Thursday, February 21, 2013

Book Review: Arsenic and Old Puzzles by Parnell Hall (Puzzle Lady Mysteries #14)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Witty dialogue, well plotted mystery
Cons: Cora’s actions part way through turned me off
The Bottom Line:
Usual cast, fun
Spoiled by one thing Cora does
Not the best entry

Cora’s Actions Left a Bad Taste in My Mouth

By the time you hit number 14 in a series, you’re bound to hint a clunker or two.  Unfortunately, that holds true for the Puzzle Lady mysteries.  Arsenic and Old Puzzles isn’t one I’ll be rushing back to reread.

The series centers on Cora Felton, who has gained fame as The Puzzle Lady.  The truth is, her niece writes the crossword puzzle column Cora is famous for because Cora can’t even solve the things.  But it seems their small town of Bakerhaven, Connecticut is constantly having murders, and puzzles of all kinds show up on the corpses.  That gives Cora a chance to get involved in the investigations, something she loves and is good at doing. 

A quiet evening at home with her niece, nephew-in-law, and great-niece is interrupted when Chief Harper calls to let Cora know about the latest murder.  It seems that an older gentleman has died at the home of two spinsters who run a bed and breakfast out of their home.  Because no murder in Bakerhaven could happen without a puzzle, the man has a sudoku in his pocket.  And it isn’t long before a crossword puzzle shows up at the scene of the crime as well.  They appear to mean nothing.  Could they be clues?  Or is something trying to confuse Cora?

The mysteries in these books can be hit or miss.  Cora often stumbles around almost blindly until she suddenly figures things out.  This one was actually a stronger entry in the series.  I did figure out the killer a little before Cora, although there was still a twist or two in there I missed.  Everything did make sense when Cora did her big denouncement late in the book.

Another highlight of the book is the witty word play and semantics that Cora engaged in with the usual stable of characters.  All the usual supporting players are here, and we get the usual verbal battles.  I did find some of them amusing, but at times I found them annoying.  They didn’t have the spark of the better entries in the series.

What really bothered me was something that Cora did part way through the book.  And then she continued to do it as the story progressed.  Now, keep in mind it is completely within her character, which is not the nice, cuddly image she tries to project as The Puzzle Lady.  Still, it really did bother me.  That’s my biggest complaint with the book.

The rest of the cast is fine.  It’s hard to call anyone super developed, but we do know them well enough that I always enjoy checking in with them.  It might make it hard for new comers to the series to connect, however.

It might just be me, but Cora’s actions make Arsenic and Old Puzzles less than the winner I was hoping for.  I’ll continue on with the next book, hoping for something different with that particular plot point.

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

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