A Puzzle to Be Named Later by Parnell Hall is the 18th book in the Puzzle Lady Mystery series (available January 17, 2017).
Cora Felton—the self-ascribed “Puzzle Lady”—anonymously writes a column on puzzles for a member of her family and makes a habit of solving mysteries using crossword puzzles to throw up crime clues that help her along the way. If crosswords are your thing, then there is plenty in this mystery to keep you occupied and keenly interested in the clues as they unfold. If Sudoku is your puzzle of choice, then you will not be disappointed as this logic-based number puzzle is cleverly worked into the plot and development of events as one murder follows another.
The first murder follows the arrival of a pitching marvel—currently in the distinguished employ of the New York Yankees—in Bakerhaven, Cora’s hometown. The victim meets their demise in the sauna at the end of a rock. Sharp, to the point, and messy.
Cora was a guest at the event where the first murder takes place and naturally gets involved, finding herself deeper and deeper in the mire of the investigation. She is so involved that she gradually supersedes Chief of Police Dale Harper in the investigation and takes control, using her intuition and puzzle solving skills to get closer and closer to the perpetrator. No one is able to avoid her piercing intellect or ability to solve puzzles as she speaks to everyone involved in order to get hot on the trail of the unknown murderer or murderers.
“We searched the sauna. Not that hard to do, but we had to get the body out of there. Barney Nathan was having a hard time examining it because there wasn’t any light. It’s not like there was a fire going on or anything. Anyway, we finally got the body moved and we searched the place.”
“There was something under the body?” Cora said.
“No, there wasn’t.”
“What about on the body? I trust you made an inventory.”
“We did, and if there’s anything interesting, we haven’t found it yet. But we searched the sauna, and look what we found in the stove.”
Chief Harper passed over a plastic evidence bag. In it was a sheet of paper.
It was a crossword puzzle.
Parnell Hall has written a delightfully well-constructed mystery novel. I would definitely put this in the category of cozy—but not too cozy; after all, Cora is not above breaking into houses, carrying weapons, and having more than a few passing naughty thoughts. The pace moves along nicely, and it will come as no surprise—given how many puzzles are floating around—that solving the mystery is less than straightforward and no easy matter. It takes some serious brain power to unravel the threads woven into the story, and if you are like me, you will not be able to arrive at the conclusion without the help of the puzzle lady, Cora Felton.
“Alright, if you can’t tell me about the file, can you tell me about the gun?”
“Come on. You got a woman dead by gunshot wound. What gun do you think I mean?”
“No, I can’t tell you about the gun.”
“You haven’t done the ballistics test?”
“I don’t do the ballistics test. We send it out to the lab.”
“That’s all right. You don’t have to tell me about the gun. Either you don’t have the results yet, which I would find hard to believe, or neither of the guns was the murder weapon.”
The characters are well-formed and the plot is clever, leading you through a maze of puzzles and clues that eventually end with the killer. The fun, of course, is trying to work out exactly how to get there before the eventual truth is delivered with skill, verve, and style. Like all great puzzles, you will convince yourself that you solved the clues yourself when, in reality, you had quite a bit of help along the way in the form of Parnell Hall and his charming leading lady, Cora “Puzzle Lady” Felton.
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Dirk Robertson is a Scots thriller writer, currently in Virginia where he is promoting literacy and art projects for young gang members. When not writing, tweeting, or blogging on the Mystery Writers of America website, he designs and knits clothes and handbags from recycled rubbish.