A brightly written, vacuous first mystery in which board-game inventor George Spinoza gets his ex-wife Irene off the hook for murder--and back into the marital bed. Irene, arrested on suspicion of having killed her friend and maybe-lover Miles Dixon, produces the year's cutest alibi: she was actually in her husband's half of their split duplex, crocheting Natasha, his afghan hound, to his afghan rug at the suggestion of his practical-joker friend Biswanger. Neither the judge nor sharklike prosecutor Wusthof (""Mack the Knife"") is impressed: and as Irene's trial looms, her hapless lawyer Grunion seems to be sewing her up tighter and tighter. So George goes after the killer himself, naturally enlisting the aid of mysterious stranger Delmore Black (actually Reynolds Stuart Adams of the State Department) to check out his only two suspects: rug-dealer Abdur Rahman, who sold George his afghan carpet, and upscale veterinarian Charles Finch, who sold him the four-legged afghan. The ensuing investigation is often whimsically amusing (as when another of Biswanger's practical jokes leaves George with a cartoon of sex toys he finds an unexpectedly practical use for)--but short on logic, plausibility, conviction, and real invention. Too much smart, but dumb, dialogue ushers in a who-cares conclusion and an appendix almost explaining how to play Hotel RompÃ‰, George's naughty board-game sensation. A sequel is promised.