Toucan keep a secret, if one of them is dead.
Meg Langslow is at Trinity Episcopal Church locking up after an event and checking on the toucan her friend Rev. Robyn Smith is fostering in her office. When she investigates the sound of hammering in the columbarium (the underground crypt where cremated remains are buried), Meg finds the murdered body of an elderly parishioner. Several niches have been chiseled open; several urns knocked out; and amid the spilled ashes is a gold ring with a huge red stone.
The curmudgeonly victim had become disgruntled with the church and ranted all over town about taking back his wife's ashes. Did someone who had it in for him follow him to the columbarium? Or was the motive grave robbery? Or did he see someone breaking in and investigate? Why was the ruby left behind?
While Chief Burke investigates the murder, Robyn recruits Meg to contact the families of the people whose ashes were disturbed. While doing so, Meg learns many secrets about Caerphilly's historyand finds that the toucan may play a role in unmasking the killer. Clues and events indicate that a thief broke into the church to steal the toucan the night of the murder, so Meg decides to set a trap for the would-be toucan thiefwho might also be the killer.
Toucan Keep a Secret is the twenty-third book in New York Times bestselling author Donna Andrews' hilarious Mag Langslow mystery series.
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"You're still at Trinity? What in the world are you doing there???"
The ding of an incoming text had raised my spirits temporarily — I'd assumed it would be Michael, texting me to say that Josh and Jamie were safely asleep, and maybe even including a photo or two from their bedtime story session.
But this text was from Robyn. She was the reason that, instead of being at home to help my husband put the twins to bed, I was here at the church at nearly eleven o'clock — turning off lights, making sure everyone was out of the building, and checking that all the doors and windows were locked. Things the Reverend Robyn Smith, as rector of Trinity, would normally be doing.
Not her fault, though. She would much rather have been here, instead of home on enforced bed rest for the last three months of her pregnancy.
I studied my phone's glowing screen for a few moments, pondering what to reply. Obviously "doing your job" wasn't an option, no matter how cranky I felt.
"The vestry meeting ran late" would be the most truthful answer, but probably not a reassuring one. Robyn would know all too well the issues her parish's elected lay officials might be discussing, and none of them were likely to contribute to the calm, peaceful state of mind her obstetrician wanted her to maintain. Especially if she suspected that she was yet again one of the prime subjects of discussion. I'd overheard enough to figure out the Muttering Misogynists, as Mother and I called two of her fellow vestry members, had once again spent much of the meeting sniping about the expense and inconvenience of having the parish priest out on maternity leave. Of course, what they really didn't like was having a woman priest in the first place. The misogynists were a minority, both in the congregation and on the vestry. But that didn't mean they couldn't make life thoroughly miserable for Robyn in her present situation.
And mentioning that I'd had to unstop one of the toilets in the women's bathroom again would probably set her off worrying about whether Trinity needed a lot of expensive plumbing work that we could ill afford.
"The twelve-step meeting ran over," I finally texted back. It wasn't a lie. I'd been filling in for Robyn on the evening shift several nights a week for almost a month now, and I had yet to see a twelve-step meeting end on time.
"No idea why, of course," I added. Also true. I considered eavesdropping on the vestry one of the benefits of filling in for Robyn — in fact, almost a job responsibility. And difficult to avoid, given the amount of shouting that went on lately. But I tried very hard to give the twelve-step participants their space.
"Of course. But you're headed home now?"
"Yes," I texted back. "In your office now checking on the admiral."
"Give him a slice of orange for me."
"I will," I replied.
"And don't forget to talk to him."
I shoved the phone into my pocket and studied the covered cage containing Admiral Nimitz, a three-year-old toco toucan that Robyn was looking after while his owner was on active duty aboard the USS Harry S. Truman.
"Let's get you out of here," I said to the presumably slumbering bird. I felt slightly guilty, taking the bird away without telling Robyn. Toucans were gregarious, and she'd promised the bird's absent owner that she'd keep him at the church, where interacting with the congregation would fulfill his social needs.
"It's for your own good," I informed Nimitz. With Robyn away, her office didn't get anywhere near the traffic it usually did. And going into the office for the sole purpose of amusing the toucan was yet another burden on the already overworked volunteers. Frankly, most of the volunteers either didn't bother with Nimitz or ran out of time. So even though Nimitz was not only noisy but incredibly messy, I was taking him home, where my noisy, messy family could see to his social needs. My cousin Rose Noire, with her passion for everything vegetarian and organic, would probably relish the complicated challenge of his fruit-and-nut-based diet. The boys would love talking to him. And perhaps I could even pawn him off on my grandfather, who was not only a biologist and a bird fancier but owned a private zoo. Surely the Caerphilly Zoo's aviary staff members were the best qualified to take proper care of Nimitz. And then —
My visions of a toucan-free summer were rudely interrupted by a loud hammering noise.
