The Hen of the Baskervilles (Meg Langslow)
by Donna Andrews
Review by Paul Haggerty
Minotaur Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250007513
Date: 16 July 2013 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
With the state fair having essentially gone out of business, many of the local communities are jostling for the right to take its place. And Caerphilly, Virginia's "Un-Fair" is one of those with a good chance. But budgets are tight across the state, and that means compromises and alliances need to be made wherever possible. Which is why, although the majority of the Un-Fair is in Caerphilly, the Midway, located in one corner of the fairgrounds, is geographically across the border in Clay County. Which makes it all the more interesting when a body is found sprawled in the open gate of the fence that divides the two counties and sets up for one major jurisdictional headache. Suddenly the Clay County Sheriff's office wants in on the investigation, and doesn't seem to share Caerphilly's desire to find the truth.
Meg Langslow, who just can't seem to escape 'interesting times', is acting as Assistant Director of the Un-Fair, trying to keep all the parts moving without the whole thing flying to pieces. And if that means sleeping in the sheep pens to be on-call, so be it. Which is why she's the first to be summoned when two chickens are discovered missing from the chicken tent. Distressing to be sure, especially for their owners, a very high-strung couple, and certainly not the kind of press the Un-Fair is looking for. But this is only the beginning. A prize worthy quilt goes missing, and then a prize-worthy pumpkin is smashed to a pulp. The question of who would want to hurt the Un-Fair is unfortunately a rather large list; pretty much everyone else running a fair in the state. Meg's got her work cut out for her if she's going to be able to find out who's responsible, and to prevent any more mischief.
And things are going to get a lot worse. Seemingly unrelated to the sabotage, Meg finds an old friend, Molly, a woman trying to rebuild her life, and her new business after her husband left her for another woman. Unfortunately, it's the miserable excuse for a husband who turns up with a bullet between his eyes on the county border. As is usual, the wronged wife is the primary suspect, a matter made more dire when the murder weapon turns up in her van. Suddenly Meg finds herself having to solve two mysteries, each with possibly devastating consequences, surrounded by a lot of people, with a lot of different motives, to cause a lot of different problems.
Meg Langslow is a different kind of amateur detective. At the beginning of the series, way back in Murder with Peacocks, she was on her own, solving the crimes, not only without the help of the police, but usually in spite of them. As time has gone by, she's learned that it's rather dangerous to be by yourself. And the police have learned that she really isn't trying to stick her nose into their business, but rather just seems to have the unfortunate destiny of being shoved into the middle of these things. And so their relationship has evolved to the point where the police trust her to keep her ears and eyes open and to share what she finds with them. And she, in turn, lives up to that trust, calling whenever she finds pertinent clues, and really, really trying not to put herself in to danger. She's still working on that last part.
The Hen of the Baskerville is a fun read, as is the entire Meg Langslow series. Highly recommended.