Something the Cat Dragged In (1983) Charlotte MacLeod
Martha Lomax discovers that her cat Edmund has detective tendencies when he drags in a clue to the latest murder in Balaclava Junction. What first looks to be a dead rodent of some sort turns out to be the bedraggled hairpiece belonging to her boarder, Professor Herbert Ungley. She immediately knows that something is wrong because everyone knows that Ungley wouldn't be caught dead without it (as if everyone in town doesn't know he wears a toupee). Except that's exactly what has happened...she goes in search of Ungley thinking he must be sick or hurt and finds his body out behind the Balaclava Society's clubhouse. There's fair sized dent in his head, but very little blood.
So, when Police Chief Fred Ottermole's first thought is that Ungley fell and accidentally hit his head on a protruding piece of harrow, Martha Lomax's first thought is Professor Peter Shandy who has helped tidy up a few other mysteries before now. She also notices that Professor Ungley's rooms have been searched--it was a pretty careful search and only her practiced eye and knowledge of how the professor liked his things tells her anyone's been there. But been there, they have. Shandy soon agrees with her that there is more to this death than meets the eye and manages to convince Chief Ottermole as well. When another death occurs, it also becomes apparent that there's more going on in the exclusive Balaclava Society than anyone imagined. What exactly it is and how it prompted murder is what Shandy and Ottermole will need to discover.
The Peter Shandy mysteries are just plain fun and lighthearted (despite the murders). Who could take anything seriously that has a Viking-like, strong man like Thorkjeld Svenson serving as president of Blaclava Agricultural College running around in the background, ready to intimidate the evil-doers that Shandy uncovers or just bend a few steel bars to let off steam? Some of the plots need to be taken with a cupful of salt, but these aren't meant to be serious whodunnit puzzles. When you want a quick read and quirky characters with a few literary puns, quotes, and verbal jousting bouts thrown in, then this is the series to turn to. If you like mysteries with an academic twist (as I do), then that's an added bonus. ★★★ and a half.
My one major quibble is also a major spoiler. If interested, then just highlight the apparent empty space:
Even knowing that MacLeod likes to go over-the-top at times, I find the Machiavellian plottings of the Balaclava Society members to be a bit much. One would think that if this group of people were raking in that much cash that somebody would have noticed long before now. But...I suspended my disbelief and went ahead and enjoyed the book anyway.
Deaths = 2 (one hit on head; one strangled)