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DEAD AS A DODO by Jane Langton

DEAD AS A DODO

By Jane Langton

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-670-86221-5
Publisher: Viking

Homer Kelly is nervous about his stint as a visiting fellow in American literature at Keble College, but he'd relax if he knew that the elevated Oxford body count will make him feel right at home. There's a night watchman killed in a mysterious fall from a college roof (what was Bobby Fenwick doing up there, anyway?); there's misfit mail-clerk Johnny Farfrae, who dies after a similar nasty fall outside his wife Helen's office; and there's the severed throat of Rev. Oliver Clare, a divinity student who seemed destined even before that to lose Freddy Dubchick to Hal Shaw, a just-married tutor in biology working under Helen's boss, Freddy's naturalist father, Prof. William Dubchick. It's not till the third killing, in fact, that Langton's whimsical, fitfully entertaining tale really takes off with a plot that binds Dubchick's researches to the dispute between those other twin eminences, Charles Darwin and his 19th-century contemporary, ferocious anti-Darwinist Bishop Arthur Clare, Oliver's great-great-great-great granduncle. Along the way, there'll be a large, stolen 1651 painting of a dodo, a reverse burglary in which some crafty felon sneaks dozens of crustaceans (in jars labeled "Chutney," "Peach Preserves," and "Griskin of Pork") into the Oxford Museum, and enough outrageous behavior to flabbergast the bemused detective--though "of course," as Langton points out, "the state of being flabbergasted was normal for Homer." Flickers of gently effective satire compete with kitchen-sink plotting, but still leave Homer's 12th case (The Shortest Day, 1995, etc.) below the level of his best.