Feeling somewhat out of his element, Spenser nevertheless hires on when Walter Clive, president of Three Fillies Stables, offers him this horse-watching gig. Which is a good thing indeed, since in his 27th entry (Hush Money, 1999, etc.) the Boston-based p.i. romps home a winner, effacing his recent series of also-rans. The Clives—dashing father, dazzling daughter—are worried about the safety of Hugger-Mugger, the two-year-old that racing insiders are beginning to compare to Secretariat. Scoundrel or scoundrels unknown have made an attempt to do him harm, and the Clives want Spenser in Atlanta to find out who and why. Spenser can barely tell a Secretariat from a receptionist, but he does know what a string of pro bono jobs can do to an exchequer, so south he goes. There, he quickly discovers that horse country can match mean streets any day in the villainy department. Jon Delroy, for instance, who heads the Three Fillies security system is quintessentially black-hearted, and when murder happens, Spenser has every hope Delroy will turn out to be the perp. Unfortunately, there are others—people Spenser has come to like—with even juicier motives. As is his wont, Spenser spins his wheels for a while, but then aided and abetted by his main squeeze, Susan the wonder shrink, he finally ratiocinates sufficiently to do in whodunit. The famous dialogue is polished to a high shine, and though Hugger-Mugger gets a bit helter-skelter down the stretch, it's a terrific return to form.