Saturday, September 1, 2018

Parnell Hall, The Purloined Puzzle

Parnell Hall, The Purloined Puzzle
Minotaur/St. Martin’s Press 2018
© 2018 Parnell Hall
ISBN 978-1-250-15520-7

Parnell Hall is the author of three series of mystery novels—the Steve Winslow (a lawyer who might remind you of a younger, hipper Perry Mason) books (of which there are 6, the last published in 1993), the Stanley Hastings (a PI for a personal injury lawyer) novels (20; most recently in 2015) and the Puzzle Lady books (19, including the book that is the subject of today’s review).  45 books between 1987 and 2018—the man has been busy.  The Puzzle Lady books apparently sell better than the other two series (which is too bad for me—I like the Winslow books best), and the current PL book—The Purloined Puzzle—is, in my opinion one of the best in the series.

Cora Felton, a/k/a the Puzzle Lady, is the public face a wildly popular syndicated crossword puzzle and sudoko puzzle books, and of the cereals produced by the Granville Grains.  But there is a skeleton (so to speak) in her closet and an unscrupulous ex-husband (Melvin) in town, with a couple of scams on his mind.  And, of course, murder in the small Connecticut town of Bakerhaven (which is every bit as lethal a small town as Cabot Cove).

Peggy Dawson (16 years old) finds a crossword puzzle slipped under the door of her bedroom.  She’s sure it means something important and heads for Cora to solve the puzzle for her.  But (and here’s the skeleton in the closet—but not a spoiler), Cora can neither construct nor solve crossword puzzles (her niece Sherry does all that).  The Bakerhaven police chief sends one of his people, and Cora, to Peggy’s home, whereupon they find the puzzle missing.  But they do find a bloody knife in her brother Johnny’s bedroom.

And sure enough, a corpse turns up.  Stabbed.  And then another bloody knife, apparently belonging to the ex-husband (Melvin) and apparently the murder weapon.  So Melvin is off to the clink and Cora (reluctantly) tries to help local lawyer Becky clear him (in the hope that he will then leave town).

More puzzles show up (crosswords and a sudoku; all are helpfully included in the book, and the crosswords are really pretty simple), but are they real clues, red herrings, or coincidences?  Only time, and eventually Cora, can tell.

The events surrounding the murder are really nicely convoluted, and the repartee between Cora and the other regulars, and between Cora and Melvin, is amusing and often more.  Although this is the most recent in a long-running series, it stands on its own as an effective, quick-moving mystery.  The supporting cast is strong, and even Melvin has his points (including, it seems, appearing in the next entry in the series--Lights! Camera! Puzzles!—which is scheduled for release in April.  I’m looking forward to it).

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