"What now?" I raced out of Robyn's office and stood for a moment, trying to figure out where the sound was coming from. The back of the church, apparently. I strode into the sanctuary and down the center aisle toward the altar. I didn't turn on the lights — partly to keep from alerting whoever was doing the hammering that I was hunting them down, and partly because I didn't need to. The full moon shone through the soaring two-story stained glass windows along both sides of the sanctuary, casting great mosaics of multicolored light over the pews and the altar. I could see just fine.
The noise wasn't coming from the sanctuary. Possibly from downstairs. Or more likely from the churchyard. I reached the back wall and peered out of one of the relatively tiny non–stained glass windows.
The churchyard would have been the perfect setting for filming a scary movie. One of those over-the-top Hammer Films with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. The full moon cast spooky shadows from the gravestones and the weeping willows. And at the far end of the churchyard, another small multicolored splash of light spilled over the flagstone path that led to the crypt.
"Someone's in the crypt," I said aloud.
And then I immediately corrected myself. The columbarium. Both Robyn and Mother were adamant about using the proper term for a room whose walls were filled with niches to hold the ashes of parishioners who'd chosen cremation.
But to me it would always be the crypt. It was a surprisingly large underground room that had been hollowed out of the side of the steep hill at the far end of the churchyard. In the middle of its gray stone front wall, a large medieval-style oak door with impressive wrought-iron hinges guarded the entrance to the crypt. As if deciding belatedly that the door made the place look too forbidding, the architect had added long, narrow stained glass panels on either side of the entrance.
Stained glass panels that were now lit from within — a dead giveaway that someone was inside.
My first impulse was to race out and accost the intruder. But I'd recently had a discussion with my dad, an avid reader of mystery books, about the Too Stupid to Live Syndrome.
"It's one thing to be a strong, independent heroine," he'd said. "And quite another to go racing unarmed into danger instead of sensibly calling 911. People just don't do that in real life. I know why authors do it, of course, because if the heroine just sat by and let the police handle everything, there wouldn't be a book. But still — they should at least make an effort to have their heroines behave intelligently."
"And why are you picking on heroines?" I'd replied. "Aren't there male protagonists who race into danger? And yet I bet you'd call them brave for doing exactly the same thing that gets women labeled Too Stupid to Live."
"An excellent point!" Dad had exclaimed, and we'd gone on to have a lively discussion about sexism in literature and film.
But I remembered the Too Stupid to Live Syndrome. So instead of racing out to confront whoever was in the crypt, I pulled out my cell phone and dialed 911 as I set out to investigate the source of the noise.
"There seems to be an intruder here at Trinity Episcopal," I told Debbie Ann, the dispatcher, as I strode back through the sanctuary. "Out in the columbarium."
"The crypt," I said.
"Oh right. Back of the graveyard, in the side of the hill."
"That's it. There's light coming from it, and there shouldn't be. There wasn't half an hour ago when I started making my rounds. And we normally keep it locked, although it wouldn't be hard for someone to get in — everyone at Trinity knows Robyn keeps a copy of the key on a hook in her office, so anyone who wants to visit a loved one who's buried there can borrow it."
In fact, Robyn usually kept two copies of the key on that hook. Only one there now, I noted, as I grabbed it.
"And there's a hammering noise coming from out there," I added. I stopped to lock up Robyn's office before I crossed the vestibule, on my way to the parish hall wing. Downstairs in that wing, at the end of a long hallway flanked by classrooms and storage rooms, was a door that would take me out of the building as close as possible to the crypt. "At least there was — I don't hear it anymore," I added as I dashed down the stairs.
"I'm sending a unit," Debbie Ann said. "In fact, you'll probably be seeing several. Horace is only a few minutes away, and it's been such a slow night that everyone else is excited at the idea of backing him up."
"I look forward to seeing them." I had reached the end of the hallway and was unlocking the door, which led outside to a stairwell that climbed up to ground level. A wave of warm, lilac-scented air greeted me, replacing my vision of a creepy, haunted Transylvanian setting with the reassuring familiarity of a Virginia spring. Still, I stopped long enough to lock the door again behind me. Then I crept swiftly but silently up the concrete stairs and peered across the graveyard toward the crypt. I was reassured to hear the sound of a siren not too far away.
