As in her previous Christmas mysteries, Six Geese a-Slaying, Duck the Halls, and The Nightingale Before Christmas, Andrews continues to write “firmly in the grand tradition of Agatha Christie’s Christmas books” (Toronto Globe and Mail).
New York Times bestselling author Donna Andrews takes us home to Caerphilly for the holidays in her new hilarious Christmas mystery How the Finch Stole Christmas!
Meg's husband has decided to escalate his one-man show of Dickens' A Christmas Carol into a full-scale production with a large cast including their sons Jamie and Josh as Tiny Tim and young Scrooge and Meg helping as stage manager.
The show must go on, even if the famousthough slightly over-the-hillactor who's come to town to play the starring role of Scrooge has brought a sleigh-load of baggage and enemies with him. And why is Caerphilly suddenly overrun with a surplus of beautiful caged finches?
How the Finch Stole Christmas! is guaranteed to put the "ho ho hos" into the holidays of cozy lovers everywhere with its gut-bustingly funny mystery.
About the Author
DONNA ANDREWS is a winner of the Agatha, Anthony, and Barry Awards, a Romantic Times Award for best first novel, as well as the Lefty and Toby Bromberg awards for funniest mystery. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Private Investigators and Security Association. Andrews lives in Reston, Virginia. How the Finch Stole Christmas! is Andrews's twenty-second book and fourth Christmas mystery in the Meg Langslow series.
Read an Excerpt
"Shakespeare was right. 'The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.'"
"I wish I could hear you say that in person," I said.
"Yeah, over the cell phone you miss all my dramatic gestures." Michael's voice sounded more exasperated than angry. And since I knew my husband wasn't usually prejudiced against the legal profession, I was puzzled instead of worried.
"Are you someplace where you can talk?" he asked.
"I'm not at the theater, if that's what you mean. Reverend Robyn wanted to see me about something. At the moment, I'm over at Trinity, sitting in her office, waiting for her to solve a Christmas pageant prop emergency, so until she comes back, I'm at your service."
"Hang up if you need to," he said. "I'm just venting to you so I can be cool, calm, and collected when I go into my meeting."
"What meeting?" I made myself more comfortable in Robyn's guest chair and snagged a Christmas cookie from the red-and-green plate on her desk. "And by the way, all the lawyers would include Cousin Festus and my brother. I know Rob can be annoying at times, but I'd miss him if you did him in, and I thought you agreed that Festus was highly useful and a credit to his profession. Can we settle for bumping off whichever particular attorney has gotten your goat this morning?"
"One or more members of the college legal department," he said. "Possibly the entire department if I can't get them to admit who signed off on that miserable, washed-up prima donna's contract."
"Ah, then it's really Malcolm Haver you need to kill." Robyn walked back into her office as I was saying it, and a puzzled frown crossed her face. I held up my hand with two fingers raised, to signal that I'd be off shortly, and returned to my conversation with Michael. "What's he done now?"
"Showed up drunk for rehearsal. Again." Someone else might have thought his voice sounded calm, but I could hear the anger below the surface. And I took a few deep breaths to cool my own anger. I'd actually been relieved when the college proposed hiring a big-name actor to play Scrooge in this year's charity benefit production of A Christmas Carol, because I knew how exhausting it would be for Michael to direct and star. I'd been less than impressed when a board member pushed through hiring his old college buddy Haver — the whole point of casting someone from outside was to help with ticket sales, and I didn't think Haver was a big enough name to do that. And Haver had been a major pain from day one, even before he started drinking. Instead of halving Michael's workload he'd at least doubled it. I was starting to worry about Michael's health and I intensely resented how Haver had turned what was normally a festive, joyous, family-oriented season into one long headache.
"If you want him to disappear, I'm sure Mother can find someone to do the dirty work." I'd almost be willing to do it myself. But I didn't want to say so in front of Robyn, who had taken up her knitting, and would probably have finished another set of mittens for Trinity's Christmas scarf and mitten drive by the time Michael and I finished our conversation.
