2004’s We’ll Always Have Parrots is the fifth of Donna Andrews’ more than thirty Meg Langslow mysteries.
Blacksmith Meg Langslow’s academic boyfriend Michael’s has an acting side-gig. He has a role on the cult favourite TV show, Porfiria, Queen of the Jungle. This gig is not without its drawbacks. Michael’s contract warranted a closer look than it got before Michael signed it. Thanks to its onerous conditions, Michael is forced to attend the Friends of Amblyopia (the show’s fan club) very first East Coast convention.
Meg accompanies Michael. Perhaps she will be able to recoup the costs by selling show-themed weapons at the con. Or perhaps she will find herself entangled in yet another murder mystery….
At first inconveniences at the con are predictable:
- the show’s star and production company owner Tamerlaine “QB” Wynncliffe-Jones is a total pill;
- fans demonstrate what boundary issues look like;
- the Ichabod Dilley invited to the con is not the comic book creator on whose work the show is based, but his nephew — who until now didn’t even know he had a name-alike uncle, let alone that his uncle wrote and drew comics.
There are also unpredictable challenges (such as an infestation of title-justifying parrots).
Tamerlaine Wynncliffe-Jones’ behavior is no surprise — there is a reason that her initials could stand for “Queen Bee” — while the other issues will at least provide anecdote fodder.
Dispatched to retrieve QB from her room for a scheduled appearance, Meg receives only angry orders from inside the room to leave the occupant in peace. Refusing to take no for an answer, Meg enters the room from the balcony, only to find a QB-mimicking parrot and QB’s battered corpse.
Enter Detective Foley of the Loudoun County police. Having found the body (and got her fingerprints over everything), Meg is among the first to be interviewed. Meg reveals to Foley that the case may not be entirely straightforward. Thanks to the hotel layout, everyone at the con who could brave the leap from balcony to balcony had opportunity. Means for murder were at hand in QB’s room. Also, everyone who had had to deal with QB had motive to kill her. Which group includes Meg’s boyfriend Michael.
This is not Meg’s first murder1. As she very much hopes that the real culprit will be arrested and convicted (and not her boyfriend) she sets out to solve the murder herself.
Perhaps she will clear her sweetie’s name. Or perhaps the killer will decide that Meg knows too much and murder her as well.
Yes, Porfiria and Amblyopia are derived from the names of medical conditions. Ichabod Dilley, who wrote the comic book inspiration for the show, was in his day a talented artist, but he was lamentably uninspired when it came to names.
In retrospect, I am a bit surprised that this is my very first Donna Andrews’ mystery. I have heard of her (she has a somewhat SFnal series about an AI) but although I read hundreds of mysteries for the Mystery Guild, none of them were by the extremely prolific, award-winning Andrews. Why read my first Donna Andrews now? Three different people mentioned Parrotsto me in three different contexts. Clearly, I was going to keep encountering mentions of the book until I finally read it, because that’s how the reviewer biz works.
Like the subject of last week’s review (Bimbos of the Death Sun) this book is set at a science fiction convention. There are some important differences. First, Parrots takes place about a decade later than Bimbos (although time has also transformed it into a period piece). Second, whereas Bimbos’ con was an old-style fan-run event for which profit was not the motivating fact, this novel’s con has more in common with modern profit-oriented media cons. Third and perhaps most important, while aware of fan quirks, Andrews does not appear to hold fans in contempt2.
Mystery fans clearly enjoyed the novel, given that it won a nomination for the Agatha Award (best novel) and shared a win for the 2005 Lefty for Best Humorous Mystery Novel. I found the book perfectly competent: the writing is acceptable, a fair amount of actual detective work is carried out, along with the ever-popular alternative of panicking the killer into betraying themselves by trying to kill the protagonist3. The characters are memorable and there’s even a scene that reminded me of the old Margaret RutherfordMiss Marple movies4.
While Parrots is a rather slight novel, not every novel has to be deep. As one might guess from the two-dozen-plus sequels, this cozy delivers pretty much everything cozy readers might want.
1: Which may explain why she was not especially upset at finding a corpse.
2: The novel is somewhat less sympathetic towards the effects of age on women whose previous stock in trade was beauty.
3: For some reason, the attack on the protagonist always happens at the end of mystery books and films, rather than early on. Almost always, I should say, as I expect there must be exceptions.
4: The Rutherford movies are both my favourite Miss Marple adaptations and also the adaptations least faithful to the original material, recasting as they do Miss Marple from a frail spinster into a surprisingly two-fisted woman of action.