EVEN THE BUTLER WAS POOR by Ron Goulart is an offbeat mystery after the style of the Elmore Leonard movie/book "Get Shorty," but with more spontaneous comic lunacy than an episode of "Mad TV." Rick Dell's parting utterance to his girlfriend H. J., "ninety-nine clop clop," is a cryptic clue that, if figured out, may allow her to retrieve what she's owed. Her ex husband Ben Spanner helps, learns of her former infidelities, and gets involved with blackmailers in the process. The dying utterance in question involves a joke (about a centipede with a wooden leg) that leads to H.J.'s searching inside the leg of a ventriloquist's dummy, among other things, to identify Dell's killers. Goulart has written many genre books under his own name and other pseudonyms. Here he displays his skills at dialogue and descriptions like "the headlights blossomed to life. . .the Mercedes went rushing by like a harsh night wind." Narrator Clifton Satterfield animates the various voices, including female, with distinctive character so that they can't be mistaken. Only the exposition narration and the girl are played straight, while the other characters are allowed more melodrama, like characters on a vaudeville stage. So if you need a breather between those cheerless serial killer entrées, this short novel will enable you to "cleanse your palate" for another course.