the Trib rarely mentioned their one claim to fame—the small but prestigious college where my husband taught in the drama department. Our parade drew good attendance each year, but mainly from the county itself and from nearby counties even more rural than we were. Why wasn't Werzel covering more glamorous sights closer to home, like the national Christmas tree and whatever holiday parades and festivals the greater metropolitan Washington area had to offer? He could have written a clichéd story about our quaint country parade without leaving his desk. I was convinced Werzel had an ulterior motive—to make us look not only quaint but ridiculous. Unfortunately, if that was his plan, I couldn't think of any way to stop him.
The ten lords a-leaping danced past, with Rob in the lead. They had all strapped sets of Morris dancing bells onto their shins, and their procession sounded like "Jingle Bells" on steroids. I couldn't help smiling as they passed. Werzel didn't even look their way.
"I mean, what's so special about yet another Christmas parade?" he asked, when he could make himself heard again.
"Holiday parade," I corrected. It was a reflex by now. "We've decided to make this year's parade as diverse and multicultural as possible."
"That's nice," he said. "Of course, in a place like this, I guess multicultural means you've asked both the Baptists and the Episcopalians."
He doubled over laughing at his own joke.
"Not exactly," I said.
Just then a large, mud-spattered truck eased to a stop near me and an elderly woman wearing a large, jewel-trimmed turban stuck her head out of the passenger side window.
"So where do the elephants go?" she asked.
"Anywhere they want to," I said. "But see if you can convince them they'd like to wait in the sheep pasture across the street."
"No problem," she said, as the driver eased the truck over in the direction I'd indicated.
"Elephants?" Werzel asked, looking slightly wide-eyed.
"For the Diwali part of the parade."
"The Hindu festival of lights," I said. "It's their major winter holiday. Elephants are customary, I understand. Why don't you go watch them unload?"
Werzel nodded and stumbled after the truck. I smiled. Maybe the elephants would save us from the quaint stereotype. And if not—well, we could live with quaint.
"Nothing like elephants for human interest, is there?" Clarence said.
"For some kind of interest," I said. "I wouldn't necessarily call it human, with just the elephants and this Werzel fellow involved. But with any luck, he'll have so much fun photographing the elephants that he'll be in too good a mood to be snide."
"I should go over and check out the pachyderms," he said. He sounded quite matter-of-fact—but in addition to being one of the town veterinarians, Clarence was the official veterinarian for the Caerphilly Zoo, so he had treated elephants before. "That reminds me—sorry about the camel dung, but one of them was limping, and I was taking him for a walk to check it out."
"Please don't tell me we have an injured camel," I said, clutching my clipboard anxiously. "The zoo's only got the three camels. It just won't have the right effect at all if the wise men come riding in on two camels and a ten-speed bike."
"Oh, don't worry—" Clarence began.
"Meg, dear," I heard my mother say.CHAPTER 2
I tensed and reminded myself that Mother wasn't necessarily reporting a problem or making a complaint. Still, I took a deep breath as I turned to see what she wanted. She was standing behind me, dressed in an elegant cobalt blue velvet Victorian party dress, complete with a matching parasol.
"You look lovely," I said. Which was true. Rob had inherited his aristocratic blond looks from Mother, whose hair, in her sixties, was still a rich if implausible shade of gold. As usual, I felt dowdy by comparison. Years of practice helped me refrain from patting at my own wayward brunette mane whenever I saw Mother's sleek coif. And was it fair that well short of forty, I already had to fight to keep my figure from turning matronly, while Mother was still as slender as she had been in high school?
I could tell she was eyeing my costume with dismay. I'd dressed for warmth and comfort, and then thrown on one of the county-issue shepherd's robes—cheap, one-size-fits-all garments that some past parade organizer had had made several decades ago so volunteers who didn't have their own costumes could throw on a robe and blend in. Since no one had bothered to launder the robes for years—if ever—the only people who ever wore them were those like me, who didn't remember till the last moment that they needed a costume. I suspected that once the parade was over, Mother would have a few words to say about my appearance.
