In his Big Mike series of pet-related mysteries (Royal Cat, 1995; the paperback Desert Cat, 1994), Allen is developing the sort of eccentric and benign if occasionally criminal small town that owes a lot to Andy Griffith's Mayberry and Joan Hess's Maggody. Sometime sleuth Penelope Warren runs an Empty Creek, Arizona, bookstore; her cat Mycroft (a.k.a. ``Big Mike'') goes everywhere with her to assist in tracking down one murderer or another, even when saddlebags may be involved. This time, a heavily insured Arabian stallion is kidnapped and his trainer killed. On the case are Penelope, Big Mike, insurance investigators, the newspaper editor (Penelope's lover), the bank president (her chum), the police chief (her actor sister's intended) and more. The crime is creditably solved and enjoyably so, thanks to an authorial sense of humor that misfires only about a third of the time (not a bad average in this subgenre). But Allen overstuffs his casserole: He's got everything here from a romance writer and an FBI agent on to cute dogs, bunnies, and snakes, not to mention multiple romantic couples cuddling with a boonies-style sexual smarminess. A fairly good series that needs to get leaner and meaner.