Between 1978 and 1996 Charlotte MacLeod published ten Peter Shandy novels, all of them wild, wacky and witty. Her characters range from the straight laced to the totally demented. Her plots are frequently laugh out loud funny. If you like unconventional mysteries that are well written I suggest that you try this series.
In the first book “Rest you Merry” we meet Peter Shandy, a professor at Balaclava Agricultural College and co-propagator of the Balaclava Buster rutabaga. It is Christmas time which means that it is time for the college’s main fund raising event, The Grand Illumination. For years Peter’s neighbor Jemima Ames has badgered him to decorate his house on the crescent. This year he decides he has had enough. After all but burying his house under gaudy decorations he escapes Balaclava for a sea trip only to be shipwrecked. Slinking back home to face his irate neighbors he finds Jemima’s body behind his couch. Is it an accident or murder? Thorkjeld Svenson, college president, champion of the straight furrow and berserker Viking, assigns Peter to find out, without ruining the illumination.
The second book is “The Luck Runs Out”. Strange things are happening in Balaclava County. First some prankster turns all the horse shoes nailed up in the college barns upside down, letting the luck run out, figuratively speaking. Second, the silversmith’s vault is emptied in a daring robbery while the newly married Peter and Helen Shandy just happen to be there picking out their silverware. Third, Belinda of Balaclava, the college’s prize sow is pignapped and the local farrier is found dead in the sty’s mash feeder. Peter is once again assigned to sort out the mysteries.
Third is “Wrack and Rune”. Professor Timothy Ames is visiting the Horsefalls farm in Lumpkin Corners when their hired man dies in a very nasty way. After calling the police and doctor, his next call is to Peter Shandy. Now Peter must find out why someone has been harassing the Horsefalls. Is the death another prank that has gone wrong or cold blooded murder? How does the old Viking rune-stone on the property fit into the mystery? To find the answers, Peter must deal with pranksters, large crowds of sightseers, and the college president’s 102 year old uncle Sven’s pursuit of an older woman.
Number four on the list is “Something the Cat Dragged In”. Retired professor Ungley rents Mrs. Lomax’s downstairs apartment. When her cat Edmund shows up with his hairpiece in his mouth, her only thought is to return it before the professor misses it. When she finds him not home and his bed not slept in she goes looking for him and finds him impaled on a harrow peg behind the Balaclava Society’s clubhouse. Police Chief Ottermole calls the death an accident but Mrs. Lomax doesn’t believe it and when Edmund finds another clue it leads straight back to the college. Overnight Balaclava County is the scene of a power struggle between town and gown that could destroy Balaclava Agricultural College. Naturally President Svenson assigns Peter Shandy, the Hercule Poirot of the turnip fields, the job of uncovering the murderer.
“The Curse of the Giant Hogweed” is the fifth book in the series. In this book Professors Shandy, Ames, and Stott have traveled to England to assist with the problems being caused by the growth of giant hogweed. When they set out to do field work they cross the border into Wales and find a world they didn’t expect. Trapped in the hogweed and confronted by a giant looking for the King’s pet griffin, it doesn’t take them long to realize that life has become even more bizarre then usual.
Number six is “The Corpse in Oozak’s Pond”. It’s Ground Hog day and all of Balaclava has turned out to see if the College ground hog will see his shadow. They get more of a show then they expect when a corpse pops up through the ice on the pond. When two more deaths follow, it’s up to Peter to find some answers.
In the seventh book, Vane Pursuit, Peter’s wife Helen is photographing antique weather vanes for the historical society. It seems like no sooner does she her pictures then the weather vanes come up missing. When someone fire bombs the Lumpkin soap factory shortly after their weather vane is photographed and someone dies in the fire Peter starts to investigate. Before he finds the answers he will tangle with a motley group of survivalists, assist a heiress who’s hiding out, and fear for the life of his beloved Helen.
Eighth in the series is An Owl Too Many. When Emory Emmerick, a site engineer for the college’s new TV station gets stabbed to death during the annual owl count Peter Shandy is once again on the case. A dead man who isn’t who he said he was, a secretary who keeps getting herself tied to trees, and a wild ride down a raging river in a tug boat make this a rollicking adventure as well as a good mystery.
Number nine is Something in the Water. Peter has gone to check out reports of beautiful, lush, lupines growing where they shouldn’t be able to grow at all. Staying in an old inn, he is waiting for his desert when the town’s most disliked citizen keels over face first into his diner. Foul play is suspected but Peter is much more interested in the lupines. Interested or not Peter soon finds himself trying to solve three mysteries. Who killed Jaspar Flodge, how are such lush plants growing in such poor soil, and who is the unknown artist who refuses to admit to painting such beautiful canvasses.
Number ten, the last but not least in the series is Exit the Milkman. Professor Feldster, Balaclava’s dairy expert and the Shandy’s neighbor has disappeared. Last seen on his way to one of his many lodge meetings he is seen getting into a big car with tinted windows and then nothing. He never shows up at the lodge, doesn’t come home and doesn’t show up for his morning class. Before he is found his obnoxious wife dies in a bizarre manor. Once again Peter must leave his turnip fields and classroom to play Sherlock Holmes.