The Peter Shandy Mystery series, beginning with with Rest You Merry, first published in 1978, is a quirky and fun series by Charlotte MacLeod that spans two decades, with the final book, Exit the Milkman coming out 1996. The series is set at Balaclava Agricultural College, a college in the rural areas of Massachusetts, where Professor Peter Shandy teaches and is particularly famous for propagating the Balaclava Buster, a turnip with especially potent nutrients that make livestock all over the world extremely happy. But when, in est You Merry, Shandy discovers the murdered wife of his best friend, he develops a sideline as the local detective.
The series contains some fun, rollicking plots that, although at times so crazy as to be ridiculous, make the reader happy to suspend disbelief. At the same time, the best part of this series are the unique characters.
Meet President Thorkjeld Svenson, a modern-day Viking also sometimes affectionately called King Kong or Paul Bunyan, and his gorgeous Valkerie wife, Sieglinda, along with their seven gorgeous daughters, each more beautiful than the others.
Meet Cronkite Swope, “demon reporter for the Fane and Pennant” local newspaper who often serves as Peter’s assistant in detection.
Then meet “Harry the Ghoul” Ghoulson, the local undertaker who refers to his clients as the “loved ones” and belongs to about every lodge in the area.
Later you get to meet Winifred Binx, a rich heiress who has lived in the woods in her personal burrows and survived off the land for years before being able to claim her inheritance while waiting to see whether her cryogenically frozen grandfather will return to life.
These are just a few of the many fun characters, but the main characters are Professor Peter Shandy and Helen Marsh Shandy, whom Peter meets in the first book before marrying her soon after. Helen holds a doctorate in library science and thus knows everything, a feature of all librarians.
Another fun feature of this series is the frequent word play with puns and literary allusions, especially between the Shandys. There are so many funny quips and details that make me laugh. For example, in Rest You Merry, Shandy opens the novel as the Scrooge of the Crescent, the community where the faculty live. In pique against the many people who harass him to decorate his house for Balaclava’s huge Christmas Illumination Festival, Shandy retaliates by going overboard with decorations, lights, and music and takes off on a little cruise.
My favorite quote comes in The Luck Runs Out, the second book in the series when Svenson yells at Shandy when the college’s famous wagon gets sabotaged just before the most important competition of the year and Shandy suggests calling the police: “They take away the pieces for evidence, and we get them back maybe six years from now! Shandy, you jackass! We show up at the competition without our wagon, everyone says the college is falling apart. We start losing students. Instead of good farmers, America gets lousy computer programmers. The fate of the nation is at stake, and you say call the cops!”
The entire ten book series is available on Audible, narrated by John McClane, who does a good job. The only complaint I have is that he mispronounces some words at times, not necessarily proper nouns but words that are often not in common usage, such as archetype, that still should be pronounced correctly.
This delightful, sometimes ridiculous, and always fun series is one I have listened to many times and return to when I need a smile. I give the whole series 5 stars!
The Peter Shandy mysteries, starting with Rest You Merry: A Professor Peter Shandy Mystery (The Peter Shandy Mysteries Book 1) is available now. To order from Amazon, click the link in the title.