Many fictional sleuths toil for years without seeing their names emblazoned on their books' titles, but it's oddly appropriate that Professor John Dobie, in only his third adventure, should lend his name to this new case. On his way back to Cardiff with his pathologist lover, Dr. Kate Coyle, to visit Adrian Seymour, locked up in the Tongwynlais Rehabilitation Centre ever since surviving The Mask of Zeus (1993), Dobie happens onto dying Beverley Sutro of the neighboring Dame Margaret School. The suspects in the transparently bogus hit-and-run range from a shoal of psychiatrists--including Dr. Robert Mighell, whose alarmingly precocious daughter Elspeth says of head administrator Morris Train, ``He lives in that big house just up the road and Daddy's screwing his wife''--to contract killer Ivor (the Terrible) Halliday, who just might be Beverley's father. Using a mathematical method his girlfriend compares to ``hitting a malfunctioning television set a few smart blows with a heavy hammer,'' Dobie tweaks a defective computer link, charms a pair of gossipy teens, unconsciously imitates the Novocained lisp of the local headmistress, and gets locked in a padded cell, twice, en route to solving the dexterously tangled mystery. Though the case lacks the mind-boggling complexity of his earlier outings, Dobie remains as inscrutably feckless as ever: Lt. Columbo with a chair in mathematics.