RogerBW's Blog

The Corpse in Oozak's Pond, Charlotte MacLeod 22 July 2018

1987 mystery; sixth of MacLeod's novels of Professor Peter Shandy. The old pond that provides startup hydropower to the Balaclava Agricultural College's methane plant is the site of the annual Groundhog Day festivities; this year it's also where a body has floated to the surface.

But when the parents who might have identified him turn out to have been poisoned, it's another case for the over-stretched local police department, and Deputy Shandy its main detective.

"We got no more murders than anyplace else," Ottermole protested. "It's just that we don't pussyfoot around calling 'em what they ain't. Chief Olson over at Lumpkinton, he finds a body with six bullets in it, tied up with clothesline, an' stuffed into an old icebox. There's six fresh holes shot through the icebox door, an' he tries to pass it off as suicide while of unsound mind because the stiff's his wife's cousin's brother-in-law."

This is one of MacLeod's better-trodden narrative settings, and this volume is curiously short of the gaiety that's marked most of her writing up to this point. Yes, murder is a serious business, and yes, there are still comic-relief locals, but with a wide array of suspects Shandy finds himself thinking worriedly even about people he's known for a while. Rather than the usual sillinesses of the College, there's a down-at-heel bar and much discussion of post-mortem findings. Several of the series's recurring characters are mentioned, but few of them get much time on the page.

I'm not even entirely convinced the plot makes sense from the point of view of the villain – at the very least it seems rather foolish and premature, not to mention unnecessarily complex. Of course, much real villainy is like that.

I read this on a hot day, and it did its job as a short intermission between slightly heavier books; but I find myself in retrospect not particularly enthused. It's all right, but if this were the first or second book of MacLeod's I'd read I wouldn't find myself racing to get hold of the next one.

Followed by Vane Pursuit.

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Previous in series: The Curse of the Giant Hogweed | Series: Professor Peter Shandy | Next in series: Vane Pursuit

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