by Sandra Murphy
& Donna Andrews
This week we have a review of the latest Meg Langslow Mystery by Donna Andrews and a fun guest post from Donna about what comes first the title or the plot. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Toucan Keep a Secret, and a link to purchase it from Amazon, and an indie bookstore where a portion of the sale goes to help support KRL.
Toucan Keep a Secret: A Meg Langslow Mystery by Donna Andrews
Review by Sandra Murphy
Meg Langslow can get in the weirdest predicaments while doing the most ordinary things. For instance, when Robyn Smith, the minister, is on pregnancy bed rest, Meg agrees to lock the church after various evening meetings and check on the toucan Robyn is caring for while his owner is deployed. Of course, nothing is that easy. Hearing loud noises from the columbarium, the crypt where cremated remains in urns are housed, she investigates and finds broken urns, a ring with a large red stone, and the body of an elderly parishioner, the one that was a pain in the patoot to all.
The victim had inquired about taking back his wife’s ashes, but was that for personal reasons or to retrieve the valuable ring? It’s rumored he’d outlived his retirement fund, or maybe he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Because of all the disturbance, Meg takes the toucan home with her but realizes, he needs a lot of care. She then moves him to the local zoo run by her grandfather. Meanwhile, Meg has her hands full, trying to keep her mother busy (the woman needs a purpose, all the time), keep Robyn in bed until the baby arrives, convince Robyn to let others baby-proof the house, manage to get her twin boys to baseball practice and out of trouble, and find a few quiet moments to spend with her husband, Michael—plus all the church stuff, of course. And solve the murder. The murder could be related to the “theft” of jewelry years ago.
Meg is a super-organized woman. Her daily planner would wear out most people, yet she manages to juggle it and any surprises that come her way. Her relationship with Michael and the kids is an enviable one. There are dogs and other animals wandering around to add to the chaos. In the end, all the clues fall into place for a satisfying ending.
This is the twenty-third book in the series. Meg and Michael are still going strong, living a zany life that suits them. Readers will be glad to read about their lives rather than try to live like them! Jump in anywhere, but for fast-paced fun, mystery, and a madcap good time, go back to the beginning and settle in for some fun.
Which comes first: title or plot?
By Donna Andrews
People sometimes ask me how I come up with my titles—do I write a book and then come up with a title that suits it, or do I think of a zany title and then try to figure out how to write a book to match?
And the answer is yes.
Or, more intelligibly: it depends on the book.
The whole bird title thing began with the first book in the Meg Langslow series. I’d nearly completed my draft and was planning to send it in to the Malice Domestic/St. Martins Press contest. But I needed a title—the best one I’d come up with so far was Three Weddings and an Undisclosed Number of Homicides. I called a friend who was good with titles and asked her what she thought I should call the book. I should add that this friend knew I was also working on an idea for a (still unpublished) fantasy novel, as well as the book that would eventually become You’ve Got Murder, the first in my Turing Hopper series. So when I asked her to help me think of a title for my book, she asked, “Which one—the murder mystery with the peacocks. Bingo! The book became Murder with Peacocks.
I originally called the second book in the series The Puffin Caper. Ruth Cavin, my original editor for the series, wasn’t crazy about the title. She suggested Puffins on Ice. I shared with her the vision that aroused in my mind: Brian Boitano in a tuxedo with a Puffins mask, doing triple axels. “Well, then, think of something else,” she said. I thought—and I enlisted many of my friends to think with me. One friend, a librarian, puffinized the entirety of a list of 100 books everyone should read before they die: To Kill a Puffin Bird. Pride and Puffins. The Lord of the Puffins. Little Puffins. Gone with the Puffins. The Lion, the Witch, and the Puffin. The Lord of the Puffins. Of Mice and Puffins. Brave New Puffin. Anne of Green Puffins. The Color Puffin. The Old Man and the Puffin. The Puffin Also Rises. The Scarlet Puffin. I submitted a dozen of the best, and after some weeks, asked which they’d chosen—and learned that, for series continuity, they’d decided to go with Murder with Puffins.
