Tuesday, December 3

A Clue for the Puzzle Lady by Parnell Hall

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer purchased this novel. The opinions expressed are hers alone and no monetary compensation was offered to her by the author or publisher. Cover art is copyright of Bantam and is used solely as an aide to the review.

When the body of a young woman turns up in a graveyard with what appears to be a crossword puzzle clue, the police look to local Cora Felton – nationally printed Puzzle Lady – for some insight.

However, Cora isn't the sweet old lady she appears to be, more concerned with drinking and smoking, and more interested in solving murders than crosswords.

With Cora stubbornly pursuing the case, it won't be long before she loses her façade…or her life.

'A Clue for the Puzzle Lady' is a book I discovered through Donald Maass' 'Writing the Breakout Novel.' I originally purchased it (and three sub sequential novels) for my mother as it incorporated two of her favourite things: murder mysteries and crossword puzzles. Recently I decided to pick it up and read it for myself, finding it to be a quick and compelling read.

Cora is an unconventional amateur sleuth. She is stubborn and often doesn't listen, especially when she is implored to do something. She is not unlikeable but neither did I find her to be the most sympathetic of protagonists. She definitely has a drinking problem and has a tendency to be reckless. Yet her supportive relationship with her niece, Sherry, is a sentimental and sometimes infuriating dynamic.

Sherry was my favourite character in the novel. She has a hard history but a strong nature. Her wit and intelligence is best shown when she goes head-to-head with reporter, Aaron, and their banter provided some of the best conflict, with an added dose of sexual tension.

Where the mystery is concerned, nothing is straight forward. There was a rather obvious use of a red herring but I was left guessing about the perpetrator and their motive until the very end. There was plenty of tension in the novel, not only where the murder was concerned but in Sherry's fear of her past catching up to her. I also liked that the emotional stakes were raised in the book. What Cora initially sees as a curious puzzle to be solved becomes more personal when the lives of those around her are affected.

'A Clue of the Puzzle Lady' is a humorous and gripping read that will appeal to both lovers of murder mysteries and crossword puzzles. It even includes a puzzle at the beginning of the book for you to fill out as the clues become relevant in the story. I look forward to reading the next installment, 'Last Puzzle & Testament.'

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