Monday, February 18, 2013

Book Review: $10,000 in Small, Unmarked Puzzles by Parnell Hall (Puzzle Lady Mysteries #13)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Humor, characters, mostly good plot
Cons: Usual small issues, Cora's risk at the end
The Bottom Line:
Small issues present
But still holds a fun puzzle
Murder and crossword

Ransomed for Murder

A few years back, I started reading the Puzzle Lady books.  While I didn’t necessarily like the main character right away, I loved the story and the humor.  Since Cora Felton has softened, I have enjoyed them even more.  Now I’ve read the thirteenth in the series, $10,000 in Small, Unmarked Puzzles, and still enjoying them.

The series centers around Cora, the famed Puzzle Lady whose crossword puzzle column appears in newspapers all over the world.  The catch is, she can’t solve or create a crossword puzzle to save her life.  The real puzzle lady is her niece Sherry.  Together, they live in a smallConnecticuttown that seems to have tons of murders.  Even stranger, these dead bodies usually show up with a puzzle attached.

This book finds Cora focused on one things – Sherry has gone into labor early.  But while she paces the halls waiting for the baby to be born, she gets an urgent message from lawyer Becky Baldwin.  Becky has a client who is being blackmailed, and the blackmailer wants Cora to deliver the payment.  The drop location is a dumpster at an abandoned gas station, but when Cora arrives with the money, she discovers it isn’t empty.  Instead is a very dead body with a puzzle on it.  How is this murder connected to the mysterious blackmail?

I long ago gave up expecting perfect logic when the puzzles show up by the corpses.  In fact, the author seems to make a joke of that at least once a book as well.  Considering it’s a convention of the series, the puzzles seem to logically tie into the story yet again.  While I don’t try to solve them, those who enjoy them will find several crossword puzzles and Sudoku’s to solve.  For the rest of us, the solution and the part they play in the story are explained in the book, usually in another chapter or two.

The story starts out quickly and we are soon caught up in a confusing plot.  Here comes a general complaint with the series that is evident here again.  I wish some things would be explained early on in the story.  Instead, we get characters stonewalling each other until Cora puts it all together for a rushed ending.  However, she did use some clues to do that this time instead of some of the leaps she’s made in previous books.  Even so, it left the ending rushed and the overall plot doesn’t quite hold up when you set the book down and start thinking about it.

More disturbing to me was one things Cora did to take down the villain.  It worked out, but I didn’t think the risk was worth it.

The characters have developed over the course of the series, and I enjoy seeing all of them again.  Everyone felt like a real part of the story.  However, without the character history I have, I think the characters would feel flat.  I highly recommend starting at the beginning of the series and working your way here.  Those who already know the characters will enjoy seeing them again.  Any new characters are developed as much as possible for the page time they have.

The book consists of short chapters and lots of rapid fire dialog between characters.  The result is a very fast read that will fly by.  The dialog also has much of the humor, and I laugh at the word play between characters.  That does get a bit old, mainly when the characters are stonewalling each other over the same ground again in this story, but most of the time I enjoy it.

So $10,000 in Small, Unmarked Puzzles turns out to be another fun entry for series fans.  It has the same flaws as earlier books, but they are small so it is still enjoyable overall.

Looking for the rest of the series?  Here's The Puzzle Lady Mysteries in order.

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