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3 May 2012

published St Martins, Minotaur Mysteries, 2003, paperback.

I was at Emoticon, the NZ National SF Convention in Auckland when this came out and Barbara Clenden of Barbara’s Books strongly recommended it. I bought it because Barbara had been selling books to me for years, and was very accurate in knowing what I might like. On this one she was dead on the money. I read it in one gulp that night, came downstairs in the morning, ordered the previous three, and have been buying them ever since. The first book won (I think) four different mystery awards, and the judges too were dead on the money. The series is great, the characters are hilariously believable, the background is authentic, and the plots are – er – to die for.

In Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon, Meg Langslow, a blacksmith by trade,  is running the reception desk at her brother’s new company, Mutant Wizards, set up to sell his computer game:Lawyers From Hell. Rob (her brother) has the feeling that something isn’t right at the company and wants Meg (known to her family as their resident detective despite her protests) to see if she can find out what’s giving him that chill at the back of the neck. It’s almost impossible to explain the plot except to say that there is indeed something strange going on at the company. For a start it’s mostly staffed by young male geeks, all mad on RPGs, and playing practical jokes.

And that’s not counting company policy of taking your dog to work, sharing the company space with six mental health specialists who resent sharing the space and resent sharing it with a gaming company named Mutant Wizards even more. They add peculiar patients, their own affairs and ‘affirmative bears’ to the mix. Then there’s George the one-winged Buzzard in Meg’s reception area, (when she isn’t feeding him microwaved mice, she’s worrying about him vomiting on her), there”s Spike, her de-facto mother-in-law’s small evil dog in company residence, and a pregnant cat under her desk.  There’s the huge biker dude prowling the parking lot after dark, a rabid fan of the game constantly trying to get into the company area to find out about the next installment of Lawyers From hell, and, oh, yes, there’s the staff member who left and is now supposedly nursing his gun collection and a grudge. Not to mention a host of would-be bringers of law suits all of whom insist that Mutant Wizards stole their idea.

Then there is the automated mail cart that cruises constantly through the company area – and Ted, who is usually to be found lying on it in various poses, some of which suggest that he’s been murdered in transit. And then the mail cart cruises by Meg’s desk bearing Ted, who really has been murdered this time, and she’d better find out whodunnit because the local police chief thinks it’s her brother Rob and has just arrested him. So Meg begins to dig into what’s going on, to find that the staff are up to such a wide range of activities, some legal, some not, that searching out those alone  keeps Meg pretty busy. Meanwhile elsewhere, Michael ( currently on location for a TV series) Meg’s gorgeous actor boyfriend (when he isn’t being a professor at the local university) is getting worried about Meg’s activities. As is the murderer. And in a denouncement which reminds me very strongly of a British farce, the killer is unmasked, and Meg and Michael may finally have found a place to live where they’ll  finally have room for her work.

Frankly whenever I read this book I laugh, and that’s despite having now read it 4-5 times, the most recent being this week when I startled Thunder (asleep across my knees) with a howl of amusement as I got to the bit about the biker trying to ‘liberate’ George who didn’t in the least want to be liberated (for excellent reasons) and who was resisting violently.  Meg’s family are the perfect characters with whom to surround her. I read the books and think wistfully that it would have been nice had they been my family. The background is fairly real since the author lives there, and the plots, while I hope they aren’t real, are clever, funny, and very well worked out. This is one of the series where I am hoping vigorously that the author a) doesn’t die any time soon, that b) she doesn’t stop writing ditto, and that c) her publisher is smart enough to keep publishing the series – and d) that I can always afford them. Recommended to those mystery lovers with a sense of humour, and a liking for animals, family, a good murder, and witty repartee.












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