"I'd settle for figuring out where the hell he's getting his booze."
"None of the businesses here in Caerphilly will serve or sell to him," I said. "Randall Shiffley made sure of that."
"I'm still amazed that so many people agreed."
"They all know that your production is one of the main attractions of this year's Christmas in Caerphilly festival," I reminded him. "And that having a well-known actor like Haver will help boost the ticket sales, a big portion of which will go to things that might otherwise cost tax dollars — all those social service programs we can't otherwise afford. Enlightened self-interest."
"Still, it only takes one rebel to supply him," Michael grumbled. "Or one starstruck private citizen. Or he could be sneaking over to Clay County — they'd love to sabotage anything Caerphilly does."
"Which is why I think it's time to call in Stanley." I'd already talked unofficially to Stanley Denton, Caerphilly's leading — and only — private investigator about whether he'd be willing to shadow Malcolm Haver as part of our efforts to keep the visiting star sober.
"Exactly what I was thinking," he said. "In fact, I'm just venting to you before going into a meeting with the Dean of Finance to get it approved."
"Awesome," I said. "And good luck. I should go; Robyn just got back and I'd better explain our homicidal musings to her before she reports us to Chief Burke."
"When you leave Trinity, can you head over to the theater and keep an eye on things there until I finish arguing with Finance?"
"Can do," I said. "Love you."
"Back at you."
I hung up and returned my phone to my pocket.
"Sorry," I said to Robyn — who had been listening with unabashed interest as her knitting needles flew through her red and green yarn. "Michael's having a tough day and needed to vent."
"So I gathered. What's he angry about?"
"He was calling more in sorrow than in anger," I said.
"That's from Hamlet, right?"
"Yes," I said. "Quoting Shakespeare's an occupational hazard when you're married to an actor."
"Especially one who's also a drama professor."
"Michael was calling to vent about Malcolm Haver," I explained. "The actor the college hired to play Scrooge in the stage version of A Christmas Carol that Michael's directing."
"He and Michael aren't getting along?" Even the thought of disharmony seemed to sadden her.
"Michael tries," I said. "But Haver doesn't get along with anyone. He's a nasty, self-centered jerk. Sorry — I know how uncharitable that sounds, but there's just no getting around it: a nasty, self-centered jerk. Walked into the first day of rehearsal with a bad attitude and that was the peak of his popularity in local theatrical circles. But Michael's a whiz at handling difficult performers, and no one would really care how unpleasant Haver is offstage if he did a good job in the show. Unfortunately, he seems to have fallen off the wagon."
"Oh, dear. You know, we have several very active twelve-step programs meeting either here or at the New Life Baptist Church," she began.
"I know. We've got the flyer prominently posted on the cast information board," I said. "I even tried talking him into it once, which wasn't a good idea. He exploded at me and stormed out of the rest of the rehearsal."
"He sounds like a troubled soul."
"I'm sure he is." Or maybe just trouble, but I knew better than to say that aloud in front of Robyn. "But don't try to sympathize with him unless you want to get your head bitten off. He was doing fine at the start of the rehearsal period, but lately he's started tippling earlier each day. Michael doesn't have much hope that it will get any better when the show opens. Unfortunately, the way his contract is written, as long as he can stumble onstage, Michael can't fire him. And although I don't know how well it would hold up in court, the contract still calls for Haver to get most of his fee even if he's fired for cause."
"Didn't anyone question the contract before signing it?" Robyn looked surprised. "I may be in an unworldly profession, but even I know the value of consulting an attorney before signing legal documents."
"If Michael were in charge of Santa's naughty-and-nice list, the college legal department would be getting nothing but coals and switches this year," I said.
"Why were they the ones reviewing the contract anyway?" Robyn asked. "I know the play's a joint project of the college and the town, but I thought the college was mainly donating use of the theater."
