Why would retired accountant Mary Singer offer occasional actress Alice Nestleton $2,500 to board her cat Dante for four days--especially when Dante is nothing but a stuffed toy? It's no use asking Mary, because as she climbs out of a chauffeured Bentley to deliver the button-eyed client to the old warehouse Alice shares with her own two cats, she's shot dead by the liveried chauffeur. If that sounds too bizarre to be believed, it's all on tape, since a passing Canadian tourist, who turns out to be an old colleague and friend of the actor who recommended Alice to Mary, has videotaped the whole murder. No writer could keep up this level of invention for long, of course, and prim Adamson (A Cat on dingle Bell Rock, 1997, etc.) has soon settled into a soothingly familiar round of quirky caricatures--from Joseph Grablewski, Alice's old acting teacher, who's now on the wagon but not in the clear, to Sam Tully, Mary's neighbor, the hard-boiled writer whose last volume was the well-received Only the Dead Wear Socks. There'll be revelations about the unsuspected past of Alice's old friend Nora Karroll that would rock a more volatile series, but here they cause scarcely a ripple en route to the climactic revelation of what might be called the Jerzy Grotowski diet. In fact, the biggest disappointment for fans of the series (now in its 16th installment) will be the fact that the feline lead is stuffed.