Sunday, April 10, 2011

Death of an Old Goat by Robert Barnard

Death of an Old Goat
Professor Blevin-Smith, emeritus of Oxford and now well into his dotage, has been tapped for a tour as visiting professor in the wilds of Australia. He finds the accommodations execrable, the food inedible, and the company deplorable. Professor Blevins--who's been giving the same lectures, word for word, for over fifty years--may seem querulous and demanding to his hosts, but in his own mind he's quintessentially British and stiff-upper-lip-y. Professor Blevins is the titular "old goat" in Robert Barnard's delightful and hilarious campus farce-cum-crime novel, Death of an Old Goat.

Professor Wickham, also of Oxford but chair, now, at the University in Drummondale, is Professor Blevin-Smith's host for this latest stop on his tour. He's got problems of his own: a wannabe social climber of a wife, a staff who are indifferent at best and at worst are downright stupid. And lucky Wickham--in addition to picking his doddering peer up at the railway station and depositing him at his motel, he gets to host a cocktail party for him as well the next night. 

Poor Professor Blevin-Smith. After an interminable train ride, a dinner every bit as primitive as he had dreaded, and an utterly unsatisfying night's sleep, the poor old goat has to deliver his lecture on Mrs. Gaskell to an audience of assistant professors and lecturers compelled to attend. No wonder that when he misses the briefest of beats somewhere in the middle of the lecture he picks up at exactly the same point...but in his Jane Austen lecture, leaving those few attendees paying even the least bit of attention either scratching their heads perplexedly or tittering behind their hands to one another.

But even though he bored the entire English Department to tears, and even though he wandered through the cocktail party in his honor in a fog of sleeping pills and booze, and even though he ended the night by engaging in a verbal tiff with his host over the quality of his experience so far, still, the poor old goat does not deserve to have his throat slit from ear to ear while he sleeps that night.

Everyone's a suspect because no one has any motive at all to kill the professor. The investigation falls into the hands of the less-than-interested Police Inspector Royle, who, in addition to never having had to actually solve a crime before, has a full docket of midday trysts with housewives in his jurisdiction.

Death of an Old Goat is light and airy, sending up equally the academics, the local gentry, and the police. A satisfying read for a rainy afternoon.

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1 comment:

NancyO said...

I love these old British whodunits; always have and always will. Thanks so much for posting this!