A lightweight farce with a daffy but resourceful cast and a surprise climax. When 13-year-old Paul's parents take an extended business trip, they leave him at ramshackle Burnside Academy, where, as roommate Orson says, ""the strange meet the deranged."" Introduced to quirky classmates and even quirkier teachers, headed by sinister Dudley Pickles, Paul wants out, but his frantic letters go unanswered. When a TV show about wanted criminals convinces Chris Bishop--writer, editor, publisher, and printer of the Burnside Banner--that Pickles is actually maniacal family killer Dwight Popper, Paul joins the surreptitious investigation, meanwhile chasing the headmaster's beautiful but oblivious stepdaughter. Inspired by Hamlet, the boys decide to force Pickles into the open with a dramatized version of the murder, presented at the Founder's Day celebration. Amazingly, it works. Chris is right--or nearly: it turns out that it isn't Pickles who's the culprit but his twin Bucky, Burnside's custodian. ""Evil twin brother,"" says Orson in disgust. ""That is so trite."" Send Conford fans who enjoy this on to Gordon Korman's books.