"And for some reason they also insisted on being in charge of Haver's contract," I said. "I suspect the same board member who got him the part in the first place. If only I'd known to insist that the town attorney handle it — because she'd have run it by Randall and me when Haver's agent came in with a whole bunch of changes that he claimed were standard Actors' Equity requirements, which was a complete lie. Michael could have told them that if they'd bothered to show him the contract — Randall and I would have. But they didn't. In fact, whatever lawyer the college had handling it didn't do any research, didn't try to negotiate — just caved. And now Michael is paying the price."
"And then there's the whole question of whether Haver is really worth all this trouble," Robyn said. "Wouldn't it have been easier just to have Michael play Scrooge? I've seen his one-man Christmas Carol show the last few years and loved it. He was brilliant."
"He'd be light-years better than Haver if you ask me. Of course, I'm biased. The theory was that getting an actor with a national reputation would increase ticket sales enough to more than offset the cost of his salary."
"That makes sense." Robyn held up her knitting to inspect the green Christmas tree that was taking shape on the back of the red mitten. "But I'm not sure I'd have picked Haver. I mean, I know who he is, but just barely."
I quite agreed. And I thought it was particularly ironic that they picked Haver instead of Michael, who still had a rather active group of fans himself, in spite of having abandoned television for academia more than a decade ago. Not something I could say in public, of course.
"Haver was nominated for a Tony once," I said aloud. "And he was in a reasonably popular TV series for a few years. As a young man he was quite handsome — a B-movie heartthrob."
"Yes." Robyn nodded. "I remember my mother used to like him."
"A lot of people's mothers did," I said. "Let's just hope enough of them are still around to buy tickets."
"And that there's a show for them to see." Robyn paused and thought for a moment. Or maybe she was just listening to the choir down in the parish hall, harmonizing beautifully as they rehearsed their Christmas carol program. "Have you considered getting him a keeper?"
"A keeper. A minder. I don't know what you'd officially call them, but I know they exist, because I know of a diocese that hired one once for one of their employees — not a priest, of course, but a key employee, very capable, even very spiritual in his own way, but with an unfortunate weakness for alcohol. They sent him to a residential rehab program, and when he got out they hired someone to follow him around and keep him away from temptation for the first few months. Of course, you might have trouble getting your actor to agree to a keeper. In the case I'm talking about, it was either that or lose his job with the parish."
"Haver might not agree," I said at last. "But maybe the agent who drew up that contract could force him to accept a minder. Agents don't get paid unless their clients do, and it's still possible that Haver could drink himself into a stupor and breach the contract. I'll suggest it. Thank you — that's a great idea."
I stood up, trying to decide if I should call Michael with the suggestion or head over to the theater and talk to him in person when he got back from his meeting. Then I realized that Robyn was looking at me.
"I'm sorry." I sat down again. "You asked me to drop by to talk about something — I almost forgot. What is it?"
"I received a rather curious request this morning," Robyn said. "That we host a Weaseltide ceremony in the parish hall."
Weaseltide? Robyn was gung ho on reviving old traditions and minor Episcopal celebrations, but Weaseltide rang no bells. Which meant it obviously wasn't something in the Book of Common Prayer. And I could have sworn after several years of helping out in the parish, I'd gotten pretty familiar with the Book of Occasional Services as well.
"That's an interesting idea," I said aloud. Mother had drilled us always to call something interesting when we couldn't think what else to say.
"Yes," Robyn said. "There's just one thing — what is Weaseltide?"
"Oh, thank goodness." I didn't try to hide my relief. "I thought Weaseltide must be something any good Episcopalian was supposed to know all about."
"You've never heard of it then?" Robyn looked puzzled. "I rather got the impression it was some sort of local custom."
"Not that I've ever heard," I said. "But then by local standards, I'm not from around here. I've only lived here for a decade. You need at least a century before they begin thinking of you as a local. So I gather Weaseltide isn't an Episcopalian festival."
