The butler didn't. . .; The Mystery of Edwin Drood, by Charles Dickens. Concluded by Leon Garfield. New York: Pantheon. $10.95.; Early Autumn, by Robert B. Parker. New York: Delacorte Press. $10.95.; Death in a Tenured Position, by Amanda Cross. New York: E. P. Dutton. $10.95.; Mind Over Murder, by William X. Kienzle, New York: Andrews & McMeel.$9.95
What happened to Edwin Drood? Was he murdered? If so, by whom? Or did he simply go off on his own after he and his fiancee broke off their engagement? Unfortunately, no one can ever know exactly what happened, for Charles Dickens died after he had finished the first six of 12 installments of "The Mystery of Edwin Drood."Skip to next paragraph
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The novel's plot is simple: Edwin Drood disappears shortly after he and Miss Rosa Bud terminated their engagement. Drood's uncle, John Jasper, thinks Edwin has been murdered, but no body can be found. Then the principal suspect in the murder, Neville Landless, is himself murdered.
Enter Dick Datchery, an ex-actor turned detective, who might be described as the mid-Victorian equivalent of the television detective, Colombo. He solves the case by means of ruses borrowed from Shakesperian drama that cause the murderer to trap himself.
Many solutions to Dicken's unfinished mystery have been offered over the last 111 years by those interested in Droodiana. This most recent attempt is the best, not because of the solution it offers, but because Leon Garfield -- who took on the formidable task of completing this novel -- has managed to so accurately recreate Dicken's style, sensibility, and sense of humor.
A great deal of humor, albeit of a different sort, is found in Robert B. Parker's "Early Autumn," the seventh novel featuring the private eye Spenser.
This time out, Spenser gets involved in what initially appears to be a routine child custody case, but which quickly becomes complicated and dangerous.
The child in question is 15-year-old Paul Giacomin, a very convincing drawn character, who is totally neglected by his parents. Spenser plays big brother to Paul, and helps him gain a sense of self, and of self-sufficiency, through a variety of disciplined activities: house-building, running, boxing, cooking.
As is usual in Spenser novels, subplots involve Spenser's girlfriend, Susan Silverman; his occasional right-hand man, Hawk; tours through the criminal world of Boston; and the sort of occasional culture criticism that allows good mysteries to transcend their genre.
"Early Autumn" is marred at times by the author's tendency to let Spenser philosophize too much, but Parker is too good a writer --and "Early Autumn" too good a book -- for these excesses to matter much. Parker has a good, wisecracking sense of humor, an economical prose style, and Spenser is one of the finest fictional private detectives working today.
Amanda Cross's "Death in a Tenured Position" is the sixth book featuring the professor detective, Kate Fansler. Fansler is a professor of literature, a good thing, Since the clues in this mystery are literary.
In this novel, Janet Mandelbaum is hired as Harvard's first tenured female English professor, an event that is met with some hostility by many males in the department. Soon she is found dead in a men's room -- Kate must figure out who did it.
"Death in a Tenured Position" has received fairly generous praise from critics, but it is difficult to see why. While the novel offers a frank look at the nature of academic politics, Fansler is a thinly drawn detective, Cross's style is too academic, and the novel's message is tendentious.
We turn from the halls of academe to the halls of God in William X. Kienzle's third Father Koesler mystery, "Mind Over Murder." Koesler, like Datchery and Fansler, works in a ratiocinative manner.
Working as he has before as an adviser to the Detroit Police Department, Koesler is trying to discover what has happened to Monsignor Tommy Thompson. Thompson disappears suddenly, his car is found with a spent cartridge on the floor and blood on the seat. But Thompson cannot be found.
The list of suspects with sufficient motive to murder Thompson is long, and includes a housewife, two priests, a utility official, a reporter, and a banker. Kienzle presents each of these suspects' scenarios for murdering Thompson is quite convincing detail, so convincing, in fact, that all appear to be guilty.
In fact, no one is guilty -- at least of murder, and yet Thompson has suffered a fate worse than death. Although it does start slowly and could stand a bit of editing, Kienzle's book is nicely done. It is a quite ingenious murder mystery.