A Clue for the Puzzle Lady
by Parnell Hall (2000)
The murdered body of an unknown girl is found in a cemetery in the middle of the night. She holds a slip of paper on which is written what appears to be a crossword puzzle clue, so police chief Dale Harper brings it to Cora Felton, a newcomer to Bakerhaven (Connecticut) who publishes a national newspaper column called The Puzzle Lady. Cora is a fall-down drunk with a nose for a mystery, and soon Dale, Cora, and the Puzzle Lady’s niece Sherry Carter are in pursuit of a killer who seems to be toying with them, who doesn’t stop at just one victim. An aggressive newspaper reporter with something to prove, pushy TV camera crews, a teenaged girl with a theory of her own, a violent ex-boyfriend, and a community not so far impressed with the police chief’s work race toward either uncovering the murderer or getting away with it.
In pleasantly short chapters with shifting third-person points of view, Parnell Hall creates an engaging, difficult-to-put-down story with well-defined characters in a story that’s easy to follow but difficult to predict. I’ve been on a bit of a cozy mystery bender lately, and while the genre tends toward a certain sameness (which I am not a complaining about), here is one that stands out stylistically, taking a noticeably different path to its end. While certain linguistic tics take some getting used to (there are a couple of sentence structures that drove me crazy until midway through), A Clue for the Puzzle Lady is the first novel in the genre that had me wishing I could dive immediately into the rest of the series. Although an appreciation for crossword puzzles isn’t necessary for thorough enjoyment, puzzle devotees will find an extra layer of involvement, a kind of challenge within the whodunit challenge that’s extra-engaging. And a lot fun. Highly recommended for mystery lovers.
4 of 5 stars (I really liked it).