Monday, February 18, 2013

Book Review: A Puzzle in a Pear Tree by Parnell Hall (Puzzle Lady Mysteries #4)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Humor, characters, plot
Cons: None worth noting
The Bottom Line:
A Christmas puzzle
Twelve days and Nativities
Who is the killer?

Christmas, Puzzles, and Pageants

The town of Bakerhaven, Connecticut, is developing quite a problem. A Puzzle in a Pear Tree is their fourth murder since "Puzzle Lady" Cora Felton and her niece Sherry Carter moved to town. Even stranger, all of them deal with puzzles of some sort. This pleases Cora since she loves to poke around in mysteries. And, since Cora can't really solve a puzzle, as long as Sherry is nearby to solve them, everything is just fine.

As this book opens, Christmas is approaching, and the village is going all out. Cora has been trapped into participating in the "Twelve Days of Christmas" pageant as the lead maid a milking. That means she gets to spend more time they she cares to at rehearsals being berated by director Rupert Winston.

Things get interesting when a puzzle turns up in the pear tree prop. The enclosed acrostic threatens the leading lady, who happens to be Becky Baldwin. Cora's niece Sherry certainly would like to hurt Becky, but neither one of them did it. A second note only ups the stakes.

Another town tradition is the living nativity. Usually populated by high schoolers, this year Becky and Sherry are helping out, playing the Virgin Mary. When Sherry arrives for her shift, she finds the Mary she is replacing dead. Was this the target of the notes or is something else going to happen?

I fairly flew through this book, which is a shame because I absolutely loved it. The plot was wonderful with plenty of twists and red herrings until the very end. The end was a tad more confusing then it needed to be, but it worked and was much stronger then the end of the last book in the series.

This book marks a definite change for Cora's character. In the early books, she is drinking most of the time and smoking when she isn't drinking. Here, Cora has given up most of her drinking and smoking, a development I found to be a welcome relief. Becky and Sherry's relationship takes an unexpected and amusing turn. I'm not ready to like Becky yet, but I think the groundwork is being laid. Chief Harper seems a little weak in most of the book, but his actions do make sense in the end.

There is plenty of banter between the characters in this book, and I think it was the funniest entry in the series since the first. I was laughing the entire way through the events. Between the humor and the sharp writing, I found this book to be a delight to read.

A Puzzle in a Pear Tree is perfect at Christmas or any time of the year.

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

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