Cozy Corner: Donna Andrews' The Real Macaw

Mystery author Donna Andrews is beloved for her slightly screwball cozy mystery series which continues this month with The Real Macaw. This novel is heroine Meg Langslow's thirteenth full-length adventure and over the course of the stories she has met her husband, gotten married and recently given birth to twins — all while solving capers along the way. But what truly sets Andrews' plucky blacksmith heroine apart from the crowd is that Meg's home is frequently 'taken over' by whatever crime she is currently trying to solve. In Six Geese A-Slaying her home is the meeting place for the Caerphilly Christmas parade and in Stork Raving Mad her houseguest is murdered. In the author's own words, Meg is "bringing home murder." Today the author gives us an insider's look at amateur slueth heroine and Meg's very busy home. 

"Is Meg going to find another body in her house in The Real Macaw?" a reader recently asked me. "Because if I were her, I'd have moved a long time ago. How many bodies has she found there by now?"

"Only two," I said. "One in the basement, in The Penguin Who Knew Too Much, and another in the house proper in Stork Raving Mad."

"What about the body at the yard sale in Owl's Well That Ends Well?" the reader asked. "And on the croquet field in No Nest for the Wicket? And Santa in Six Geese A-Slaying--"

Okay, I have to admit that Meg's house is a recurring crime scene. If you include the yard, it's probably one of the main criminal hot spots in Caerphilly County, where she lives. Maybe I should just rename the road she lives on Cabot Cove Lane. I just did a quick count, and of my thirteen books, five have the murder taking place in Meg's house or yard. (I'm only counting the main crime here. If any of the books contain additional murders . . . well, that would be a spoiler, wouldn't it?) Another three take place in the victim's house, three more in her town or neighborhood, one at her brother's office, and one at a hotel where she was staying for an event. And even in the books where the crime happens elsewhere, if Meg sits down in her living room, kicks her shoes off, and thinks how happy she is to be safe and sound at home--well, you can imagine what could be about to happen.

Hmm. Maybe she should at least get a security system.

But there's a reason so much of the action is in her house, her yard, and her neighborhood. She's an amateur sleuth. If someone dumps a body in a seedy Baltimore alley, on the Alaskan tundra, or in the ladies room at Fangtasia, Meg won't find it--Tess Monaghan, Kate Shugak, or Sookie Stackhouse will. And if Meg's going to solve the crime before the police do, she has to have some advantage--like easy access to the crime scene, inside knowledge of the people involved, and maybe a reason for the bad guys to come sneaking back around looking for trouble and finding more than they bargained for.

Every so often someone will declare that recent technological advances, particularly DNA testing, mean that the days of the amateur sleuth are over. But I think in other ways technology is making it easier for amateur sleuths to operate. Anyone who's scoured Google and Facebook to find an old college flame has just become an amateur sleuth. Anyone who reports to the police that something odd is going on next door has just done a bit of criminal profiling. When an amateur solves a crime, it makes the news, because it's not that common--but it does happen.

But to spend time and energy investigating--especially something like an unsolved murder whose creator would like to keep it that way--an amateur needs a strong motive. For me, that means a personal involvement. Someone Meg knows has been hurt--or might be if the murderer isn't caught soon enough. A friend or relative is unjustly suspected by the police--or maybe being tried and convicted in the court of public opinion.

Or maybe the murderer dared to commit a crime in her house or her yard. Meg takes that very personally.

Come to think of it, maybe Meg doesn't need a security system after all. Her life would become much too quiet.

To learn more about Meg and her busy household, you can pick up your own copy of The Real Macaw in stores now. For more Mystery Month coverage you can check out our Everything Mystery Page or click here. And don't forget to enter in our five book new mystery prize pack here!