Books : reviews

Donna Andrews.
Murder with Peacocks.
St Martins. 1999

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 27 September 2004

Meg Langslow is not having a great summer. She's organising three weddings: one for her flaky friend, one for her brother and his impossible fiancee, and one for her flaky mother and her wimpy fiance. Her entire crazy family seems intent on driving her mad. At least the new guy in the wedding dress shop is a hunk -- but then she learns he's gay, of course. To top it all her mother's intended's sister-in-law gets murdered at the most inconvenient time.

This is "comedy murder" -- it's funny, and there's a murder or two dotted around to give the plot some reason to exist. Meg's a likable protagonist, but one major plot point was screamingly obvious from the beginning -- not a good sign for her detective future (except it is part of the comedy of errors plot, so maybe I'll forgive it just this once).

Donna Andrews.
Murder with Puffins.
St Martins. 2000

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 3 October 2004

Meg and Michael go off for a romantic weekend at a family cottage on a remote island. But there's a hurricane offshore, and all her family have turned up there, too. And, naturally, a murder takes place.

Lots of slogging around a wet and windy island rather vividly portrayed -- one feels Andrews might have spent a less than idyllic holiday in such a place. This depresses the comedy tone somewhat, but there's still a lot of fun to be had from the locals, the birders, and the omnipresent puffins (check out those chapter titles!)

Donna Andrews.
Revenge of the Wrought-Iron Flamingos.
St Martins. 2001

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 22 December 2004

Meg Lanslow is having a frantic time at a craft fair set during a reenactment of the siege of Yorktown. Her boyfriend Michael is having a grand time playing at soldiers, but Meg is more fraught, caught between Michael's domineering mother and the various craftspeople she has been bullying. Just when it seems things couldn't get worse, a murder happens -- in Meg's own stall, with Meg's friends and relations implicated.

This is more in the vein of the funny first novel, rather than the less successful second one, because it is all set during some frantically busy, serious, and ridiculous, other events. The reenactment setting add that certain surreality to the entire events. Some of the plot points (like the padlock) are still a little obvious, but others are amusing enough (especially the solution to the fines) to make this a fun read. And I'm tempted to order one of the wrought-iron flamingos myself...

Donna Andrews.
Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon.
St Martins. 2003

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 25 November 2007

Meg Lanslow takes a temporary job at her brother's computer games company, ostensibly to help in an office move, but actually to investigate a problem at the company. The problem gets bigger when the unpleasant office practical joker is murdered, with Meg's brother the prime suspect.

This is the usual mixture of detection amid farcical and surreal situations (although some of the situations don't appear that surreal, since they involve nerdy, obsessed programmers, and what's unusual about that?) I identified the murderer almost straight away (using the well-tried algorithm of it being the person who couldn't possible have done it); the fun was then finding out how, and why.

Donna Andrews.
We'll Always Have Parrots.
St Martins. 2004

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 31 March 2019

Meg Langslow knew the fan convention for her actor-boytriend’s hit television series was going to be the ultimate in weird. But she came along because she figured Michael could use an occasional dose of sanity—and because it was an inspired place to sell her hand-crafted weapons. And she was dealing pretty well with the costumed fans camped outside, the batch of escaped parrots and monkeys frolicking throughout the hotel…and the minefield of egos lurking behind the show’s success.

But soon after Meg goes head-to-head with egomaniacal series star Tamerlaine Wynncliffe-Jones, the “Queen B” turns up brutally murdered. Now, with Michael in the running as prime suspect, Meg will go up against an all-star cast of not-even-innocent parties, hidden identities, and buried motives. And she’ll cross swords with a deviously obsessed murderer determined to write her out of this picture for good.

Meg Langslow is back, here at a media convention with her boyfriend Michael, who, as well as being a college professor, is an actor in a hokey TV fantasy show. The cast is at the convention, surrounded by Amazonian security and costumed fans. Meg is there to sell her blacksmithed weapons to the fans, and finds herself sharing a booth with another weapon-smith. Which is just as well, as there’s soon a murder, so Meg spends more time sleuthing than selling her wares.