"Uh-oh," I said into my cell phone. "I think the intruder might have figured out we're onto him. The crypt door was closed when I looked before. Now it's wide open."
"Proves there was someone there," Debbie Ann said. "And if they did any damage, Horace is the one to figure out who they were." In addition to being an officer on the town and county police force, Horace was a trained crime scene specialist.
"Probably just kids," I said as I picked my way across the moonlit graveyard. "Pulling a prank. Or looking for a little bit of privacy."
And maybe kids who thought with Robyn out of circulation there'd be no one here to spot them at this late hour. Even if there wasn't any damage, I'd be in favor of having Horace track them down so we could make an example of them. And maybe it was time to rekey the crypt door and come up with better security for the new key. My heart, which had been beating a little faster than usual, was back to normal.
"Creepy place for a rendezvous," Debbie Ann said.
"I suppose I should be glad they were stupid enough to leave the door open."
"Teenagers." I didn't have to see her to know she was shaking her head.
"Don't blame their age," I replied. "Offhand, I don't recall doing anything like this when I was in high school, but I'm sure if I had, I'd have had the brains to leave everything as much as possible as I'd found it."
"I'm sure you were an exceptionally logical and sensible teenager."
The intruder or intruders hadn't just left the door open — they'd also left a light on. A dim light rather than the moderately bright illumination that had attracted my attention, but still. No common sense.
I'd reached the door. I stopped to the right of the doorway and waited for a few moments to see if I heard any noises inside. Nothing.
The siren was closer. I knew I ought to wait for Horace.
I'd have to reopen that discussion with Dad. Ask him if the heroines he was complaining about were really too stupid to live or maybe just too curious for caution.
I stepped into the doorway and peered inside.
The dim light was coming from a flashlight that lay abandoned on the crypt's stone floor. The flashlight's beam illuminated the body sprawled nearby. Both the flashlight and the ambient moonlight washed out color, but I was still pretty sure that the puddle around the body's head was blood.
"Tell Horace to hurry up," I said over the phone. "My prowler report just turned into a possible murder."CHAPTER 2
"Murder?" Debbie Ann echoed. "Are you sure? Are you in any danger? Maybe you should go back inside the church."
"Could be just attempted murder. I'm going to see if the guy's still alive. Can you send an ambulance? And should you maybe notify my dad?" "That's a yes to both," she said. "The ambulance should be there a few minutes behind Horace, and one way or another, we can use Dr. Langslow." Dad was both a semi-retired physician and the local medical examiner. "Stay on the line until Horace gets there."
I took another quick glance around to make sure no one was lurking in the nearby shrubbery or behind one of the weathered tombstones. Then I stepped inside. I started to grope for the light switch that, because of the stained glass panels flanking the door, was inconveniently located a couple of feet to right of the entrance. Then I stopped myself. The intruder could have left fingerprints. I turned my phone so I could use its edge to flip the light switch. Nothing happened. I flicked the switch up and down a few more times, even though I knew it was useless. Annoying that all the bulbs in both fixtures were burned out. I made a mental note to have a few sharp words with the church custodian. Then I opened my phone's flashlight app and used its tiny beam to scan my surroundings.
The crypt was ten feet wide and burrowed twenty feet into the side of the hill, so even adding my phone's illumination to the shaft of light coming from the fallen flashlight didn't do much to improve visibility, although the foot-square polished granite panels covering the walls did reflect the light a little. Still, I could barely see the doorway in the back wall — actually a fake doorway, intended to be replaced with a real door, if and when Trinity decided to expand the crypt.
But the victim wasn't that far back. He lay facedown on the flagstone floor about a third of the way along the room's length. His head, with its pool of what was certainly blood, was closest to me. One arm curled slightly above it in what seemed like a protective gesture, while the other lay at his side. From the way his legs were sprawled, I deduced that he'd been knocked down while making a break for the door.
I knelt at his side, trying to avoid the blood, and reached for his wrist.
"No pulse," I said over the phone. I turned its little beam onto the victim's head and quickly flicked it away again. "And he's got a nasty head wound, and there's a fair amount of blood here, but the wound's not bleeding much at the moment, which I'm pretty sure is a bad sign."
