A murder mystery by way of crossword clues. This is an intriguing introduction to Parnell Hall’s ‘Puzzle Lady’ novels.
Puzzles and murder mysteries are natural companions. They both have clues, they both have solutions and in both cases, you eliminate the wrong answers to solve the puzzle. Given that, it’s very satisfying to discover authors who combine the two, including Parnell Hall who has written 20 novels in the ‘Puzzle Lady’ series, starting with A Clue for the Puzzle Lady.
After all, she realized, it was basically a logic problem. You asked questions, and you looked for discrepancies, contradictions, and omissions, then you boiled them down and asked more questions. A Clue for the Puzzle Lady, Parnell Hall
At the heart of A Clue for the Puzzle Lady is a solidly satisfying mystery, with a motive for murder worthy of Agatha Christie. (It is, in fact, one Agatha Christie used herself; she’s the ‘queen of crime’ for a reason and Parnell Hall mixes in new elements that keep the story exciting and fresh.) There’s a slight dearth of plausible suspects in the first half of the book, while Parnell Hall is establishing his series-long protagonists, but he addresses that by honing in on shadier characters as the book goes on.
In addition to the ‘whodunnit’, A Clue for the Puzzle Lady packs in a lot of what is popular in publishing at the moment: the small town of Bakerhaven, a budding romance and even some ‘cosy mystery’ vibes. Multiple characters are facing obstacles beyond trying to solve the murder, and not all of these threads get wrapped up at the end, leaving room for the next novel to build on what Parnell Hall establishes here.
‘You just got through saying you’re not going to print it. So why do you need to know at all? Just to satisfy your own curiosity?’ ‘Absolutely.’ Sherry looked at him in disgust. ‘You can’t admit that. That’s selfish and unheroic.’ ‘So what? You don’t like me anyway.’ A Clue for the Puzzle Lady, Parnell Hall
What was most intriguing about A Clue for the Puzzle Lady was, of course, the crossword elements. Not only is Cora Felton nationally syndicated as a crossword compiler, but her niece Sherry is also a crossword editor! You don’t get a lot of those in media (and their complete absence from All About Steve is the biggest thing wrong with it, in my professional opinion). The crossword clues sent alongside the murders are fairly easy — ‘Yes vote (3)’ should be recognisable to anyone who routinely solves arrowwords — but Parnell Hall does something quite clever with them, which it would be a spoiler to explain here!
There’s also a crossword given at the front of the book, though the clues from the murder aren’t clues to that crossword. Nonetheless, you have to have been paying quite close attention to A Clue for the Puzzle Lady to solve it, which is what you’d hope for if the author is going to go to the trouble of including it.
From a professional perspective, A Clue for the Puzzle Lady passes muster and from a pure reading enjoyment perspective it’s well worth sitting down with for an afternoon or two.