Book Review: Lights! Cameras! Puzzles! by Parnell Hall
By Doreen SheridanApril 4, 2019
Lights! Cameras! Puzzles! by Parnell Hall is the newest novel in the ever-popular Puzzle Lady mystery series. Cora Felton signs on as an associate producer for a movie about her own life when the first dead body shows up on set . . . with a crossword puzzle.
The twentieth installment in the Puzzle Lady mystery series is light on puzzles but heavy on film-making, as Cora Felton, our heroine, finds herself negotiating a role as associate producer on the movie of her life. If she had her way, no such movie would exist, but her sleazeball ex-husband, Melvin, has left her little choice. The publication of his tell-all memoir of their marriage has temporarily scuttled her lucrative endorsements with Granville Grains, and now she’s hurting for money.
On the bright side, Melvin hasn’t revealed that Cora can’t actually do crosswords to save her life. Unfortunately, this means that when the crew of the Untitled Puzzle Lady movie finds one that’s made its way on-set, they immediately assume that Cora will help them solve it. She ixnays that idea pretty quickly, perhaps in an even more snippy manner than she’d ordinarily use, as the casting process for her role in the movie is only depressing her. But all thoughts of crosswords are quickly set aside when the dead body of one of the production assistants is found in the very same venue where they’d held auditions for the roles of Cora the day before.
One of Cora’s ex-boyfriends, Sergeant Crowley, is in charge of the investigations, and it seems pretty open and shut when the victim’s boyfriend claims credit in a suicide note of his own. But then other accidents keep plaguing the set and more corpses turn up, and Cora and Crowley soon find themselves completely bewildered by the illusory nature of movie-making and the fast-talking, less-than-honest characters who thrive in the industry:
“You think she’s telling the truth?” Cora said.
“Why would she lie?”
“She’s in show business.”
Crowley gave her a look. “What kind of an answer is that?”
“It’s the one I keep getting. It’s the movies. Nothing is real. Everything is hype. Just because someone tells you something doesn’t mean it has anything to do with what is actually happening.”
Of course, not everyone is completely hopeless and unhelpful. While Cora despairs of the actress meant to embody her present-day self, she does take a shine to the actress they eventually cast as her younger self, a spitfire comedic star named Angela Broadbent. Angela is thrilled to be expanding from television into movies, and when she and Cora first meet, they have a delightful conversation:
“Gotcha,” Cora said. “So, I imagine you want to see what the woman you’re playing is like?”
Angela waved it away. “Oh, hell no. Not that you’re not interesting but that’s not my gig. I don’t do this Stanislavsky crap. You know, these method actors who can’t eat a sandwich without knowing their motivation. I am strictly a hack. Give me a part, I do my shtick, I’m done. So what if I’m not doing it like you would? Or like you did, since all of this supposedly actually happened. Though I’m betting not much of it did.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because it’s Melvin telling the story. And I would imagine his male ego has colored the narrative.”
Happy to find at least one kindred spirit, Cora can ignore how much she hates the script and movie-making and Melvin, even as she struggles to figure out who could want the many victims dead. It’s fun to follow along as she applies her ferociously logical mind—failure at crosswords notwithstanding—to the task of nabbing a ruthless killer. The one crossword and Sudoku puzzle included have less relevance to the plot than in previous novels, though are still fun challenges on their own. Since most of the action takes place in New York City, where they’re filming, we don’t get as much exposure to the charming inhabitants of Bakerhaven as usual, but Parnell Hall makes up for it with a wealth of cinematic detail that is sure to please not only movie buffs but anyone with more than a passing interest in the industry.