"I'm not even sure it's a Christian one." She frowned slightly. "Not that we'd mind if it wasn't — the congregation is very supportive of ecumenical activities. We've had events with our local Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim brothers and sisters. But what if Weaseltide is part of some weird cult? And yet, one hates to upset them by interrogating them."
I began to suspect why Robyn had brought the subject up with me. And of all things: weasels. Why did it always have to be weasels, I found myself thinking. They were among Dad's and Grandfather's favorite animals, so they already played a larger role in my life than seemed absolutely necessary. And now this.
"Let me see what I can find out," I suggested. "If it's something local, the Shiffleys will know all about it. If it's something New Agey, my cousin Rose Noire can fill us in. And if it's not either —"
"I knew I could count on you!"
"Just one question," I said. "Who asked you about Weaseltide — anyone we know?"
"Someone named Melisande Flanders." She read the name from a piece of paper on her desk. "Could she possibly be a new faculty member?"
"Not someone I've heard of, but then I don't memorize the faculty directory. Was she young?"
"Not really. I'd say fortyish. Maybe fiftyish. Of course I'm a terrible judge of ages."
"Probably not a student then."
"Well, there are so many non-traditional students nowadays," Robyn said. "I think half my seminary class was closer to Social Security than high school. But somehow she didn't seem like a student."
"A pity you couldn't have gotten more information out of her." Not only a pity, but downright puzzling — Robyn was normally a formidable though gentle interrogator.
"And a shame I'm dumping it on you, you mean," Robyn said. "I know it sounds ridiculous, but every time I tried to ask her a question she'd sort of dither off in some other direction and we'd never quite get back to anything practical. And she seemed very. ... well, I know from the name it's tempting to assume it has something to do with actual weasels, but her behavior makes me wonder if Weaseltide could be some kind of gathering for people with an interest in ... I don't know. Severe anxiety disorder. Or some other mental health challenge."
We both pondered that idea for a few moments. To me, the kind of gathering she was imagining sounded like a fairly normal sort of event for Trinity. But I wasn't sure how Robyn would feel if I said that.
"One more question," I said. "And don't take this the wrong way, but — if she's not a member of the parish, isn't anyone we know, can't be bothered to explain what it is she'd like to do with our parish hall, and didn't leave you any contact information, just how much time and energy do we want to spend figuring this out?"
"A good point." She slumped slightly in her chair. "You and I both have way too much to do already. But what if this is some worthwhile cause that we'd love to support if we knew what it was? Or what if she's a lost soul who needs support and encouragement that we could give her through this? I'd hate to say no without making at least some attempt to find out."
"So I'll make a reasonable attempt and report back to you." I stood and picked up my purse and tote. "And if she comes back —"
"If she comes back, I will tell her I've tasked you with making the decision on whether her event will fit into our crowded schedule and give her your cell phone number." Robyn beamed at me as if she'd come up with a brilliant idea. Of course, from her point of view, she had. "I'm sure you'll have much more luck than I had getting information out of her."
"I'll do what I can." I headed for the door, and Robyn tossed her knitting onto her desk and fell into step beside me. "But for now, I have to head over to the theater and perform my official duties as Michael's assistant director."
"Yes, I heard you were doing that," she said, as she accompanied me down the hall. "I admit, I was surprised — I had no idea you had directing ambitions."
"I don't," I said. "At least for this show, the assistant director's job is as a glorified gofer and organizer."
"You're certainly good at that. The organizing part, at least."
Excerpted from "How the Finch Stole Christmas!"
