``You know these people, and you know the--what should I call it?--the atmosphere of the place.'' It's a sentiment you've heard fictional police officers express often enough before, but rarely to amateur sleuths visiting from another country, meeting the suspects for the first time themselves. Such is the serene confidence of West Country Victorianist Sheila Malory (Mrs. Malory and the Festival Murders, 1993, etc.), filling in for a sabbatical leave at Pennsylvania's Wilmot College, that she takes the compliment, and all it implies, in stride. But readers should know better, since Sheila hasn't a clue who could have shot unspeakable Max Loring, found curled in a blanket chest in the nearby Whittier Collection, or his equally vile brother Carl, chair of Wilmot's English department. The only thing she can do is wait for the rest of the cast to drop their barely sketched academic facades long enough to reveal their mild motives for murder. Suspects include her friend Linda Kowolski, spectacular graduate student Samantha Broderick and her protective friend Gina Monticello, major Whittier donor Walter Cleveland, and nice medievalist Sara Heisick. After Sheila has decided to compound a felony by covering up the final secret she's stumbled on, she sighs, thinking of trusting Lt. Landis: ``I couldn't help feeling I'd treated him less than fairly.'' A lifeless cast ekes out a threadbare plot punctuated by the narrator's guileless burbling about American education, public transit, and supermarkets.