Of course, I had no idea what her own stunning costume had to do with Christmas, but at this point, I didn't much care.
"I'm glad you like the costume, dear," Mother said, beaming a gracious smile at me and smoothing a bit of the dress's black lace trim.
"By the way," Clarence said, "the house looks lovely."
"Thanks," I said. "But it's all Mother's doing."
Mother beamed widely.
"Really?" Clarence said. "It's fantastic!"
Of course, Clarence already knew Mother had done the decorations. But he'd come to know our family well enough to guess that nothing was more guaranteed to put her in a good mood than a compliment to her decorating skills.
The house really did look fantastic. The exterior of our once-dilapidated three-story white Victorian was now in immaculate condition, thanks to the Shiffley Construction Company and Michael's and my depleted checkbook. Left to my own devices, I'd have stuck electric candles in the front windows and a tasteful wreath on the door and called it quits. In fact, and given how busy I was with the parade, I'm not sure I'd even have managed that. I'd assumed that Mother would expend her holiday decorating energy on their summer cottage—actually a farmhouse that she and Dad had bought, on the next farm down the road from Michael and me. But when she realized that hundreds—perhaps thousands—of holiday tourists would be seeing our house with its minimalist holiday décor, she'd immediately offered to take care of the decorations and had enlisted a small army of helpers from the ranks of the Hollingsworths, her vast extended family.
Every single stretch of roofline, including all the dormers and gables, was trimmed with a three-inch fringe of icicle lights. Every shutter, window-frame, and doorway was outlined with evergreen garlands trimmed with red bows. Every window had been painted to look like stained glass and behind each set of brightly colored panes glowed not only a flickering electric candle but a small constellation of prisms to reflect and scatter the light. Fortunately, Mother's taste didn't run to reindeer on the roof, but she had sent a team up to drape it with a giant banner that read "Peace on Earth." A pair of Christmas doves the size of turkeys hovered over each end of the banner, pretending they were holding it up, though in reality that function was performed by a sturdy cable around the chimneys on either end of the main house. A wreath the size of a truck tire obscured most of the front door, and more evergreen garlands made a festive path down to the mailbox. As we watched, the cousins were arranging the cartload of poinsettias into a bank of red and green on the front porch.
It wasn't exactly my taste, but considering that I hadn't lifted a finger to bring it about, I wasn't going to complain. I just had to remember not to fetch the paper in my bathrobe for the rest of the holiday season—in the three days since Mother's crew had finished it, the house had become a minor local tourist destination.
Excerpted from Six Geese A-Slaying by Donna Andrews. Copyright © 2008 Donna Andrews. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Minotaur.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
With her husband Michael being up for tenure Meg Langslow has no choice except to put on the Caerphilly Christmas Parade becase someone who could help her spouse asks her. Meg always a trooper has all the people she needs to perform the ¿Twelve Days of Christmas¿. She hides her dissatisfaction of being stuck with the town¿s first choice for Santa Ralph Doleson, a mean miser who makes Silas Marner look like a deficit spending Congressman she believes he got the role because he can fill out the suit so the council need not waste money on alterations or a new costume.----------- To get him out of the way so the kids won¿t see him, she places Ralph in the pig¿s sled and forgets about him until her nephew Eric and his pal inform her something is wrong with Santa. Meg checks only to find Ralph dead with a stake through his heart like a bad vampire movie. Meg gets Chief Burke, who is one of the three Wise Men. There are plenty of suspects who wanted odious Ralph dead especially those outraged over Whispering Pines the low rent townhouses and the Spouse Attic where people lease space to place things they conceal from their families Between his two buildings Ralph has a good blackmail business going.. To save Christmas from the odious Grinch who was murdered, Burke and Meg investigate.------------- SIX GEESE A-SLAYING is a hilarious amateur sleuth tale as Meg struggles with putting on the parade, finding a new Santa who can wear the garb, and solving the homicide of the original Santa. The scenarios are so chaotic that Meg needs Lucille Ball to perform her role. Meg is at her best juggling several balls in the air although when some drop she just picks them up and tosses them again. Readers will adore her antics and this amusing tale summed up by the Nativity Scene on a flatbed truck.------------- Harriet Klausner
