When veterinarian Liza Borden, of the Delaney Institute for the preservation of endangered species, is found holding the ax that killed her best friend, Abby Meyer, in the storied town of Fall River, Mass., you may think you're in for a vigorous reworking of the Lizzie Borden legend. No such luck: This placid whodunit couldn't care less about nice-as-pie Liza (""No one who could make outrageous bilingual puns could be an ax murderess,"" we're reassured), unholy family passions, or even historic Fall River. Instead, Liza's brother, Ira Grossman, calls on Brian Donodio (Death in a Far Country, 1993) to dig up evidence that will vindicate her; and Brian's formidable array of irregular deputies -- especially his meddlesome daughter Deirdre, his zoologist friend Prof. Philander Dobbs, and Liza's flamboyant lawyer Rebecca Betancourt Delgado -- run away with the show, easily stealing the thunder of the forgettable suspects who are scheming, presumably, to close down the Delaney and make off with its endowment. Despite a promising episode starring a monomaniacal college president who's kidnapped three bears to drive his men's-studies fantasies and incidentally cure his impotence, the mystery is over before it ever gets off the ground, and the plaudits Brian earns from People magazine (""AMERICA'S WIMSEY: DONODIO VIEWS THE BODY"") seem, well, premature. Dim suspects are no match for MacGill-Callahan's cozy legion of detectives in this oppressively prim slice of Americana.