|Parnell Hall: A Puzzle in a Pear Tree|
Books (Paperback), ISBN 0553584340
The inimitable Puzzle Lady returns to save the inept police of Bakerhaven the trouble of solving crimes themselves.
Cora Felton couldn't crossword her way out of a paper bag, but she plays the Puzzle Lady on TV. When a threatening missive arrives on the stage of the local Christmas pageant in the form of an acrostic puzzle, Cora must use her wiles to avoid being exposed as a fraud by her failure to solve the puzzle. Fortunately, her linguistically-superior niece covers for her, and fellow thespian Harvey Beerbaum loves to show her up by solving puzzles faster.
When a murder follows the threat, Cora finds herself back in her element. Chief of Police Harper and visiting Scotland Yard detective Doddsworth bumble through the case as Cora sneaks around and uncovers vital information. When the police arrest Corašs niece, Sherry, and charge her with the crime, Cora gets serious about the investigation. More acrostic puzzle messages, an accident that looks like attempted murder and another murder raise the stakes even further.
The puzzles left by the killer appear in the book. Their solutions appear several pages later, giving the reader the option of solving the puzzles or waiting for the characters to do so. Most readers will find the puzzles challenging enough to entertain them, but not too frustrating. As an acrostic novice, I completed each one in about 45 minutes.
The caustic Cora pulls no punches, using her considerable wit and long life experience to run investigative circles around her younger but duller neighbors. Niece Sherry lives with Cora and bears the brunt of her attitude. Other players include the pageant's leading lady (Sherry's arch-rival), presumed to be the target of the murder attempts, Inspector Doddsworth's teenaged daughter (the best friend of the deceased), and pageant director Rupert Winston, who makes Cora miserable over her pathetic performance of her one measly line. As male mystery authors go, Parnell Hall does a surprisingly good job of making his female characters sympathetic and real. The men don't fare as well, ranging from imperious and fatuous to plodding and dim.
The puzzle gimmick sets this series apart from the crowded mystery shelves. Given the probable overlap between avid mystery fans and word-puzzle aficionados, the device seems likely to attract attention. A Puzzle in a Pear Tree contains enough plot twists and surprises to make the story fun all by itself. All in all, terrific airplane material. Bring a pencil.
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