I took several deep breaths and looked away. Yes, I was the daughter of a doctor — a doctor who was also a lifelong crime fiction reader and, for the last several years, the local medical examiner. Thanks to Dad's peculiar ideas of suitable dinner table conversation, it would take something pretty awful to shake me. This was pretty awful. In my effort to focus, just for few moments, on anything other than the head wound, I noticed that apparently the floor sloped toward the back of the crypt. The blood from the victim's head had run down the lines of grout between the paving stones and was pooling at the base of the fake door. I wasn't sure staring at the pool of blood was any better than looking at the victim.
The victim. I was trying not to call him "the dead guy," even though I was pretty sure it was accurate. Or would be long before the ambulance got here. It would be nice to know his name. And having something to do always calmed my nerves.
So even though I realized that every footprint I made potentially complicated Horace's job when he switched roles from deputy on patrol to Caerphilly's one-man forensic department, I took a couple of cautious steps to where I could peer down and see the victim's face.
"It's Mr. Hagley," I said to Debbie Ann. "The victim, I mean."
"That's right." Junius Hagley, who up until forty-five minutes ago had been one of the loud voices coming from the vestry meeting. One of the Muttering Misogynists. I hoped Mother and all her fellow vestry members were alibied. They were sure to be high on the chief's list of suspects. Although if the list included everyone who wasn't fond of Mr. Hagley, it would be a long one.
"Look, whoever did it is gone," I said. "Not long gone, though, so maybe you could tell some of those officers heading this way to keep their eyes open for suspicious characters."
"Already done," she said. "Although I'm not sure what to tell them to look for."
"Yeah." I glanced around to make sure no one was nearby. "'Be on the lookout for someone heading away from Trinity Episcopal' isn't terribly useful, is it?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Toucan Keep a Secret"
Copyright © 2018 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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Wonderful story! Enjoyed this one from beginning to end. Hope there are more birds for more Meg Langslow adventures. Thank you, Donna Andrews.
Wonderful quick read. Meg continues to amuse while finding dead bodies.
Really dislike lack of boundaries among family members
I was fortunate enough to win TOUCAN KEEP A SECRET by Donna Andrews from Laurie Ham at Kings River Life Magazine. Thanks, Laurie. To prepare for sleep, I re-read light hearted books (can't be kept awake by the plot). Meg Langslow series books are in rotation for my bedtime reading. TOUCAN KEEP A SECRET is Meg Langslow #23. The church has an underground crypt from which loud noises emanate, then a body is discovered. I was much too interested in what would happen next to be willing to sleep. Meg Langslow's family displays the best characteristics of amateur (amateuse?) mystery fiction. Some characters are certifiably nuts, others endearing, and some a mixture; I'm sure being part of such a family would be truly enervating, but for armchair travellers, it's quite entertaining. And it's satisfying to watch the development of these personalities. Several spots have laugh-out-loud moments. If you've never read any Meg Langslow books by Donna Andrews, start with #1. My librarian couldn't get interested in the minutiae of weddings, so I've recommended she move to #2. These books are just too amusing to pass up.
Meg Langslow is taking a turn locking up the Episcopal Church in town. She's part of the brigade helping out since Reverend Robyn Smith is out on bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy. Meg just about has everything taken care of when she hears a pounding coming from the columbarium. When she goes to investigate, she finds several of the crypts have been opened, and the dead body of Junius Hagley on the ground. Mr. Hagley was a grouchy old man who Meg and her mother secretly call one of the Muttering Misogynists, but Meg didn't wish him dead. What has Meg stumbled into now? My biggest issue with this book involved the use of the term misogynist to describe the victim as well as describing some of his actions as mansplaining. Honestly, I felt both of these terms didn't have much to do with the mystery plot in the slightest and were there more to lecture us than to entertain. Which is a shame because the mystery itself was very entertaining. Between a mystery from the past and how it is factoring into the events of the present, I was hooked until Meg pieced it together at the end. We get most of the series regulars here, and they entertain as always. The new characters are colorful and therefore plenty of fun as well. A few of the scenes were so much funny they literally made me laugh out loud.
It is hard to believe that TOUCAN KEEP A SECRET is the twenty-third installment in the long running Meg Langslow series. Time spent with Meg and her zany family is always time well spent. At this point, these characters are like extended family to me, and they are what keep me coming back for more. This time around, Meg helps out at her church when the reverend is put on bed rest. While locking up to the building and checking on the temporary resident toucan, Meg discovers one of the vestry members murdered in the columbarium. Additionally, several of the crypts have been damaged and a rather impressive ring has appeared, leading to a thirty year old crime. Meg, along with Chief Burk and her father, work through the suspects and the clues to get to the truth. The mystery within the pages of TOUCAN KEEP A SECRET is interesting but quite easy to solve. Even so, figuring it out along with Meg is fun and always entertaining. Meg’s family is not featured as much as in previous books, and I miss them. The pace is steady and Andrews always manages to insert plenty of humor and absurdity in the story. I recommend TOUCAN KEEP A SECRET to any cozy reader. I cannot wait to see what Meg gets into next. I received an ARC of this title from the publisher and voluntarily shared my thoughts here.
