HOW THE FINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS is book 22 in the humorous and cozy Meg Langslow mystery series. It's also the fourth set at Christmas time. This year Meg's husband's annual Christmas reading of Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL has morphed into a full-fledged play, complete with an alcoholic has-been actor as Scrooge. Malcolm Haver certainly has the temperament to play the unreformed part of the old miser.
We get a cautionary tale in how Haver's contract reads, which Caerphilly College's board signed off on without getting any input from Prof. Michael Waterston, Mayor Randall Shiffley, Meg, or the town attorney. The lengths to which everyone has to go to try to keep Haver sober (a battle they've been losing so far), are a nightmare. Even Haver's agent, Vince O'Manion, admits they're going above and beyond the call of duty.
Still, Haver's name is getting them some sales from his fans, who are mostly mid-to-late middle-aged women who remember his glory days as Sir Tristan in "Dauntless Crusader," a TV show that aired its last new episode 35 years ago. The college doesn't want to have to refund any ticket prices if Haver fails to tread the boards. There's even a rabid fan who excuses all of Haver's misbehavior, including his rudeness toward herself.
That's the main plot. The subplots are murder, animal smuggling, an unidentified corpse, and finding out what the heck 'Weaseltide' is.
The finch from the title is a Gouldian finch, a species fans might remember from the animal smuggling subplot in book 9, COCKATIELS AT SEVEN. Meg's grandfather, Dr. J. Montgomery Blake, is expecting to need to host quite a few for a friend from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, so he's trying to find temporary homes for the ones his zoo already has.
The rest of the smuggled animals Meg stumbles upon while trying to do something else. The rescue effort does not go smoothly, but it wouldn't be amusing if it had.
Small town nepotism is alive and well in the play. Not only is Michael the director as well as one of the actors, Meg is the assistant director, their twins, Josh and Jamie (now ten years old), are two of the actors, and Mrs. Langslow is handling the costumes.
The killer is quite a piece of work and 'Weaseltide' is not at all what I expected.
See chapter 36 of book 16, DUCK THE HALLS for an example of Cousin Sylvia's ugly Christmas sweaters. Surprisingly, none of them are in the contest.
Ekaterina Vorobyaninova, who was the Supervisor of Housekeeping for Caerphilly Inn in book 14, SOME LIKE IT HAWK, is now the assistant manager there. She still has her love of intrigue. Stanley Denton, the private investigator introduced in the same book, makes another appearance.
The remark about the giant Christmas tree in chapter 6 was puzzling because it implies that the tree is a new one each year. Did something happen to the giant, specially-planted Colorado blue spruce that was the living Christmas tree in chapter 12 of DUCK THE HALLS?
Meg explains about Blake's Brigade in chapter 10. They played a role in book 17, THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE EMUS.
We know that perky Meredith Flugleman can't be the unnamed social worker who appeared in chapter 34 of COCKATIELS AT SEVEN, because that woman was grim faced.
Just as Randall Shiffley is both mayor and County Manager, Police Chief Burke is also the Sheriff. I guess the very elderly sheriff who kept winning because he promised he'd leave everything to Deputy Sheriff Burke has retired or died.
I suspect that Meg's chapter 22 joke about the Christmas tree Kayla Butler is decorating is a sly reference to WOLFSBANE AND MISTLETOE, edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner. Donna Andrews has a story in that anthology.
I hope that Meg's mother's cat, mentioned in chapter 24, is still Boomer. He was a kitten in book 1, MURDER WITH PEACOCKS.
Scout, the rescue dog Chief Burke adopted in COCKATIELS AT SEVEN, recently died. Will he adopt one of the rescued puppies?
The "Worldcon" that Milly mentions in talking about the Haverers (Haver fans) is short for the annual world science fiction convention.
Honestly, if Mrs. Langslow's unnamed stain expert mentioned in chapter 28 is Daphne oft the Caerphilly Cleaners, I doubt that the beet juice will be a problem. See book 15, THE HEN OF THE BASKERVILLES, for the tough stains she was able to clean.
It's nice to learn that Manoj from chapter 10 of book 20, DIE LIKE AN EAGLE, is now the head keeper of the Caerphilly Zoo avialry. Dr. Blake thought he might make that some day.
I love this series so much that I that checked this entry out when I saw it on my library's new books shelves. I couldn't bear to wait to get it as a Christmas gift. I knew I'd want to read it again when I got it and I was right!
Cat and dog lovers will have plenty of both to enjoy in this one, although Spike and Tinkerbell have only a cameo role in chapter 13.
Meg should have remembered what a blooper reel is from the one for "Porfiria, Queen of the Jungle" from book 5, WE'LL ALWAYS HAVE PARROTS (one of my personal favorites in this series)