A Really Cute Corpse

Joan Hess, Author St. Martin's Press $0 (213p) ISBN 978-0-312-02271-6

Claire Malloy makes her fourth, and this time unremarkable, appearance as amateur sleuth when a beauty pageant attracts a would-be murderer. Rehearsing contestants are shocked when a sandbag suddenly drops from a catwalk, barely missing the reigning queen's head. After a fall disables the pageant director, Malloy reluctantly takes over, finding it hard to fathom that anyone would want to kill Farberville's own Miss Thurberfest. Evidence mounts, however, as a shot is fired at the queen's car and her dressing-room space-heater is tampered with. Giddy contestants, a suspicious theater manager, an intrepid agent and a handsome master-of-ceremonies who is also a senator are several of the unsurprising suspects. A few good lines surface from the endless exclamations and adjectives, but for the most part this fiction cliche is for only the inveterate Hess ( Dear Miss Demeanor ) fan. (Dec.)