Monday, February 18, 2013

Book Review: The Sudoku Puzzle Murders by Parnell Hall (Puzzle Lady Mysteries #9)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Puzzling mystery with lots of witty humor
Cons: Static characters and sub-plots
The Bottom Line:
Still a fun entry
But too much like the others
Some growth would be nice

By the Numbers Entry

Despite an unlikely heroine, I have come to really enjoy the Puzzle Lady Mysteries.  The main character is Cora Felton.  To the world, she is the smiling grandmotherly face with a daily crossword puzzle for them in their news papers.  The truth of the matter is she's a chain smoking former alcoholic who is a front for her niece Sherry.  Sherry really writes the puzzles, which Cora couldn't solve to save her life.  The duo lives in the small town of Bakerhaven, Connecticut.  And it seems this town has a serious murder problem.  And all the victims seem to show up with a crossword puzzle that may or may not hold a clue to solving the mystery.  The ninth book in the series, The Sudoku Puzzle Murders, adds a new element to the series with Sudoku puzzles, but the formula of the series is becoming old at this point.

Cora has recently discovered a talent for solving Sudoku puzzles.  And when she is asked to create a Sudoku book for a Japanese publisher, she gladly agrees.

Sending Sherry to sign the contracts turns out to create some problems when Sherry signs with the wrong businessman.  Turns out there are rival Japanese publishers in town trying to get Cora under contract.  But things turn deadly when a stranger turns up dead with a crossword puzzle and a Sudoku in his pocket.  Do those puzzles mean anything or are they just red herrings?

This series has always done two things well, and it continues to do them both well here.  The first is creating a truly puzzling mystery.  I never know where things are going to go when I start a book, and there are always plenty of surprises along the way.  While the climax does tie things up, we often don't get all the clues we need to solve the crime.  Not my favorite read, but I can usually live with that.  This book fits the mold.  I really didn't know who had committed the murder or why until Cora explained it.  I did feel the solution was logical.  But I can't figure out why the setting for the climax was chosen.  It made no logical choice.  Dramatically, it was fun, but that was about it.

The other thing it does well is witty word play.  I know I will get several laughs out of the book, and this one was no exception.  There was even a scene where Cora and Chief of Police Harper discussed how no one can die in town with a crossword puzzle being found nearby.  When I wasn't laughing, I was grinning at the antics.

Thanks to the fast paced writing and short chapters, these books are always fast reads.

However, the flaws in the series are very pronounced in this book.  The series has a ton of main characters who have a rather complicated history.  Yet almost no time is spent introducing them or their back story.  If I jumped in here, I would be lost.  And the back story is also relied on for much of the character development for the main characters.  Based on this book alone, I'd say the characters were rather flat.  Even worse, the characters introduced for this plot are flat.

Really, my biggest complaint is the on-going story line involving niece Sherry.  Her ex-husband keeps popping up in the books, causing all kinds of problems.  However, it is always the same problems.  Honestly, I'm ready for something new out of the characters.  Yes, most of the mysteries I read have a certain formula to them, but these are becoming so by the book it is ridiculous.  Frankly, I'm ready for Dennis to be the murder victim so we can close this chapter in the character's lives.

Despite that rant, I do still enjoy the series enough to continue.  I recommend The Sudoku Puzzle Murders for fans of the series.  If you aren't familiar with the characters, find an earlier book so you will truly understand what is happening here.

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

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