MacLeod deserts for the moment her usual series—one featuring Professor Peter Shandy of Balaclava Agricultural College (Exit the Milkman, 1996, etc.), the other Sarah Kelling and detective husband Max Bittersohn (The Balloon Man, 1998, etc.)—to reprint a collection of 19 short stories, about half from the ’60s, half from the ’80s. They run the gamut from the excruciatingly silly “It Was an Awful Shame,” involving a group calling itself Comrades of the Convivial Codfish, to “Better a Cat”—taut, chilling, and very short indeed. Between these extremes are several exploits featuring both Max and Peter, including “Counterfeit Christmas,” in which Professor Shandy, in the midst of a frenzy of Christmas revelry on campus, tries to track down the person responsible for a spate of phony $20 bills. He succeeds, with heartwarming results. It’s back to chills in “Lady Patterly’s Lover,” in which beautiful Lady Patterly, married to a paralyzed, helpless aristocrat, begins an affair with estate manager Gerald. Matters take an unexpected turn that leads to a crime with a surprising victim.
A mildly diverting collection, best by far when it eschews the whimsical.