The butler didn't...; Situation Tragedy, by Simon Brett. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 170 pp. $ 9.95. Murder at Moose Jaw, by Tim Heald. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. 181 pp. $10. 95. Saint Peter's Fair, by Ellis Peters. New York: William Morrow. 220 pp. $9.95. Dead Letter, by Jonathan Valin. New York: Dodd, Mead. 248 pp. $9.95. Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler, edited by Frank MacShane. New York: Columbia University Press. 616 pp. $19.95. Wodehouse on Crime: A Dozen Tales of Fiendish Cunning, by P. G. Wodehouse. Edited and with a preface by D. R. Bensen. Foreword by Isaac Asimov. New Haven: Ticknor & Fields.
''Situation Tragedy'' is a novel of detection that takes place in the specialized world of television, British television to be precise, and it is the seventh book to feature the now 50ish actor and amateur sleuth, Charles Paris.
Paris has just earned a role in The Strutters, a new sit-com -- unfortunately , members of the cast and crew keep dying. Or are they the victims of foul play?
Of course Paris finally solves the case -- what are detectives for? -- but the strength of ''Situation Tragedy'' is the very accurate picture it gives of the making of television shows.
Ex-television producer, Brett, knows what he's talking about - and he has a good sense of humor.
Simon Bognor, of England's Board of Trade investigates his sixth case - the curious death of Sir Roderick Farquhar -- in ''Murder at Moose Jaw.''
Farquhar, head of the world's 10th largest - company, Mammon Corporation, is found ''extremely dead'' in the bath of his private railroad car. Farquhar was not popular, and Bognor finds the roster of candidates for murderer lengthy.
Mammoncorp's board members and Bognor's superiors at the Board of Trade are worried because the company's stock is declining in value as a result of the murder, and a scandal would hurt the company badly.
As is his habit, Bognor stumbles through the investigation, getting no help of value from the quite dim member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. After several false turns, Bognor puts things more or less right.
Tim Heald is an exceedingly witty mystery writer who creates enjoyable minor characters. Farquhar's steward, Littlejohn; Bognor's wife, Monica, and his boss, Parkinson; and Farquhar's son-in-law, Ainsley Cernik, are among the delightful cameo players in ''Murder at Moose Jaw.''
''St. Peter's Fair'' is the fourth of Ellis Peters's mysteries to feature Brother Cadfael, whose considerable wisdom is often directed toward the solution of crimes in 12th-century England.
The last Cadfael mystery, ''Monk's Hood,'' favorably reviewed in this column some months ago, won Peters a Silver Dagger Award, but - competent though it is - ''St. Peter's Fair'' will not win many honors because of its stock ending.
In this novel, Cadfael's monastery in Shrewsbury has a new abbot, Radulfus, and is about to host its annual fair. Merchants are coming from far and wide, and the town is buzzing.
The local merchants are angry because they won't share in the profits of the fair and when one, and then another, of the merchants is murdered, suspicion focuses on one of the local dissidents.
That this suspicion is wrong Cadfael figures out, and so will the reader quite early. The plot is rather telegraphic, the ending ties things up too neatly, and some of the characters are lamentably cliched. The historical information that quickens the book, however, is nicely imparted and Cadfael is, as always, an entertaining character.
Jonathan Valin's first two novels, ''Final Notice'' and ''The Lime Pit,'' were well-received, and deservedly so. His detective, Harry Stoner, is a distinguished heir of the Hammett-Chandler-Ross McDonald tradition.
In ''Dead Letter,'' Stoner is asked to find some missing top-secret documents by a physicist named -- how inappropriately we soon find out -- Daryl Lovingwell.
Lovingwell thinks his daughter Susan, a political radical, may have taken them. Soon Lovingwell is dead, and his daughter charged with the murder. She hires Stoner, but only reluctantly, to clear her.
All too rapidly, the plot takes off. A crazed Vietnam veteran, an ex-football star, several cops and FBI agents, a weak-willed physicist and his devoted secretary, and several others enter this story.
It's overwhelming, though. Too much of the plot of ''Dead Letter'' hinges upon the character of Lovingwell, a contemporary Iago of sorts, but his evil nature isn't sufficiently well-developed to bear the weight.
This is unfortunate, for Valin is a very fine writer, good at dialogue and, generally, at characterization. Here, though, he attempts to juggle more characters than can successfully be kept in the air for the length of ''Dead Letter.''
I'm sure Stoner will be back on track next time out. In the meantime, Valin's first two novels are available in paper and are definitely worth looking for.
The finest recent nonfiction offering for those addicted to ''novels of detection'' and their creators is the Frank MacShane-edited ''Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler.''
MacShane, who gave us that extraordinary biography, ''The Life of Raymond Chandler,'' has assembled roughly 335 letters in one volume, and the list of people to whom they are addressed is, in part at least, worth reciting.
Recipients of Chandler's letters include: Ian Fleming, James M. Cain, Alfred A. Knopf, Alfred Hitchcock, S.J. Perelman, Somerset Maugham, Edward Weeks, John Hersey, Lucky Luciano, J.B. Priestley, and even E. Howard Hunt of Watergate notoriety.
Chandler happens to have been as good a letter writer as he was a novelist. His observations on other writers, on detective novels in general, and even on subjects like filmmaking, are clearly thought out and tell us a great deal about his character.
''Selected Letters'' is as good a collection as the literary world has seen in some years, and one readers won't want to miss.
Fans of the estimable P.G. Wodehouse will be pleased to find a dozen of his crime-related stories in ''Wodehouse on Crime.'' Nothing new or startling, but old and familiar pleasures -- even Jeeves appears -- will be savored anew by Wodehouse admirers.