Dear Miss Demeanor

Claire Malloy, a feisty, red-haired bookstore owner with a knack for solving crimes before the poice do, is beginning to understand how lethal high-school teaching can be when two real murders bring the wheels of learning to a halt. Moreover, it appears to be the brandied-peach compote of the elderly journalism teacher, Miss Parchester, who is already under suspicion of embezzlement, that did in the school principal. How do the deaths of the unpopular principal and the despised janitor fit in with Miss Parchester’s unlikely firing? What import have the mysterious adultery accusations that keep appearing in the school paper’s advice column? As Claire snoops around, sparring with her sometime boyfriend, Lieutenant Rosen, the detective assigned to the murders, she discovers some startling facts about the staff and faculty of Farberville High.

Claire is always one step ahead of Lieutenant Rosen, naturally, but he forgives her illegal snooping and persists in asking her to marry him, prompting the reader to wonder why he is such a glutton for verbal abuse.

The characters are at once improbable and hackneyed: a daffy old lady who is a master of disguises; a classics teacher who spouts Latin maxims nonstop; the heroine, who blithely shuts down her bookstore to chase around a high school in the guise of a substitute teacher. The plot is entertaining, nevertheless, though Claire Malloy begins to seem unbearably arch and clever.