Monday, February 18, 2013

Book Review: Puzzled to Death by Parnell Hall (Puzzle Lady Mysteries #3)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Truly puzzling mystery
Cons: Ending a bit underdeveloped
The Bottom Line:
The ending is rushed
But the puzzle is still fun
Both plot and crossword

Weak Ending to This Puzzle

Puzzled to Death is the third book in the Puzzle Lady mystery series. Main characters Cora Felton and Sherry Carter have a secret. While the world thinks Cora writes the "Puzzle Lady" crossword puzzle newspaper column, it is really written by her niece Sherry. They've recently moved to the small town of Bakerhaven, Connecticut. Despite the small town, they seem to regularly find themselves involved in crossword murders.

Cora has been tricked. Crossword puzzle creator Harvey Beerbaum has decided the two of them should host a charity crossword puzzle tournament. Naturally, this isn't something Cora and Sherry would choose to do since it might reveal their secret. Unfortunately, they can't think of a way out of it, so Cora must be very careful to not slip up and reveal the truth during the weekend.

The week of the tournament, a woman in town is murdered. The police are convinced her husband did it in a drunken rage until they discover his perfect alibi. Cora, however, isn't so sure his alibi is airtight and begins to poke around herself.

The first night of the tournament, another murder takes place. Is there a serial killer in town? How does it tie into the tournament? Will Cora keep her secret?

I must admit, I had my doubts at first. When the first murder took place, I didn't see how the tournament could possibly be involved. I thought it might turn out to be a sub-plot. But the further I read, the more important it became to the events of the story.

As with the first two books in the series, this one had a puzzling mystery. While the solution made perfect sense and I felt stupid for not considering it myself, Cora made quite a leap to reach the conclusion with only a shaky clue to lead the way. The story would have been stronger with more evidence to back up the solution.

Weaving through the book is the on-going storyline of Sherry's relationship with newspaper reporter Aaron Grant. I enjoy the characters, but feel that their relationship is a bit too high school. I'd like to think that grown adults would behave different then this. Still, I do get caught up in their struggles.

Several crossword puzzles are presented. I'm not a fan myself, but those who are will enjoy trying to solve them along the way.

The author doesn't spend too much time reintroducing the reader to his characters. While I didn't mind, this will leave those who haven't read the first two books rather confused.

The more the series progresses, the more Cora is taking center stage. While I wouldn't mind seeing more of some of the other characters, Cora is becoming a fun character to hang around. While she still drinks and smokes, it is toned down even more then the last book. Her stubborn attitude serves her well in the investigation, yet she is just soft enough to get what she needs from her suspects. Sherry does get her share of scenes and clues, helping tell the story when Cora can't be present for some reason. The other series regulars are better developed then the new characters, who seem a little two dimensional.

One of the things that make this series stand out is the word play. I wish there were more of it, in fact. Several times, I found myself laughing out loud at the quick wit of the characters. The dialog is snappy, often only a sentence or two, but it keeps the story moving along at a brisk pace.

While the first two books in the series were stronger, Puzzled to Death is still a tale sure to entertain Puzzle Lady fans.

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

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