Copyright © 2017 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
How the Finch Stole Christmas A Meg Langslow Mystery #22 Donna Andrews Minotaur Books, October 2017 ISBN 978-1-250-11545-4 Hardcover When Meg Langslow’s actor/professor husband decides to put on a production of “A Christmas Carol”, it becomes a family affair with the twins and Meg actively involved but it’s the actor Michael hired to play Scrooge who becomes the star of his own self-important, drunken show. Meg follows him, hoping to find out who’s supplying alcohol to Malcolm and also accidentally discovers an illegal exotic animal trafficking operation. Naturally, Meg and her animal devotee family have to get involved but finding a dead body wasn’t part of the bargain nor did they expect Malcolm to be pegged as the killer. And is the killing connected to the smuggling outfit or something else entirely? Meanwhile, a rescue group has Gouldian Finches being fostered everywhere and more are coming. Anybody who hasn’t read a Meg Langslow book needs to run right out and remedy that omission but, please, start with the first one in the series. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on a lot of the humor and the family dynamics. Plus, you won’t get the full effect of Spike
This was a really great read. In the throws of summer, I could almost feel the chill. The relationships Meg has formed throughout the series really shined. Her pride and love for the boys came through clear as a Christmas bell at the end. The Mystery kept me guessing more than usual as well. I'd say it was one of the best yet.
Donna Andrews does it again!
She is a good writer, but I missed her crazy family and their antics . Even Spike was peaceful.
A Grinch Leaves a Body Any fan of the Meg Langslow series will tell you that there are certain things you can count on when you pick up one of the mysteries in the series. There are slightly wacky characters, hilarious antics, and a good mystery. Throw in Christmas, and you’ve got a sure winner. That’s definitely the case with How the Finch Stole Christmas. This isn’t our first holiday visit with Meg and her family, and one thing we’ve learn about in past visits is that Meg’s husband Michael puts on a one-man version of A Christmas Carol every year. That’s actually changing this year since Michael has decided to direct a production of it. Meg is on board as the assistant director, which is really just a fancy title for organizer. Even their twin sons Josh and Jamie are getting into the act with supporting parts in the play. Since proceeds from the show are going to the community, they’ve gone all out and hired a star for the lead. Okay, so maybe calling Malcolm Haver a star is a stretch, but he has a loyal following thanks to time spent on a cult TV show 30 years ago. However, Haver is difficult to work with, mainly because he constantly shows up to rehearsal drunk when he shows up at all. Every effort is being made to keep him from finding something to drink, but he keeps finding it somehow. So, when Meg catches him sneaking out one afternoon, she follows him. Where will he lead her? Yes, I’m being a little vague with my plot teaser, but any more than that will spoil the way this story unfolds. Yes, there is a mystery, and Meg finds a dead body. But you really need to see how everything comes about for yourself. I will say that I thought the pacing was a little off early on, but it picked up as the book went along. The ending was a little on the weak side, although it did answer all our questions. Niggles aside, this book is a delight from start to finish. I can’t tell you how much I love the cast of characters, so spending more time with them is always wonderful. While some of the characters border on the eccentric, they are all realistic. And as we’ve gotten to know more of the regulars over the years, they’ve become more real as well. That’s true again here. I can’t leave out the laughs. This series is known for it’s humor. Somethings, that’s at a character, and sometimes that’s at a situation. We get both of those things here, and I found myself laughing several times and grinning most of the way through the book. And yes, there are finches in this book. How they come into play is something else I am going to leave for you to discover on your own. Because you really do need to pick up How the Finch Stole Christmas. This is a book that will leave you smiling as you get ready to celebrate Christmas with your own family.
I picked up How the Finch Stole Christmas! (Meg Langslow #22) by Donna Andrews as a lark - it looked like a cute cozy mystery to listen to during the first week of December. I was not disappointed! The characters and story line were engaging, and I really enjoyed meeting the residents of the town of Caerphilly while they readied the town for their production of A Christmas Carol. A 5-star read (well, listen!) for me, and I will most certainly look for the other Meg Langslow books. Of note: I rarely read a series out of sequence, but I didn't feel at all lost starting this one with the 22nd installment. Highly recommended! :-)
I don't know how the author can come up with so many different plots involving critters and mystery and mayhem and Meg. This one is another winner, for sure. Highly recommended!
Very well written. Meg Langslow solves another mystery.
Thoroughly entertaining as always. Love this series and this installment does not disappoint!!