Two students devise the Perfect Crime: steal a set of Jane Austen first editions from the residence of the pompous Director of the University of East Lancashire, Dr. George Carter, better known as Claptrap Carter. Unfortunately, someone has gotten there first and shot Claptrap, making their stunt look felonious as well as juvenile. Detective Inspector Percy Peach and
Detective Sergeant Lucy Blake (A Turbulent Priest, 2000) have some heavy-handed fun (there’s no other kind on offer here) with the pranksters and find that they were not alone in their low opinion of the late Director. Carter’s calendar shows a number of appointments with the
University’s Senior Tutor, Walter Culpepper, a gnomish intellectual who makes no secret of his contempt for Carter, but does try to conceal his lack of alibi from the obnoxious Peach and luscious Blake. Culpepper appeals to the University Chaplain, Tom Matthews, to vouch for him, but Matthews, who owns and recently lost an unlicensed pistol of the same caliber as the murder weapon, was suspiciously off-campus himself. Then Carter’s conscience-stricken mother-in-law interrupts Peach’s incessant and unfunny taunting of his superior officer to reveal that the
alibi for Carter’s wife, Ruth, is not exactly airtight. No one has an alibi, it seems, except Carmen Campbell, a psychology professor, and undergraduate Aphrodite, who was unaccountably—at least according to Peach—having an affair with Carter.
Maybe you have to be a Lancashire native to appreciate Gregson’s blunt-instrument approach to humor. Despite clever plotting, though, Peach is no peach.