cover image ILLEGAL TENDER


Gerald Hammond, . . St Martin's Minotaur, $22.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-312-27292-0

Why anyone would "relish" (as Hammond's series hero, gun-dog kennel co-owner Henry Fitts, describes it) slaughtering wild fowl in the brisk Scottish air as sport is anyone's guess. In what Hammond claims in a preface is his last mystery novel—he's written more than 30—he makes it seem a civilized form of recreation. Fortunately, Fitts disapproves of slaughtering people and is soon on the scent of a killer. Not too soon, of course; this is a leisurely British detective story (Scottish, actually) in which there's time out for fine wines, whiskies and a brandy or two. Fitts's sidekicks are hunting dogs, a species the author obviously loves and knows well. Fitts faces two challenges: saving a local business, which is facing ruin through the ineptness of its manager, and helping his ward, Elizabeth, who has been robbed in an e-mail fraud. Much of the story involves the complex technicalities involved in solving these problems. Skillfully, Hammond makes it all mildly interesting. The obligatory murder comes unexpectedly and for a long while has to wait its turn for Fitts to get around to it. He brings the least likely (but most credible) suspect to justice without benefit of the usual meticulous police procedural details or the graphic, grisly depiction of an autopsy. Hammond's charm is in that he creates an entire world of which his characters are a natural part. It's like a soap opera (without the suds) that we join "in progress." It takes a while to sort out the details but leaves us feeling we've been somewhere. (June 11)