Why would somebody cut off the tail of Charlie Hopewell's springer spaniel Clarence? Before you answer ``Who cares?'' be advised that (1) the unauthorized docking leads to quite the low- key uproar, especially from neighbors who suspect Charlie or his rebellious daughter, Hannah, of mistreating the animal themselves; (2) the motive leads the local constabulary to a surprisingly intricate bank-card scam; and (3) yes, there's murder afoot. John Cunningham (The Curse of the Cockers, 1994, etc.), owner/trainer of neighboring Three Oaks Kennels, nominates himself to look into the mysterybut this time it's wife Beth who walks off with detecting honors. Hammond's 35th novel (Hook or Crook, 1995, etc., etc.) has the same quiet, sturdy virtues of all his Highland tales.