To celebrate the most wonderful time of the year, Caerphilly, Va., goes to the birds. And snakes. And skunks.
It all begins when some miscreant leaves a cage of skunks—sorry, a surfeit of skunks—in the choir loft of the New Life Baptist Church. Agitated to be abandoned in the run-up to Christmas, one of them sprays New Life caretaker Nelson Dandridge in the eye. Things get worse when decorative blacksmith Meg Langslow’s grandfather, distinguished zoologist Montgomery Blake, is called in to rusticate the skunks and discovers in the process that his boa constrictor has gone missing, not to reappear until a strategic moment in the New Life Christmas concert, which has been relocated to Trinity Episcopal. Not to be left out, St. Byblig Church is the unwilling recipient of a flock of ducks who’ve settled in the sanctuary. What makes this rash of outrages against religious communities still more outrageous is that Caleb Shiffley and Ronnie Butler, the pranksters responsible for the skunks and the snake, insist that they had nothing to do with the ducks. Oh, and that fussbudget retired banker Barliman Vess has been murdered, maybe since he interrupted whoever was leaving the rabbits in the basement of Trinity Episcopal. Given her vast experience as an amateur sleuth (The Hen of the Baskervilles, 2013, etc.), it’s a foregone conclusion that Meg will track down the killer—or at least be on hand when her mother tells him, “Take that, you rude man!”
Not many felonies, clues or deductions, and rather too many pranks and Shiffley cousins who wander through the story with little motivation. There’s charm enough here to get by with Meg’s many fans, but newcomers will want to open other gifts in this waggish series first.