"The KenKen Killings" by Parnell Hall
Minotaur/Thomas Dunne, 326 pp., $24.99
Reviewed by David Marshall James
Some three years ago, a pleasant, past-ready-to-retire librarian inquired: "Do you Sudoku?"
To which I responded: "Yes, but I don't call it that."
Now, a reply lies in wait should anyone ask, "Do you KenKen?" That is, "Yes, but that commute to the Moulin Rouge is a killer."
Truth be told, I had no idea what a KenKen was until looking into Parnell Hall's twelfth Puzzle Lady mystery.
The Puzzle Lady is the much-married (thank goodness she's given the boot to the bottle), currently single, alleged cruciverbalist, and commercial spokesperson Cora Felton of Bakerhaven, Connecticut.
To simplify: She is a widely syndicated crossword-puzzle constructor.
Except: She really isn't. Cora just takes all the credit for the hard work generated by her niece, Sherry, with whom she resides, along with Sherry's newspaper-reporter husband, Aaron.
Not that Cora planned things that way, with the crosswords. It all began as a ruse in order to protect Sherry from a dangerous first husband, then the whole thing got out of hand, and thus it remains. Sherry is the wind beneath Cora's wings of glory.
Indeed, Cora cannot solve a crossword to save her life, but she is adept at number puzzles, such as Sudoku and KenKen, which is similar to Sudoku, yet includes simple mathematical functions that guide the placement of numbers in the grid.
Cora can also solve crimes, particularly when KenKen's are left as clues. In this mystery, crosswords are also left as clues, but Cora discreetly passes those along to niece Sherry.
Parnell Hall, a master of wordplay and banter, concocts a nifty new conundrum for Cora in this novel: She's hauled into court by an ex-husband, Melvin Crabtree, who's determined to cut off her alimony.
When the witnesses whom Melvin's attorney has lined up against Cora begin dropping like blackbirds in Beebe, Arkansas, Cora lands in a pickle and a jam.
The whole blooming mess is compounded by her continuing feelings-- and stirrings-- for the scuzzy Melvin.
Enough said, across and down. Puzzle enthusiasts will dig into the KenKen's and crosswords that are left as clues for Cora, and mystery enthusiasts will be pleasantly engaged by this particularly good entry in the Puzzle Lady series.
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