Dan Brodsky, semi-employed math Ph.D., does part-time work as subpoena-server and shamus in the Berkeley area--and here, in a pleasant, creaky debut, he's hired to collect evidence that might help to clear heiress Susan Melton of murder charges. Susan, you see, is the top suspect in the poisoning of her textile-mogul father, a crude tyrant who dropped dead during his 55th-birthday party at Le Petit Chateau restaurant. Was it quasi-radical Susan who slipped arsenic into Melton's wine? After all, she hated him and had just recently bought rat poison. But just about everyone at the party had reason to kill Melton--from his designer-brother (whom he cheated) to his son (whom he bullied) to the waiter. . .who turns out to be the son of an old victim of Melton's ruthless business tactics. So Brodsky does lots of interviews, reexamines the modus operandi of the poisoning again and again--and comes up with a scenario that the police (unconvincingly idiotic in their investigation) have missed entirely. The old-fashioned puzzle here is, in fact, fairly limp from start to finish. The pace is slowish, thanks to talky rehashings and considerable padding (Brodsky's academic ups-and-downs, his political-activist past, his cute car-troubles, etc.). Nonetheless: an agreeable newcomer, with a smidgin of romance, some likable characters, and a certain children-of-the-60's nostalgia.