A private detective investigating a series of thefts gets called to a larger case when a prominent dean is murdered.
Low-key Phil Oxnard, who has by chance come to detective work in his retirement years, seems the ideal man to solve the idiosyncratic robberies at a small, private college where discretion is highly desired. After all, his wife, confidante and co-detective, Paula Oxnard, has taken a semester-long job there as a guest lecturer. The thefts, in which the valuables reappear in odd locations accompanied by poetic clues as to the thieves’ identities, is quaintly old-fashioned and far more fitting to a time when the Hardy Boys would have been called in. When the dean shows up dead, however, college officials ask Oxnard to see what he can find out. It seems there are plenty of faculty members, administration officials and sundry campus employees who were unhappy with the murdered dean, and it would be ideal if Oxnard can find out who the killer is before any serious damage is done to the school’s reputation. He uncovers a misappropriation of funds from a national charity and begins to believe the murder may be more than a simple campus disagreement. This is the third book in a series featuring the Oxnards, and O’Donnell has obviously spent time studying the plot recipes of quaint, British-style tea-cozies. In the Oxnards, he has created a likable and dryly witty couple who is charmingly comfortable with each other. This is the sort of mellow detective yarn that appeals to readers who prefer the violence to take place offstage and delight when a Miss Marple-style sleuth identifies the villain in a library full of assembled suspects.
Slow, steady rhythm and polite demeanor feeds this charming mystery.