Last Puzzle and Testament (2000) by Parnell Hall

This title has been sitting on my TBR pile since Christmas, so I’m glad I got around to this one. This is the second book in the Puzzle Lady series; my thoughts for the first one can be found here.

I’m surprise that more vintage crime fans haven’t tried these books yet, as for those who love a complex puzzle, this series would seem like an ideal option. Perhaps the “cosy” element of the books has put people off, but you would be wrong in thinking you only need to give this book only half of your attention. Believe me you need every little grey cell you possess, to fathom this mystery out!

Before the book even commences, Emma Hurley has died. Yet as a consequence a lot of unusual and deadly things are going to happen… A week later a drunk and incompetent burglar is found in her bed and the day before Emma’s will is read, he is found dead in a drainage ditch. All the unpleasant heirs have descended on the town and they are all desperate to be the recipient of Emma’s money. Yet, Emma left no ordinary will… After a few bequests she sets her relatives a challenge, a puzzle in fact and it just so happens that she names Cora Felton, a.k.a. the Puzzle Lady, as referee and judge. This is a role which has a $50,000 gift attached to it, the only problem is that Cora needs to solve the puzzle before the contestants. Regular readers of the series will know why this is problematic, but for those who don’t, it just so happens that Cora is only the face of the Puzzle Lady, it is actually her niece, Sherry Carter, who makes the crossword puzzles up, which Cora is so famous for. Whilst trying to keep this a secret, Cora and Sherry also have more than one death to unravel, as it seems that Emma’s treasure hunt has brought out someone’s murdering tendencies…

Overall Thoughts

Going against the stereotypes and assumptions levelled at cosy mysteries, I would say Hall’s book is very well plotted. An interesting challenge is posed to the heirs, which the readers are allowed to get involved in. Crossword fans are going to have a field day with this book! Yet I would also say the book structurally has quite a pleasing GAD sting in its tail and Hall is adept at obfuscating the final solution with some good smokescreens. Cora Felton is a brilliant lead character and I would say she is an entertaining contrast to the catalogue of prim, polite and correct Miss Marple like sleuths. Her fallibility as a sleuth, who has to hide her incompetence in solving crossword clues, is also a delightful part of the plot and series. There is a romance subplot involving Sherry, yet I find the author has sensibly not let it monopolise the narrative and instead often adds into the central plot. The book could have been a bit shorter, in my opinion, but I wouldn’t its length put you off. After all, 370 pages is not bad, considering how long some of P. D. James and Elizabeth George’s novels ended up.

Rating: 4/5

Calendar of Crime: July (9) Takes Places in the US or Canada

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