A review of the first book in a series by Parnell Hall.
I admit to being a long fan of Parnell Hall's detective Stanley Hastings. Hastings is likable, a family man, trying to earn a living as a Detective. Hall's new "heroine" is Cora Felton. Cora drinks too much, smokes too much, and has been married more than once. She photograph's well though, and so readers across the nation adore her as the Puzzle Lady.
A Clue For the Puzzle Lady opens in a small town where Cora and her niece have settled. When the body of a young woman is found in a cemetery she appears to have a crossword puzzle clue Cora is called in as an expert. Both Cora and her niece, Sherry, follow clues in hopes of finding the murderer.
Their steps are dogged by a local reporter looking for the big scoop, and perhaps dinner with Sherry. As they go off on their separate paths to solve the crime the police chief is left to keep the peace. Chief Harper is no bumbling, Barney Fife. He is a good and decent man trying to do a difficult job with the politicians interfering whenever possible.
The book opens with a crossword puzzle that can only be solved after reading the book. While Parnell Hall does employ some standard mystery gimmicks they are utilized with a wink and a nudge. One major twist will be unraveled by most readers, but Parnell explains the twist with logic and humor. This explains why readers enjoy Hall's books and will search through old bookstores for them, or have the local chain store order fresh installment in one of his series. (Hall also writes under the name J.P. Hailey.)
His characters are real people with real faults. They are not experts on the dining habits of left handed army ants. They are not incredibly wealthy. While his characters are clever they are not superhuman. This allows the reader to care what happens to them.
Librarians Take Note!
There is a scene that takes place in a library. The description of the librarian is a cliché. I had a brief email conversation with Mr. Hall over this scene and description. He recognized that it was in fact out of step with the profession and intended to be more conscious of this in the future. Bravo Mr. Hall!
If you like your mysteries with a touch of humor and quirky characters you will find this a very satisfying read. It's perfect for a trip to the pool or the beach. The second installment in the series is Last Puzzle & Testament. The third book, Puzzled to Death is also available.