"$10,000 in Small, Unmarked Puzzles"
by Parnell Hall
David Marshall James
Ironic that America's "Puzzle Lady" cannot solve a crossword to save her life, but give her a crime and she's a whiz at getting to the bottom of it.
It's not as if Cora Felton of Bakerhaven, Connecticut, has much else to do. Her niece, Sherry Grant, composes all the crossword puzzles for which Cora has won renown.
That harkens back to a time when Sherry was in hiding from her abusive first spouse. Happy to report that she's since remarried (a newspaper reporter) and is "infanticipating," as Walter Winchell used to phrase it.
Actually, the infant's arriving. Not due, mind you, but arriving just the same.
So, Sherry's confined to a hospital for a longer-than-usual while, while Cora's running around, wrapped up in all sorts of mayhem with local attorney Becky Baldwin.
Becky is struggling, her shingle outside an office over a pizza parlor, the aroma of pepperoni wafting into all her business.
There could be much worse smells; besides, Becky is a knockout blonde, something of an asset if one must struggle, in or out of the law.
The hospital staff couldn't be happier that Cora is preoccupied with Becky's Big Mess, as the Puzzle Lady is just one step from acting out a "Shirley MacLaine in 'Terms of Endearment'" scene every time she shows up.
Then, she manages to break into the morgue. But, that's part of Becky's B.M.
Now, that gives a glimpse of this story without surrendering the surprises, which come fast and furious, in one of the best of Parnell Hall's thirteen "Puzzle Lady" mysteries.
As with most of Hall's novels (and he's written two other series), snappy dialogue dominates the proceedings.
Cora, ever concerned about her faux-cruciverbalist secret, effects the persona of Roz Russell in "His Girl Friday," firing off retorts amidst puffs of smoke.
IOW: If she speaks in whirling word circles, she ought to seem more like America's Doyenne of Across and Down.
The action matches Hall's usual bounty of banter, and, if he continues to dial up this series in this manner, he ought to attract more of the Evanovich faithful.
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