A bevy of fictional detectives--from Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown to Raskolnikov's nemesis, Porfiry Petrovich--convene at a conference in Rome to complete Dickens's last novel, left tantalizingly incomplete at the author's death. The playful collaborators (The Sunday Woman, 1973) intersperse chapters of Drood with their detectives' speculations; hence, most of the words here are Dickens's--and terrific words they are, as jovial, empty-headed Edwin Drood confesses his non-love to his long-plighted troth Rosa Bud (a non-sentiment she completely reciprocates); quarrels with swarthy, intense Neville Landless; and disappears following a Christmas Eve reconciliation party given by his opium-smoking uncle, choirmaster John Jasper--all amid a swirl of unforgettable minor luminaries, from kindly minor canon Septimus Crisparkle and fatuous auctioneer Thomas Sapsea to hypersensitive Helena Landless and mysterious investigator Dick Datchery. Dickens is a tough act to follow, however, and the present-day chapters are weakened further by the authors' (or their translator's) tin ear for the speech of Nero Wolfe, Philip Marlowe, and Lew Archer; of all the fictional detectives here, only Hercule Poirot consistently shines in a surprising variety of roles. After reviewing the evidence and endlessly debating the long-contested premise of Jasper's guilt, the conference plumps for a solution that's surprising, logical, well-documented, and entirely new--though most readers will wonder whether it's really worth all the byplay that precedes it. A clever, eventually successful tour de force, mostly for audiences who'd like to renew their acquaintance with Drood--and who don't mind paying top dollar for the privilege.