A debut novel for the author's ex-New York cop Dave, a nice, 50-ish Jewish boy from the Bronx, and his all-knowing mother. Mom has left her beloved Manhattan to visit Dave, now chief investigator for public-defender Ann Swenson in Mesa Grande, Colorado--and a good thing, too, since her son can't detect his way out of a paper bag. The town is the site of Mesa Grande College, a hotbed of academic rivalries, at their bitterest between English profs Mike Russo, a rough-edged New Yorker, and suave Stuart Bellamy. In their battle for tenure, Bellamy wins--and is murdered soon after. Disgruntled student Luis Vallejos; Bellamy's ex-lover, Samantha Fletcher, and others had no love for the victim, but nonetheless Russo is charged with the murder in what looks like an airtight case. Eventually, a mysterious messenger with a crucial piece of evidence and a strange demand gets Russo off the hook, but Mom's still not satisfied. There are clumsy wheels-within-wheels here that don't stop spinning until she heads back to New York, soon to return to explore Mesa Grande's condo market. The plot is heavy-handed; Mom is rarely more than a cutesy contrivance; and Dave remains her straight man throughout; but a well-realized background and competent, unfussy style help provide some placid diversion.