BLURB: Dean Cranston Fessing, dispatched from Wainscott University to investigate finances of the neighboring Museum of Man, has been murdered. Not only that, but his grisly remains bear the unmistakable mark of haute cuisine. The police are baffled, and the media have a field day, dragging the name of the venerable museum through the mud. To get to the bottom of it all, and save his beloved museum from the University’s institutional embrace, comes recording secretary Norman de Ratour, the most reluctant of heroes, the unlikeliest of sleuths. Disappointed in love thirty years ago, Norman lives a reclusive bachelor’s existence, tormented by the memory of Elsbeth, and of his own timidity at a crucial amorous moment. Aided by the e-mail missives of an anonymous informant, and thwarted at every turn by his politically ambitious boss, Norman is thrust to center stage and begins to investigate a long list of suspects. Along the way he uncovers a cannibal cult in the anthropology department, creative writing in the primate pavilion, and Nietzschean ambitions in the genetics lab. It’s a race to find the culprit, save the museum and reclaim his lost love before he himself winds up gracing the table of some fiendish gourmand.
NOW ME: Norman de Ratour is the Recording Secretary of the Museum of Man (MOM). He is fussy, prim, ,principled, guided by rules; a scholarly, formal, 19th century style raconteur. but he IS careful and deft and cagey when it comes to politics, and goodness knows there is (are?) plenty of politicking going on in academia and museumland.
So, what happened to the unfortunate dean?
It appears that the dean after having been murdered (presumably), was butchered and cooked quite expertly before being eaten (presumably). The coroner, Dr. P. M. Cutler — a familiar figure here at the MOM, having used for forensic purposes specimens from out considerable collection of human remains — too unseemly relish, I thought, in relating to me some of the details of the autopsy. Indeed, he sounded more like Rick Royick, the Bugle’s food critic, than a coroner. The dean’s buttocks, it appears, were baked with a cinnamon honey glaze; there was a veritable roast rack of dean, complete with those little paper caps, one of which the doctor kept twisting in his hand; there were (I am paraphrasing Dr. Cutler) medallions of thigh dressed in a basil curry beurre blanc that had been served with a thyme-infused puree of white beans and black olives in a marinade of citrus and fennel; there was evidence of a bourguignonne; and the dean’s head, while intact, had been partially emptied, with gross violation to the foramen magnum, where traces of nutmeg were found.
You can see why I loved this book.
As Recording Secretary de Ratour says to Lieutenant Tracy of the police investigating unit,
“Do you really expect me, Lieutenant, to believe or even suspect that Corny Chard killed Dean Fessing, cooked him gourmet style, and fed him to the other club members [of a secret campus dining and adventure club]? I simply cannot believe they would ever eat a sitting dean. Certainly not a whole one.”
As if eating a sitting dean might be worse than eating any other non-academic. hahahahaha
When informed by the Lieutenant that they had found the murderer of Dean Fessing, de Ratour confesses
Imagine! Malachy Morin! I am flabbergasted. Murder, perhaps, but I would never have suspected that the man was capable of haute cuisine!
So, what we have here is cannibalism, plus a chimp lab working on having the creatures furiously typing all day trying to produce the full cannon of English literature, internecine warfare between the museum admins and the university to which it is connected, and a nostalgically lovesick Recording Secretary. And oh, yes. The murder.
Loved it. Absolutely loved it. There’s more, too. A couple more in the series. Spoiler, he marries the former love.