REST IN PIECES.
Rita Mae Brown
and Sneaky Pie Brown.
292 pages. $20.
If cats could talk, what would they say? Cat owners might expect comments on the order of "I'm hungry" and "Leave me alone, I want to sleep." In "Rest in Pieces," cats (and dogs and possums) can't speak to humans, but they do communicate with each other, often remarking on the crime wave sweeping the once-peaceful hamlet of Crozet, Va. "Humans put their dead in boxes," feisty feline Mrs. Murphy tells her Corgi pal, Tucker. "A dead human not in a box means either he or she was ill and died far away from others or that he or she was murdered."
When Tucker unearths a hand in an old graveyard, Mrs. Murphy knows she has to let her "mom" -- Crozet postmaster Mary "Harry" Haristeen -- see the find. The animals lead Harry and two police officers to the graveyard, where they dig up a couple more body parts. Before long, pieces of the unidentified corpse are turning up all over town -- the head is found inside a Halloween pumpkin! Suspicion soon falls on Harry's new neighbor, a hunky male model whose girlfriend was killed and dismembered a couple of years earlier.
If the thought of cats and dogs playing detective seems too silly, "Rest in Pieces" probably isn't for you. But animal lovers will adore the second book in this lighthearted mystery series co-written by Rita Mae Brown and her cat, Sneaky Pie. The charming illustrations by Wendy Wray, which appear throughout the book, add to the fun. Thinking it an April Fool's joke, Jack Orchard simply ignored the chain letter, despite its forecast of ill luck for doing exactly that. But when unlucky events suddenly begin to befall the family, Jack does as the letter suggests: make copies of the letter and send them to 13 people -- strangers, whose names Jack picks from the phone book. Immediately, Orchard's luck changes, but it's only temporary; obviously, Jack realizes, some of the recipients didn't follow the letter's instructions. Unless he can persuade them to reconsider, ill luck will certainly befall them too. Jack will see to that personally.
The jacket for the novel "The Count of Eleven" promises a trip inside the mind of a serial killer. Unfortunately, while the trip's there, it's much less affecting than it could have been had Ramsey Campbell made Jack Orchard a bit less idiosyncratic to begin with. He paints Orchard as a quirky, pun-spouting oddball whose belief in numerology combines with some misguided logic to turn him into a killer. Although Mr. Campbell does his job well, the end result is mostly for fans looking less for chills, and more for something that, like Jack, is just a little eccentric.
GREGORY N. KROLCZYK
DROVER AND THE ZEBRAS.
! Bill Granger. Morrow.
252 pages. $20.
After playing in the shadows of such Midwestern college powerhouses as DePaul, Indiana and Notre Dame, everything is going in St. Mary's direction. Its football team reached the Orange Bowl and the basketball team seemed a lock for the Final Four. But someone "drops a dime" to the NCAA on a possible point-shaving scandal. Then a referee -- a zebra -- who officiated at St. Mary's games commits suicide.
Jimmy Drover, an investigator for a professional gambler, is sent to Chicago. He knows Paul Givens, the St. Mary's coach, and had a relationship with Paul's sister, Fionna. It does not take Drover long to start turning over some rocks.
Bill Granger's "Drover and the Zebras" is the second in a neseries by the prolific mystery writer. Both books have taken a pointedly jaundiced view of sports. There is an authentic feel to the offbeat mysteries. They manage to succeed both as suspense novels and as cautionary tales about professional
sports -- a notable accomplishment.