Christmas in Caerphilly is wonderful! Unless you’re a Canadian whose inconsiderate boss is forcing you to spend the holiday there, far from family and friends, with only a slim chance of a white Christmas. Meg already has her hands full, trying to make the season festive for the dozen programmers who are staying with her and Michael while working on a rush project with her brother’s software company. At least it’s an interesting project, since the Canadian company is doing forensic genealogy and DNA analysis.
When the inconsiderate boss is found murdered, there are too many suspects. Even before their Christmas in exile, his own employees had plenty of motives, and the growing number of people suing the company for faulty DNA analysis and invasion of their genetic privacy include at least one notorious murderer. Can Meg crack the case in time to keep the Yuletide bright?
Donna Andrews is a very accomplished storyteller who, over the course of more than thirty novels, has created an eccentric but relatable cast of characters in the little town of Caerphilly, Virginia most of whom seem to be related one way or another to Meg Langslow.
When you visit Meg at Christmas, two things are guaranteed: chaotic festive fun as her family members throw themselves into the seasonal celebrations, and a murder, usually of someone who is quite hard to like and which Meg will end up entangled in because she notices things that other people miss.
‘Dashing Through The Snowbirds’ changes up the formula by adding in a group of Canadian software engineers working towards a New Year deadline in collaboration with Meg’s brother’s software company Mutant Wizards and who are all staying in Meg’s house. Their boss, who we are repeatedly told is American (presumably because he’s a narcissist and a bully and so couldn’t be Canadian) is the one who I assumed from the beginning was marked for death but when, how, why and by whom were all unknown and actually quite surprising. This time, Meg not only inserts herself into the investigation but becomes a likely target of the killer or killers. As she puts it, she feels like she’s the goat in ‘Jurassic Park’ that’s been tethered to attract the attention of the T Rex.
There’s a good, moderately complicated murder mystery here, with a rich field of suspects and multiple tense, potentially lethal encounters. I thought the story stood up and I didn’t guess who was behind the killing.
Yet the murder and the subsequent investigation are not the main attraction in this Christmas book. We spend a long time in Caerphilly before anyone is killed and even during the investigation, a lot of the focus is on individual family members and on the challenge of keeping a bunch of Canadians happy. This includes setting up bird feeders to attract the Juncos and serving up homemade poutine.
I enjoyed the sense of calm emanating from the book. Meg may be surrounded by chaos and in the sights of an unknown murderer but she is never really out of her comfort zone. She thrives on having her family around her. She revels in their eccentricities and loves the challenge of finding ways to make everyone’s life easier. Sometimes she can come across as a little smug but she’s kind and clever, meas well and gets things done, so being a little smug just makes her charmingly human. Of course, she’s also quite good at figuring out who the murderer is. Something even the local Sheriff has started to accept.
I enjoyed my Christmas in Caerphilly. Despite the violence and the danger, I always knew that Meg would prevail, people would be nicer to one another than you might expect and that the real spirit of Christmas was in continuing to hope for the best even in the cold and the dark.
I recommend the audiobook version, narrated in her own distinctive style by Bernadette Dunne. Click on the SoundCloud link to hear a sample.