Monday, June 27, 2011

Vane Pursuit: Review

Vane Pursuit by Charlotte MacLeod is one of my loosely construed academic mysteries. MacLeod has two sets of series characters: Professor Peter Shandy & his lovely librarian wife Helen and Sarah Kelling & Max Bittersohn. Both series are very literate and very funny and feature an eccentric cast of supporting characters.

Peter Shandy teaches at the fictional Balaclava College and Helen is one of the college's librarians. They manage to get into all kinds of non-academic scrapes and Vane Pursuit is no different. Helen has been asked by the Balaclava Historical Society to document and photograph all of the remaining weathervanes designed by the county's very own Praxiteles Lumpkin. She is also to write up a report for the Smithsonian Institute. However, Helen's job becomes dangerous when a gang of ruthless robbers decide to steal the priceless antiques. It seems that Praxiteles's handiwork has become a hot commodity among collectors--collectors who don't care how they acquire the desired object. It soon becomes apparent that somebody has been using Helen's researches to lead them to the valuable vanes. After a local weathervane which used to grace the Lumpkin Soap Factory is stolen and the factory is burned to the ground, Helen travels to Maine to get a photograph one of the last remaining vanes. Once the photos have been taken, she and her friends decide to relax with a bit of whale-watching--only to have their boat commandeered by the vane-snatchers. Meanwhile, back on the farm (almost quite literally--Balaclava College is an agricultural institution), Peter is getting into trouble of his own. In an effort to get to the bottom of the factory arson and the local vane thefts, he and Cronkite Swope have a run-in with a group of shaggy and demented survivalists. He manages to escape their clutches, rush off to rescue Helen, and then finger the mastermind behind the thefts and arson.

Just so you know, this isn't meant to be a serious, life-like mystery. This is meant as good clean fun and will need a good dose of belief suspension....but it's well worth it. Lots of extraordinary circumstances paired with delightful literary references and witty interactions. Some of the dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny. I love the doings of Peter Shandy and the rest of the Balaclava county residents. The only thing missing in this one is President Svenson wading in and taking on the bad guys single-handily--Svenson loves nothing so much as a good brawl with a group of ruffians. Three and a half stars.

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