I want to go to Caerphilly next Christmas to watch their parade. Better still, I wish I had been there to see the one just past! Who knew putting together a Christmas parade could entertain a reader throughout most of a book, have an acting "Mary" go into labor on the nativity float, and in between have and solve a murder? Not to mention the llamas and camels and elephants, oh my! Elephants? Well, it is really a Holiday parade incorporating several December holidays and Meg Langslow has been put in charge.Donna Andrews knows how to entertain and be completely unexpected at the same time. In her several books, she consistently brings to her reading audience laughter, mystery, and a cast of characters that must be read to be believed. This is one author I would love to meet, her imagination knows no bounds, even to the name of the town. She also has the uncanny ability to combine characters both human and animal and this time she has done it in a big way.Her cast of regular characters is surprisingly large and interactive and yet there is always room for more. Who will solve the murder? Why was it committed in the first place, and why at Christmas? There are enough suspects with motive to fill the jail and then some. I¿m always sad in a way when the mystery is solved and the story ends, but very thankful that so far there is always another on its way. This is one series you can depend on to lift your spirits. A great cozy read that makes you feel like part of the family.
Meg's appointed Mistress of the Revels and organizer of this year's Caerphilly County's Holiday Parade. Apart from ensuring that the elephants, partridge, camels, donkey and sheep are all accounted for and penned in their respective areas before the parade, she's also got to contend with leaping lords, competitive drummers and pipers, a heavily pregnant Mary and geese costumed members of the bird protection society, and a murdered Santa. Did I say a murdered Santa?Amidst the chaos of the final hours before the parade, someone has offed dear ol' Santa as he was getting dressed in the pig shed... minus the pigs.But the show must go on....especially as a roving reporter is among them, writing furiously in his notebook and taking photographs for the Washington Star-Tribune, no less. So how, in the madness of people and recalcitrant animals, is Meg and Chief Burke supposed to find the murderer?What ensues is yet another wild and funny investigative escapade involving the unique Langslow family and some of our favorite odd-ball characters that make up the Caerphilly community.
This delicious romp is part of a daffy mystery series featuring the Rubenesque Meg Langslow, daughter of a chic, slim, stylish and scary Virginia aristocrat mother and a simple, single-minded doctor father who never grew up (thank goodness). She's married to an ex-soap hunk and cult TV fantasy villain actor-turned-drama-professor at a small, exclusive liberal arts college located a few miles from her hometown of Yorktown, Virginia. Her extensive extended family includes a cousin who lives his life as a forensic technician from inside a gorillla suit; a cousin whose wool-headed New Age philosophical maunderings cause most of the family acute embarrassment; a younger brother who, like her father, never grew up but managed to make himself rich by starting a MMO-RPG company.Getting the picture? It's a screwball comedy-cum-mystery, with a couple of befuddled normals at its whirling center. Think "Bringing Up Baby"--you know, the Cary Grant-Katharine Hepburn movie with the leopard and the madcap heiress?--and you've got the gist. And it's working for Andrews! This is the ninth of ten, to date, books in the series.I commented once, on an LT thread now long buried, that I read mysteries to satisfy my orderly side. (The Divine Miss contends I *have* no orderly side, usually with a wrinkled nose and a wince as she looks into my bedroom.) This series of mysteries, despite the winsome chaos of the plot, scratches that bump with just the right touch. I love the characters, I willingly believe that (fictional) Caerphilly County, Virginia, is run by the lunatics instead of the asylum attendants, because *things go right* there. The right people are rewarded and punished. The right solutions are found to problems, and are implemented with a nudge and a wink at the law.It's the way I wish Nassau County, New York, was run. It ain't, for the record, even close.So when the chance came to join the Holiday (not Christmas!) parade and festivities in Caerphilly, Virginia, it would have taken a stronger man than I am to resist the siren call. I read the book in about four hours of snorting, giggling, howling fun. And that's the downside of Andrews's simple, direct prose: It flows like water over the eyeballs, nothing to impede the story being told, no snaggle in the current, just fast-flowing water from the Holy Well of Humor.The humorless need not even bother looking at the book. The po-faced classics snobs should pass by the shelf, wincing disdainfully. The pseudo-erudite high-culture vultures stand warned off. The rest of us will be over here, in the corner, laughing fit to bust.
