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Dead Ernest    by Alice Tilton order for
Dead Ernest
by Alice Tilton
Order:  USA  Can
W. W. Norton, 1992 (1944)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

There is nothing else quite like the series of Leonidas Witherall mysteries written by Phoebe Atwood Taylor under the nom de plume of Alice Tilton. Leonidas is the most absent-minded of absent-minded professors imagineable and he looks so much like William Shakespeare that everyone calls him Bill. He lives in Dalton, a fictitious suburb of Boston, and is the owner (and soon to be headmaster) of Meredith Academy, a swell boys' school.

Leonidas secretly writes the epic adventures of Lieutenant Haseltine under the pseudonym Morgatroyd Jones. He's so immersed in his latest manuscript that he has ignored the entreaties of his charlady to pay attention to Bedford Scrim, Fingers, phone calls and telegrams galore. Then there are callers at the door - a moppet missing her goldfish, an unexpected deep freeze delivery, and a blonde in a shimmering evening gown singing Happy Birthday. Opened, the deep freeze reveals a chilled corpse and Leonidas is in deep trouble (having little faith in the ability of local law enforcement to see more than the obvious).

As usual with Witherall adventures, this one erupts into a series of bizarre and seemingly isolated events. They eventually fall into place as pieces of a puzzle that, amazingly, do fit together. Leonidas careens from one crisis to another, finding help in surprising places. Along the way, he gathers his usual group of followers including the birthday warbler; his charlady Mrs. Mullett, always ready to throw in her 'candied opinion'; and the usual vulgar but good hearted young couple (Chuck and Gerty this time).

Dead Ernest reminded me of the British movie, The Wrong Box - the deep freeze is lost and found in the same farcical manner as the film's coffin, and people pop in and out of the story at the same alarming rate. It amazes me that the author is able to put it all together again, but she probably just mumbles 'M'yes', as Leonidas does when slotting a piece of his puzzle in place. If you haven't bumped into Leonidas 'Bill' Witherall yet, then it's high time that you met him. Be warned though - he'll drag you through a hysterical adventure that will leave you bemused and chuckling.

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