Murder at the Wabash Institute, a center for the study of language acquisition in infants and toddlers--an offbeat milieu played chiefly for wry laughs as tetchy, vulnerable Jeremy Cook (the Institute's ""resident genius"") helps goofy, shrewd Lieut. Leaf to investigate the death of colleague Arthur Stiph. Sleepy old Stiph is found dead at Cook's desk one morning, but it seems he was really killed in a hit-and-run. The clues: Stiph's head has been shaved; there's vomit from the killer (bourbon and ice-cream) on the floor; and weird, secretly nasty Stiph was going that night to meet a ""backfriend"" (an enemy turned chum). The suspects: the obnoxious senior staff of the Institute. Then Mrs. Stiph commits suicide, a visiting reporter is found dead in the river, the killer stalks the Institute--and can be identified only by analyzing the little sound of recognition made by a pre-schooler. This linguistic detection isn't very plausible. Nor is the very guessable killer's murky motive. But, though the Institute chat gets a little ingrown and talky, it's generally intriguing--and Cook, who eats disgusting food and spends much of his time trying to deduce which Institute employee called him a ""complete asshole,"" is an engaging oddball of a hero. Mostly fun.