Fresh Meat: NYPD Puzzle by Parnell Hall

NYPD Puzzle, a Puzzle Lady mystery, by Parnell HallNYPD Puzzle by Parnell Hall is the 15th humorous mystery about Cora Felton, the grandmotherly-appearing and fraudulent Puzzle Lady, whose wise-cracking and sleuthing will put her under suspicion of murder by New York's Finest (available January 21, 2014).

Cora Felton would probably bite your head off if you asked her for help doing the Sunday crossword puzzle. Parnell Hall brings back The Puzzle Lady, this time getting herself in the middle of a New York City murder. This series is definitely character-driven, with a protagonist that is sarcastic and cranky… so you might think that you would immediately dislike her. However, I found myself drawn into the fast pace, and the reward was seeing the side of Cora that she keeps hidden. Being a great-aunt and someone who tends to “pick fights” gives an image of a gray-haired, unhappy woman, but learning that she had an affair with a married man puts a unique spin on Cora, especially when her heart starts to show:

Cora managed to get as far as the Mobil station before she pulled off the road and collapsed, weeping, on the steering wheel. She killed the lights, prayed Sam Brogan wouldn’t drive by. The car was in the shadows, but even so. Her red Toyota was too distinctive not to be noticed.

Schmuck. That total schmuck. How could he be so heartless? Of course, it was the doctor’s first affair and his first marital reconciliation. He had probably eaten enough humble pie in suffering the tortures of atonement to be ready to strangle a nun, let alone the woman who had put him in that position. It was no surprise he was rude to her, particularly on the job and in the presence of the chief of police.

Even so.

Cora cried herself out. She rolled down the window, lit a cigarette, and sat there smoking.

When Cora finds herself in a new relationship, I was once again surprised, this time at her liberal attitude. Meanwhile, there were a number of crimes going on, which, of course ,involved puzzles. Although I didn’t take the time to actually solve the crosswords or Sudoku, they are in the book with the solutions on following pages. I find it fascinating that it's feasible to create real puzzles  that relay a message, and for those with enough puzzle-solving skills, it’s a fun addition to the book that lets readers participate in trying to solve the mystery.

Cora demonstrates her astuteness many times throughout the book, but often gets her information with her straightforward, no-nonsense attitude—think Miss Marple meets Andy Sipowicz of NYPD Blue.  The theme of NYPD Puzzle is that there are a number of crimes that may or may not be related, but as time goes on, it is obvious that the murderer is playing games and enjoying the chase. Clues show up almost as if left by a ghost. In one scene, Cora grills a cashier about the person that left an envelope on the counter of a restaurant:

Cora was already cross-examining the cashier, who was old, set in his ways, did not take kindly to the suggestion he should have been more observant. “Just a kid. He left the letter on the counter and went out.”

“What did he look like?” Cora said.

“A kid.”

“How old was he?”

“We don’t sell alcohol. I didn’t card him.”

Crowley flashed his badge. “It’s a police matter, buster. Perhaps you could cooperate.”

“I could if I knew anything.”

“You could give a better guess at his age. Was he twelve? Was he twenty?”

“He was grown. Aside from that, I couldn’t say.”

“Could he have been twenty-five?”

“Sure.”

“Did he say anything?”

“If he did, I didn’t hear it. As far as I know, he just put the letter on the counter and left.”

“What was he wearing?”

“I didn’t notice.”

“Was he naked?” Cora said.

The cashier rolled his eyes. What an idiot. “Of course not.”

“How could you tell?”

He blinked. Considered. ”Good point. He was probably wearing something like jeans and a T-shirt.”

I found the short, quick dialogue a very fast read, making this an easy, fun mystery with the bonus of puzzles integrated into the story. The subplots of Cora’s relationships as well as her secret (that she cannot solve crosswords) adds a personal touch that makes her character engaging. I also liked the fact that even though it is number fifteen in a series, I had no problem at all getting caught up with the pertinent background information, making it a book that I could just read start to finish without having to worry about what happened in earlier books.

In short, a fun mystery with a memorable protagonist and lots of banter!

 

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Nikki Bonanni is an Exercise Physiologist and is currently working on her first mystery. Out of the Barnes & Noble in Ithaca, NY, she also runs the Killer Coffee Club, a mystery book club that integrates author discussion with its members.

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