When womanizing Professor Harlan Gienly's heart attack turns into a case of poisoning, the Boston police arrest Professor Andrew Tewksbury, who'd quarreled violently and publicly with him over the burning question of whether the Etruscans were an indigenous people. But Tewksbury's colleague Albert can't believe Tewksbury's guilty, even after he's convicted and locked up. When an assault lands him in the same hospital where Tewksbury's recuperating from a suicide attempt, Albert helps him escape--then keeps him one step ahead of luckless Inspector Naples long enough for two other people to get killed before the undernourished mystery winds down. Albert, who reveals new depths of vacuity in the term ""absent-minded,' is an appealing addition to the line of idiot-savant detectives descending from Sherlock Holmes. But once repeated doses of homicide turn this first novel sour, both Albert and his creator seem out past their depth.