"The Twelve Days of Christmas" is the theme of this year's Christmas parade. Suddenly Santa turns up dead and the prime suspects are those dressed as geese. The problem is that a special interest group turns up with geese suits making the suspect pool rather large. This is an enjoyable installment in the Meg Langslow series, but it's not my favorite.
Christmas themed murder mystery with humor. Funny as always with the usual cast of characters.
December 23, and Meg Langslow has agreed to be Mistress of Revels for Caerfilly's holiday parade. With a Twelve Days of Christmas theme, there are a lot of animals around. The geese are people dressed up in suits, but the elephants are real. The pre-parade controlled chaos becomes even more chaotic when the dog-kicking curmudgeon playing Santa is murdered in the pig shed. Can Meg find the killer and save Christmas?Another wacky bird-themed mystery from Andrews. Not the best in the series, but far from the worst.
Simply a fun Christmas-murder-mystery. I've read one other book in this series, "The Penguin who Knew too Much." The characters are enjoyable and the reading light and easy. It's a series I'll probably return to when I want another popcorn book to cleanse the pallet between heavtier reads. On a side note-I would love to go to the holiday parade depicted in this book!
Meg is in charge of the yearly Christmas, I mean Holiday, parade. As if trying to keep the people from irritating each other isn't enough, someone kills Santa. The book starts off with plenty of laughs but it moves into more serious matters as the murder takes center stage. I did figure things out fairly early, but I was having so much fun I didn't care.
Six Geese A-Slaying is one of Donna Andrews’ suspenseful, clever mysteries in which our avian friends are always a factor. This one is additionally a delightful small-town holiday tale. I am quite picky about my mysteries, since I worked in the court system for a decade-and-a-half, and I love these. I won’t give away any spoilers, but if you like birds, mysteries or just plain ‘ole good writing, I recommend her books, and I hope that someone will have the foresight to start making movies from these books.
This was my first book by this author and it was a nice read. Think I will check out a few more!
Posted at house.
"Chances are yes. Lets focus on getting you to ang though" picked her up and threw shine on her back. Turned into a horse and galloped back to camp
This is the funniest community christmas ever including the Bubba and series. How do these southern authors collect so many kissing kin miss maggie
Lucky Meg, she's been named "Mistress of the Revels" and learns that means she' s in charge of Caerphilly annual holiday parade. Which includes geese, camels, elephants and a very unpopular Santa, who turns up dead shortly before the parade is to begin. A rollicking tale as Meg deals with protestors, a very pregnant "Mary", loads of family and, of course, uncovering the killer. Donna Andrews never fails to deliver and this is no exception.
Just what you need during the Christmas season.. Something light, fun and humorous.. Not so griping that you can not put it down, in order to decorate the house, wrap gifts, or go to holiday parties.. But simply a pleasure to find the time to curl back up to and relax and unwind with a nice well deserved stretch of quiet time..
I loved this book. It's only the second I've tried in the series, and I'm sure now to try more. Off the wall humor, "Look, it's the Goose of Christmas yet to come." and murder, interesting and well done plot. Full and entertaining characters. A thoroughly enjoyable mystery. If you're looking for a fun holiday read with a touch of murder and a gaggle of suspects, you'll love this one.
A great Christmas murder mystery with the Langslow family. For Donna Andrews fans a must read.