Murder with Puffins

Donna Andrews

Meg Langslow is back for another loony adventure in the latest installment of Andrews' bird series. Although the author's dry humor and offbeat characters are much more entertaining than her mystery plots, enough happens in these stories to hold readers' interest. This time Meg and her boyfriend, Michael, head to the remote island of Monhegan, off the coast of Maine. Meg's hopes for a romantic interlude are blown away when a hurricane hits the island. Compounding matters, she discovers that her entire family is staying at the normally empty family cottage, and the island is being overrun by birdwatchers. The final blow comes when one of Meg's mother's old beaus is found murdered, making Meg's father a suspect. As Meg and Michael investigate, they learn a great deal about the colorful inhabitants of Monhegan--both human and avian. The puffin angle proves very amusing, especially as it is manifested in the character of Rhapsody, a weird children's book author who writes about the 'Happy Puffin Family.' An enjoyable flight of fancy.


Copyright ©2000 by Donna Andrews.


With thanks:

 To Dad, for inspiring Meg’s dad.

 To Mom, for being nothing whatsoever like Meg’s mother. (Well, except for the bit about the coconut.)

 To Stuart and Elke, for holding your wedding on Monhegan.

 To Monhegan and its residents – although a hurricane and a homicide must seem poor thanks for your hospitality.

 To Ruth Cavin and the crew at St. Martin’s, and to Ellen Geiger of Curtis Brown, for helping steer me through the perils of publishing.

 To my friends and family everywhere, including the Misfits, Queen Bees, Teafolk, Wombats, fellow writers, and fellow readers.

Chapter 1

My Puffin Lies over the Ocean

'I see land ahead,' Michael said.

'I’m sure they said that often aboard the original Flying Dutchman' I replied, my eyes tightly shut.

'No, really; I’m sure of it this time,' he insisted.

I kept my eyes closed and didn’t relax my death grip on the rail while the ferry’s deck bucked and heaved beneath my feet. The rain and spray had soaked me to the bone, but I wasn’t going into the cabin unless the swells grew dangerous. Way too many seasick people inside. Of course, those of us on deck were seasick, too, but at least out here the wind kept the air fresh, if a little damp.

'The next time I have an idea like this,' I mumbled, 'just shoot me and get it over with.'

'What was that?' Michael shouted over a gust of wind.

'Never mind,' I shouted back.

'I really do think that’s land ahead,' Michael repeated. 'Honestly. I don’t think it's another patch of fog.'

I debated, briefly, whether to look. My seasickness seemed a little less intense if I kept my eyes closed. But if an end to our ordeal was in sight, I wanted to know about it. I opened one eye a crack and peered in the direction Michael pointed. To me, the vague shape ahead looked like the same ominous cloud bank we'd been staring at for hours. Maybe it made him feel better to think he saw land. Maybe he was trying to make me feel better.

'That's nice,' I croaked, and closed my eyes again, blotting out the gray sky, the gray sea, and the disturbing lack of any clear line of demarcation between the two. Not to mention the gray faces of the other passengers clinging to the rail.

'We must be getting close,' Michael said, sounding less confident. 'Monhegan's only an hour off the coast in good weather, right?'

I didn't answer. Yes, normally it took only an hour by ferry to reach Monhegan, where we planned to stay in my aunt Phoebe's summer cottage. But there was nothing normal about this trip. If Michael still believed we'd reach dry land soon, I wasn't going to discourage him. Even though deep down I knew that we really had boarded the Flying Dutchman and were doomed to sail up and down the coast for all eternity, or at least until we ran out of fuel and had to be rescued by the Coast Guard.

'Well, maybe not,' I heard Michael murmur.

I pried my eyes open to check on him. He stared out over the water with a faint frown. I felt a twinge of jealousy. I probably looked as ghastly as I felt, but even in the throes of seasickness, Michael was gorgeous. A little paler than usual, and the hypnotically blue eyes were a bit bloodshot. But still, were I an artist, looking for just the right tall, dark, handsome cover model for a nautically themed romance, I'd look at Michael and shout, 'Eureka!'

'I'm sorry,' I said instead. 'This was a bad idea.'

'It'll turn out all right,' he said with a smile. Only a faint ghost of his usual dazzling smile, but it made me feel better. 'But next time we set out on an adventure, let's remember to check the weather first, okay?'

Well, that was encouraging. At least he was still talking about 'next time.' And next time I took off on a trip with Michael, I promised myself, we'd go someplace warm and tropical, where the nearest large body of water was the hotel swimming pool. Not on a boat in the middle of the Atlantic--well, several miles off the coast of Maine anyway. Hurricane Gladys had now headed out to sea and now subsided to a mere tropical storm, but if I'd bothered to check the Weather Channel before Michael and I set out for our weekend getaway, I could have picked a more promising spot. In fact, I could probably have done better just by sticking a pin in a map.

'It's a deal,' I said, smiling back as well as I could. He put his hand on mine for a few seconds, until another wave hit the boat and he had to grab the rail again. But I felt better. Mentally anyway. Physically… well, I was trying to ignore another set of warning signals from my stomach.

'Meg Langslow? Is that you?'

I opened my eyes and turned, to see two figures standing to my left, both wrapped from head to toe in state-of-the-art rain gear. They looked tike walking L. L. Bean catalogs and were probably toasty warm and reasonably dry underneath. I tried not to resent this.

'Yes?' I said, peering through sheets of rain at the small portion of their faces visible under their hoods.

'Meg, dear, don't you remember us? It's Winnie and Binkie!'

'Winnie and Binkie?' Michael repeated.

I finally placed the names. Mr. and Mrs. Winthrop Saltonstall Burnham, aka Winnie and Binkie, owned a cottage on Monhegan Island and were old family friends. Childhood friends of my grandparents, if memory served, which made them fairly ancient by now. And yet mere they stood, two sturdy round figures in yellow stickers,

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