This again is played for laughs, both of the fans obsessions, and the actors’ egos and insecurities, but in a sympathetic way. There are plenty of clues sprinkled about, but the resolution is pulled somewhat out of the air. No matter, this is all good fun.

Donna Andrews.
Owls Well That Ends Well.
St Martins. 2005

Donna Andrews.
No Nest for the Wicket.
St Martins. 2006

Donna Andrews.
You've Got Murder.
Berkley. 2002

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 21 June 2003

Turing Hopper is worried. Zack hasn't been at work for several days, and no-one seems to know where he is. She needs to investigate further, but she has a problem: she's an AI confined within the company's mainframe. So she recruits the only two humans who know she's sentient to help her: Maude the fifty-something PA, and Tim the Xeroxer and wannabe gumshoe. Soon it becomes clear there is more at stake than simply finding Zack, and Turing realises the lives of her friends, and even her own existence, may be in jeopardy.

On the surface this is a fairly conventional lightweight detective thriller, leaning more towards the style of Mission: Impossible than of Miss Marple. There's lots of excitement and chasing around, trying to outwit corporate goons. But what saves it from being pure mind-candy is the protagonist: the engaging character of Turing the AIP. Most of the story unfolds from her internal perspective, as she develops beyond pure sentience, to an entity fully engaged with the real world. After willingly suspending disbelief about the initial onset of sentience, I enjoyed the neat technical uses of memory, modems, email, databases, voice synthesis, and waldoes. We also get wry asides on all the things a real Turing test should cover, some bizarre recipes, what scares different entities, and questions about the nature of identity and the reality of sentience. I hope Andrews hasn't used up all her ideas in this first book, and can keep up this character development in future tales. I'm off to get the next one to see!

Donna Andrews.
Click Here for Murder.
Berkley. 2003

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 29 May 2004

In Turing Hopper's second excursion, the now fully sentient AIP has a problem when one of her staff turns up dead. [As ever, don't work for, be a neighbour of, fall in love with, or be related to, any fictional detective.] When the police brush it off as a drug-related mugging, she, Maude and Tim are left to discover what really happened. They are quickly plunged into a world of secret identities and sinister role playing games.

More detection and less internal AI ruminations than the first book. The plot is unnecessarily complex, with at least three separate peculiarities going on, not really allowing sufficient clues to be planted for any one of them. So the identity of one of the bad guys is deducible by the usual "who is present in the story for no readily discernible reason" heuristic. I like the emphasis that it's the people, not the technology, responsible for the various crimes, but I miss the more philosophical thoughts about the consequences of sentient AI. However, on this note, there is a wonderfully grim set-up for the next book.

Donna Andrews.
Access Denied.
Berkley. 2004

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 14 December 2005

Turing Hopper, sentient AIP, is searching for her kidnapped clone/twin, T2. When the credit card of the main baddie is used, she thinks she might have a lead. But it leads her, Maude and Tim into a world of credit card fraud that ends in murder.

This is fun detective story, with lots of AI musings, and amusing gardening interludes. The various viewpoints show how Turing and Maude are completely misunderstanding and misinterpreting each other, and Turing comes over as semi-autistic at times, though desperately attempting to understand her human friends. The fraud case here is solved, but the wider problem of T2 remains, due to the somewhat Hamlet-esque ending.

Donna Andrews.
Delete All Suspects.
Berkley. 2005

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 18 November 2006

Turing Hopper, Artificial Intelligence and Private Eye, is back with her crew, investigating a possible computer fraud, uncovered because of a hit and run. But the deeper they look, the more confusing things become. And there are hints that her clone/twin T2 might be sending a covert cry for help.

More fun detecting, with a high load of computer jargon, as we delve into the world of web-hosting, spam emails, and cats. There's a lot less chasing around and physical danger this time, as most of the action takes place in cyberspace, or in lecture mode. But there is a definitely meat-space ending.