In this next book of the series it is Meg's turn to close up her church after a nightly meeting being held there because their Reverend is pregnant and on bed rest. While locking up and checking on their guest, a toucan the Rev. Robyn is fostering Meg hears a banging noise. The noise sounds like its coming from the church's crypt so Meg goes off to investigate. What she finds is the dead body of one of the church members and several of the niches have been tampered and among the ashes a ring. The dead man had been making noises about retrieving his wife's ashes from their niche and it looks like maybe he had taken matters into his own hands, but who killed him and why? While the police look into the death Meg is tasked with finding the owners of the niches that have been disturbed and asking the families how they would like the church to fix the problem. Along the way Meg learns of a robbery that happened years ago and begins to wonder if it is at all related to what happened at the crypt. Follow along as Meg tends to her family, helps out her church, takes care of a toucan, and all the while still looks for clues into who could have killed her fellow parishioner. This is such an entertaining series filled with unique characters, a lovely setting, and plot line that is always fun to try and figure out. This series is still going strong after 23 books, I look forward to many more.
Donna Andrews' very delightful 23rd Meg Langslow Mystery, Toucan Keep a Secret, was very quickly read by this cozy enthusiast in just a few hours on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Our heroine, Meg, is locking up at her church one evening when she hears a loud banging and sees a light in the supposedly empty (well, except for the dead people!!!) crypt. Upon entering she discovers the body of a member of the vestry who's been bludgeoned to death with a crowbar, and also the scattered ashes and broken urns of several late members of the congregation, as well as a priceless ruby ring! Who did this and why did they choose these particular niches to desecrate? Is there a connection to a 30-year-old jewelry robbery? Can a non-speaking toucan really hold the secret to the crime? Do yourself a favor and take a trip to the town of Caerphilly to discover the answers to these, and other, burning questions! Note: You don't need to read the first 22 books in the series prior to picking this one up (unless you want to!), as this book works perfectly well as a standalone read. 5 stars!
Wacky! Meg gets hijacked into more responsibilities when their overachieving parish priest is placed on bedrest and Meg is to coordinate the nonclergy duties. Of course her parents and other relatives are *helping* as well, but it all goes sideways when Meg interrupts an odd burglary that includes a murder. The publisher's blurb gives more hints and there is no need for spoilers, but it's the anticipation of the author's signature humor and wacky characters that brought me back to a town and family nuttier than mine. The mystery is well done and full of suspects and red herrings, but the suspense is what keeps me reading late in the night. If you haven't met the Lanslows before you're in for a treat, and if you haven't read them for a while (like me) you'll still fit right in, so read and enjoy! I requested and received a free review copy from MacMillan Minotaur via NetGalley.
a return to fun TOUCAN KEEP A SECRET by Donna Andrews The Twenty-Third Meg Langslow Mystery With Reverend Robyn Smith on bed rest, Meg Langslow is on duty at Trinity Episcopalian. Loud banging interrupts her from securing the church for the night and leads her to the graveyard only to find Julius Hagley, one of the Muttering Misogynists, dead inside the vandalized columbarium. Did he interrupt an intruder or did the women in the vestry finally have enough of him? Or was his murder somehow connected to an old unsolved jewel robbery, an event that ties all the disturbed cremains together? A return to Caerphilly, Virginia is a return to fun. Donna Andrews leads her zany cast of characters through a well plotted mystery filled with laughs. It doesn't matter if you've read each previous book in the series, have been away a while and missed a few, or if this is your first Meg Langslow Mystery, you can jump right in and not feel lost or as if you had missed something. Despite being the twenty-third book in the series TOUCAN KEEP A SECRET remains fresh. I quite enjoyed the tie in to an unsolved mystery. Delving into the past while seeing its effects on the present bring added dimension to the story. I also love how Meg gets the whole family and community involved, in helping the toucan, helping the Smiths, and solving the murder! TOUCAN KEEP A SECRET is a great addition to this long-running series. FTC Disclosure – The publisher sent me a digital ARC provided through NetGalley, in the hopes I would review it.