cover image Murder in the Museum of Man

Murder in the Museum of Man

Alfred Alcorn. Zoland Books, $23.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-944072-77-6

Sly and spicy from start to finish, Alcorn's (Vestments, 1988) unexpected hybrid blends academic spoofery, cannibalism and a murder mystery, serving it up with a just-right balance of innocence, subtle malevolence and cheeky irony. The scene of the crime is the Museum of Man in the British village of Seaboard, where the remains of Dean Cranston Fessing have been found ""butchered and cooked quite expertly."" Fessing had been investigating finances at Wainwright University, which is affiliated with the museum. Mild-mannered museum recording secretary and first-person narrator Norman de Ratour is initially a prime suspect, but his own investigation points the police towards wrongdoing in the anthropology department, where a cannibalistic cult has been conducting dubious genetics experiments on chimps while trying to teach them to produce quality prose and occasionally killing anyone who gets too close to their fun and games. An anonymous e-mail tipster bolsters Norman's courage as he probes the conspiracy, but the closer he gets to solving the mystery, the greater grow his chances of becoming their next delicacy. The final revelation of the murderer's identity is almost secondary to the relentless but subtle humor that pushes the story forward. It is Norman's transformation from spineless wimp to studly academic investigator, however, that gives this tale its central charm and appeal. Alcorn's blend of ingredients offers substance enough to serve as a refreshing entree on anyone's light reading menu. (May)