With Revenge of the Wrought Iron Flamingos, I set out to break that pattern—at least if they changed Revenge to Murder, I thought, I could make an argument for keeping the Wrought Iron part, since there were no real flamingos. Luckily they liked the title—they being the St. Martins/Minotaur sales and marketing team. They were initially a little dubious about Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon, but eventually warmed to it. And everyone loved We’ll Always Have Parrots. Of course that meant it was a hard act to follow, especially since sales and marketing more and more want not just a zany bird title but a zany bird title that is also a bird-themed pun—and clues the reader in to the fact that the book is a mystery.
Sometimes I come up with a title I have to use, even though I don’t yet have a plot. After I spoke at a charity luncheon, someone from the audience came up and said “I have a title for you: Cockatiels at Seven.” And then disappeared back into the crowd, leaving me with no idea who should get the credit. I immediately decided to use Cockatiels at Seven for the book I was working on, a book that involved some bad guys who were smuggling endangered animals. That plan initially ran aground when I learned that no one smuggles cockatiels—they are too common, and thus too cheap, and they breed quite well in captivity. I was about to start looking for another title when I realized…but to say more would be a spoiler.
And sometimes it takes several tries to come up with a title that everyone loves. I was planning to call Meg’s adventures in youth baseball Eagle Opportunity, but sales and marketing didn’t think that sounded mysterious enough. We tossed around a number of eagle-related puns until someone at Minotaur came up with Die Like an Eagle—a title I still feel compelled to sing.
And sometimes my readers come up with the titles. I have a long-running contest on my website: if anyone sends me a title that I like well enough to submit to my publisher, and they like it well enough to use it, I will try to track down the person who sent it to me to send him or her a signed book. Some Like it Hawk came from the contest, and I just realized I may owe someone a book for How the Finch Stole Christmas.
Toucan Keep a Secret, which just came out, was a suggestion from someone at my publisher, and Lark! the Herald Angels Sing, which will be out at the end of October (in time for the holiday season) came from both a reader and my fellow Femme Fatale, Joanna Campbell Slan. But last year’s Gone Gull was all mine, emerging from the depths of my subconscious one day when I was getting frustrated because no one liked the titles I’d been suggesting. (Not even me.)
To enter to win a copy of Toucan Keep a Secret, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “toucan,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen September 8, 2018. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address (so if you win we can get the book sent right out to you), and if via comment please include your email address. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Be sure to check out our new mystery podcast too with mystery short stories, and first chapters.
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I LOVE this series! Thanks for the chance to win and read!
I really enjoy the Meg Langslow series, so this interview with Donna Andrews is a treat!
Thanks for the chance to win. This book looks so good. Would love to read it.
faithdcreech at gmail dot com
I love this series and have read all the previous books in the series. The titles are always great!
Looks really interesting I’d love to read it email@example.com
I can remember reading Murder with Peacocks when it first came out. I love how this series has managed to evolve – so many end when the protagonist weds, has a child, etc. I’m looking forward to Toucan Keep a Secret
I really enjoyed reading this interview with a favorite author & series.
I am currently reading this series and I love it! Thank you for the chance to win.
myrifraf (at) gmail (dot) com
Those birds on the cover are so beautiful! I’m looking forward to the book, please enter my name in the draw to win a copy. crs(at)codedivasites(dot)com
The titles are just the beginning of the fun in this series. I love them!
How about From Heron to Eternity? Sounds like a fun series.
I like how you have come up with the titles! I am not sure if I could be that creative! The toucans are gorgeous! They have always been a favorite of mine.
I find it delightful to see the titles in Donna Andrews, Meg Langslow Mysterys. It would be wonderful to have her latest, Toucan Keep A Secret.
How have I missed this series?? Must change that now.
This sounds like fun – at least as much fun as tracking a killer can be. Thank you for the chance to win!
Great series! Love the cover and the title.
The cover is fun and the title is eye catching.
Sounds like a fun read!
This sounds really good–I’d love to read it! firstname.lastname@example.org
I like the title We’ll Always Have Parrots. Also, it has my favorite of all the scenes of yours I’ve read (the parrots and the elevators). My second favorite is all the planning to coordinate noisy events and tunnel smuggling. And I love the planner. Keep on writing (and being published)
We have a winner! Thanks for all of the great comments.