Monday, February 18, 2013

Book Review: The KenKen Killings by Parnell Hall (Puzzle Lady Mysteries #12)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fast paced with witty banter
Cons: Shallow characters; one plot point never resolved
The Bottom Line:
Witty as always
Though the plot could be better
Fun for series fans

Cora's Least Favorite Ex-Husband Comes to Town to Cause Trouble

For someone who does very few puzzles, I sure am addicted to the Puzzle Lady mysteries.  This series focuses on Cora Felton, the public face of her niece Sherry's cross word puzzle column.  The KenKen Killings is number twelve in the series and even introduces a new type of puzzle.

I was actually unfamiliar with KenKen's until I started reading this book.  Bascially, they are a grid of numbers where no number is repeated in a row or column.  The clues that help you figure out which numbers go where involve basic math like addition or subtraction.  It's actually a little easier than it first sounds (not that I've tried one fully myself yet).  Of course, the fact that anyone would leave puzzles behind on bodies is laughable, but it is the hook of this series, so I just go with it and have fun.  (The book even mocks it at one point.)

 Cora has been slapped with the last thing she expected to ever be hit with, a lawsuit from her ex-husband Melvin claiming that she no longer deserves alimony because she's gotten remarried.  While Cora's had a close call, she hasn't actually tied the knot since she divorced Melvin.  All this misunderstanding might come from a check she cashed, but she's still not accepting any of the blame.

As the trial gets underway, the first witness turns up murdered in his house with a KenKen puzzle on him.  The evidence seems to point to Melvin.  Cora may hate Melvin's guts for how he treated her, but she knows he isn't a killer.  Can she figure out who really did it before Melvin gets arrested?

Since I'm not a huge fan of puzzles, what keeps me coming back is the verbal sparring all the characters engage in.  While I wouldn't actually want to participate in one of these conversations, I enjoy reading them and often laugh at the way they twist things around.  It's fun for anyone who loves verbal gymnastics.

The plots are usually pretty good as well.  Often, Cora pulls the solution out of thin air, and there's a bit of that here.  The solution still makes perfect sense, however, and I feel like I should have seen it coming.  Unfortunately, one plot element is never resolved.  Oh, we know what is going on and I'm sure the solution was reached by everyone involved, but I really wanted to see the people involved in that one get what was coming to them.

Because of the banter and the fast moving plot, the characters don't get time to fully develop.  Over the course of 12 books, I feel like I know them, but very little new is added to them from book to book.  I do like them, so it's always nice to spend time with them, and all the characters are developed enough to actually care when someone dies and worry about the outcome.

I am glad to report that Sherry's abusive ex-husband Dennis is no where to be found in this book.  He's been an interesting plot complication in some of the books, but he's worn out his welcome by now.  If he ever does come back, I hope it's only to kill him off once and for all.

Between the fast paced dialog and the short chapters, these books are always fast reads.  I blazed through this book in just a few days.  I enjoyed every minute of it, however.

Fans of the series will be entertained by the latest book in the series.  And those looking for light mysteries will enjoy it as well.  There's nothing serious out the book, but then again, what did you expect from something entitled The KenKen Killings?

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

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