Monday, February 18, 2013

Book Review: Dead Man's Puzzle by Parnell Hall (Puzzle Lady Mysteries #10)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great laughs and fresh plot
Cons: Characters could grow and be more fully developed
The Bottom Line: Sherry is absent
Breaking up the stale sub-plots
Strong main plot, humor

Dead Man's Puzzle is a Breath of Fresh Air for the Series

By the time a series has reached the tenth book in the series, it's often obvious to the fans if the author is running out of steam.  Granted, if I've made it that far, I usually love the characters enough that I don't care.  I was beginning to feel that the Puzzle Lady series had fallen into a rut.  But I am glad to say that Dead Man's Puzzle manages to make things seem fresh again.

Loyal readers are now very familiar with the set up.  Cora Felton is the public face of the Puzzle Lady column that appears daily in newspapers.  The thing is, it is actually written by her niece Sherry.  Cora can't write or solve a crossword to save her life.  Which is too bad since their small town in Connecticut seems to have an abundance of murders with puzzles as clues.  Cora does enjoy a good murder, however, and is more than willing to jump in and help the police solve them.

This book finds Sherry out of town on her honeymoon, so Cora is hoping for a quiet two weeks.  Unfortunately for her, the town hermit died in his rather run down shack.  Chief Harper is more than ready to call it natural causes except for one thing, the crossword puzzle found at the scene.  While Cora does some fast tap dancing to get the puzzle solved for the chief, the cause of death is determined to be murder.  Can Cora solve it without finding any more puzzles?

As any long running series tends to do, we've established quite a large stable of characters by this point in the series.  Frankly, that was one of the problems I was having with the previous two books.  The character sub-plots were just being cut and pasted from one book to the next.  With Sherry out of town and married, I felt like things had definitely changed.  Granted, her stalker ex-husband was still around, but even he felt different again.

Granted, this doesn't mean these are real people.  As I am reading about them, they feel real after all these books, but when I stop and think about it, they aren't much beyond two dimensional if that.  They serve their purpose to entertain us, so that's all that really matters.

The plot of this book was great.  I felt like I had enough information to solve this along with Cora, which doesn't always happen.  I will admit the puzzles felt a bit forced into things and a very elaborate way to get us to the solution, but that has always been the premise of the series, so I just ignored it.

Speaking of the puzzles, there are three new crossword puzzles and one new Sudoku here.  Personally, I never stop to solve them, just wait for the solution to appear to see how relevant it is to the plot, but all the clues are there if you wanted to solve them.

I keep coming back to these books for the humor.  The characters engage in fast paced banter and word play that I absolutely love.  Frankly, the fast pace and the quickly moving plot are more than enough to cover for characters that are flat at times.

Dead Man's Puzzle has given me hope that this series still has some good stories left to tell us.  Hopefully, it is a sign of great things to come for fans of the Puzzle Lady.

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

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