Author: Parnell Hall
Publisher: Bantam, 2000
Mass Market Paperback, 336 pages
Genre: Cozy, Amateur Sleuth, #1 Puzzle Lady mystery
Source: Paperback Swap
First Line: The first clue came with a corpse.
Police Chief Dale Harper finds himself investigating his very first homicide when the body of an unknown girl turns up in the cemetery of the small town of Bakerhaven, Connecticut. A strange clue leads him to consult Bakerhaven's celebrity, Cora Felton-- otherwise known as the Puzzle Lady for her syndicated column of crossword puzzles.
That was Harper's first mistake because Cora's meddling drives him crazy and makes her niece, Sherry, want to rip out her hair. When another body turns up that hits close to home, Cora's got to put her puzzle-solving skills in high gear before she becomes the next victim.
Beware requesting books like this secondhand. If you're not lucky (like I wasn't), you'll get a copy of the book in which a previous owner has already worked the crossword puzzle... in ink. With that precautionary tale out of the way, let's get to the book.
While I didn't find myself solving the mystery and had to wait for the author to do it for me (a definite plus), there were things that bothered me about this first book in the series.
The fact that Police Chief Dale Harper kept returning to Cora and her niece for help was one of them. I could see it if they were giving him substantive help, but they weren't. This gave me the impression that Harper was, indeed, out of his depth.
The character of Cora Felton herself pushed one of my hot buttons. (I don't have many, so it can be dire if one of them is activated.) Her meddling was amusing, and it was fun to see her tie her niece, Sherry, in knots. I also liked Cora the cardsharp always trying to get a game of cards going, but... the woman is a person who drinks to excess then gets behind the wheel of a car and drives (weaves) her way home. That is my hot button, which has something to do with my having had an alcoholic in the family. That whole drunk thing just isn't funny to me. At. All.
Her niece, Sherry, is trying to take care of her aunt while she's avoiding an abusive ex-husband. Local journalist Aaron Grant takes a shine to the young woman, and their witty banter at first is fun, but it goes on way too long.
A Clue for the Puzzle Lady has a good mystery and very good pacing, but I had a few too many problems with the characters, and not all of those problems were personal. Of course, there is another way of looking at this-- if the characterizations weren't good, then these fictional people wouldn't get under my skin the way they did!