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by Donna Andrews
St Martin's Minotaur, July 2008
304 pages
ISBN: 0312377150

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

COCKATIELS AT SEVEN is the ninth Meg Langslow mystery penned by Donna Andrews. Andrews has a knack for keeping her bird-themed series fresh and clever, and this latest installment is no exception.

When Meg's friend Karen drops by with her two-year-old son, Meg reluctantly agrees to babysit Timmy for 'just a little while'. But when bedtime rolls around and there's still no sign of Karen, Meg begins to worry that either Karen has abandoned her child or that something awful has happened to her. The next morning Meg discovers that Karen's apartment has been broken into and begins to suspect that her friend's disappearance may be linked to a more serious crime. Is Karen a victim or an accomplice? The police don't seem to care, so Meg once again plays sleuth, and at those times when she can't sweet-talk any of her family into watching the toddler while she's chasing down clues, Timmy goes along for the ride.

Andrews has added a new level of funny to Meg's already humorously complicated life by introducing Timmy, a precocious two-year-old whose constant companions are a well-worn blanket and a stuffed cat named Kiki. Timmy likes animals of all kinds, which should be appealing to Meg's father, an avid bird-watcher, and her grandfather, a zoologist whose reality TV series involves covert animal welfare projects, but for the fact that they keep disappearing to work on Grandpa's latest endeavor. And Meg's brother Rob seems to have developed an inexplicable fondness for Spike, the terrifying terrier Meg and her husband Michael inherited from Michael's mother eight books ago. Where are Rob and Spike sneaking off to when Meg needs Rob to watch Timmy? Meg begins to wonder whether any of her family are reliable enough to be entrusted with the toddler's care -- especially since his whereabouts might be of interest to some very dangerous people.

While all these intricate details of Meg's life might threaten to bog down and bury the mystery, they instead provide a hilarious backdrop for Meg's sleuthing, and Andrews does a splendid job of weaving against it the clues and hints that lead to a very surprising conclusion. Though there doesn't seem to be as much word play and cerebral-type humor in this installment as in the earlier books in the series, and I admit I missed the more pronounced presence of Meg's parents of earlier books, I did enjoy Andrews's focus on Meg's interactions with Timmy and their profound influence on Meg's dilemma about having children, which increases the overall complexity -- and hence the appeal -- of this already highly likeable protagonist.

Reviewed by J.B. Thompson, June 2008

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