An Owl Too Many

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

AN OWL TOO MANY is MacLeod’s eighth mystery featuring Professor Peter Shandy and his wife Helen at Balaclava Agricultural College in Massachusetts. As usual, they are drawn into sleuthing when murder and mayhem interrupt their quiet routine.

The Annual Owl Count is a serious tradition at Balaclava College, and Peter Shandy and colleagues are busy identifying and counting owls during a crisp October evening in the woods. Glimpsing what appears to be an unseasonal snowy owl and anxious for a clear sighting, the group hurries along a dark path. Suddenly explosions are heard and confusion abounds. Emery Emmerick has been trapped in a net and fatally stabbed.

No one had invited Emmerick on the Owl Count. He had claimed to be the field engineer for the new television station being built with money from the Binks Trust, but it turns out no one has heard of him. Then Professor Winifred Binks, another of the owl counters, is kidnapped. It becomes increasingly apparent that these and other disturbing events are all related to the fortune Binks has recently inherited, the money she has donated for the television station, and the companies controlled by her trust. In an attempt to rescue Winifred, Peter Shandy ends up on a frightening tugboat ride down the raging Clavaclammer River and becomes embroiled in what appears to be a thoroughly hostile corporate takeover.

It is neither action nor cerebral detection that lures readers to the Shandy series. Rather it is MacLeod’s outrageously inventive names, fantastical situations, and varied wit. The book combines many types of humor, from subtle to slapstick, and never insists the caper should be believable.