Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Hall, best known for his Edgar-nominated Stanley Hastings series, begins a new series with a heroine who provides an interesting variation on the older woman sleuth. Imagine Miss Marple as a promiscuous lush, and you have Cora Felton, known to crossword puzzle buffs around the country as "The Puzzle Lady." Cora and her niece, Sherry Carter, have moved to the small town of Bakerhaven, Conn., hoping to protect Sherry from an abusive ex-husband. The body of a young girl is discovered in the Bakerhaven Cemetery, and Police Chief Dale Harper investigates, though he wishes the body had been found in someone else's jurisdiction. An enigmatic clue in the victim's pockets takes Chief Harper in search of assistance, and he gets more than he needs from Cora, who's determined to help solve the puzzle. A second murder complicates the case, and overly zealous cub reporter Aaron Grant spills the news to the public about the cryptic clues. In addition to his trademark zippy, witty dialogue, Hall provides a dandy puzzle, congenial secondary characters, plenty of laughs and a true original in Cora Felton, the Puzzle Lady. (Nov.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Dale Harper's first homicide investigation as police chief of Bakerhaven involves the body of a teenaged girl found in the cemetery. When he consults Cora, the eccentric puzzle expert, she, too, winds up sleuthing. A promising series debut, complete with crossword puzzle. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 8/99.] Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Cora Felton does like her nip of gin after lunch, or even before lunch, but her neighbors in bucolic Bakerhaven, Conn., are all proud of her reputation as the Puzzle Lady, whose photo accompanies the crosswords syndicated throughout the land. When an unknown girl's corpse is found in Bakerhaven Cemetery, Cora has a chance to put her expertise to work on a real-life clue: a scrap of paper with the tantalizing notation "4) D LINE (5)" found in the stranger's pocket. And here comes the first of many gentle surprises: Cora's niece, Sherry Carter, and police chief Dale Harper, who brings her the puzzling paper, find that she'd much rather analyze more concrete physical evidencewhy wasn't the dead girl wearing shoes or socks?than solve the cruciverbal clues that keep arriving in the mail, or on further corpses. Equally surprisingly, Cora's ideas about publicity create a running battle with the cop who's counting on her for help. Hall, in a striking departure from his Stanley Hastings series (Suspense, 1998, etc.), provides a suitably pastel background for the tale, but the real lure here is the mystery, whose ingenuity takes quite unexpected forms en route to the final unmasking. Heaven for crossword fans, who'll rejoice over the solve-as-you-go puzzle that eventually reveals the killer for readers whose pens are mightier than their reading glasses.
From the Publisher
"Heaven for crossword puzzle fans!"—Kirkus Reviews
Some puzzles are real killers...."devious and delightful!"—Chicago Sun-Times
"Complex and satisfying...A fun series for mystery fans and cruciverbalists!"—USA Today
"In addition to his trademark zippy, witty dialogue, Hall provides a dandy puzzle, congenial secondary characters, plenty of laughs, and a true original in Cora Felton, the Puzzle Lady."—Publishers Weekly
"A Clue for the Puzzle Lady is fresh, funny, and ingeniously devised. It kept me guessing right down to the end-just like a good crossword!"—Will Shortz, crossword editor, The New York Times
Read an Excerpt
The first clue came with a corpse.
The body lay next to a gravestone in the Bakerhaven Cemetery.
Police Chief Dale Harper stood in the pouring rain and looked down at it with displeasure. What was a corpse doing in the cemetery? Chief Harper was not unaware of the humor in the question. A body in the cemetery--the press would have a field day. Chief Harper frowned and wiped the water off his face.
The body was that of a young girl in her late teens or early twenties. She was lying facedown with her head twisted to the side. Her left eye was open. Chief Harper wished he could close it. It was eight in the morning, he had barely had his coffee, and the sight of her made him queasy. What in the world was she doing there?
And why was she in the cemetery? If she'd only been on the other side of the fence, not a hundred yards away, she'd have been in the township of Clarksonville, and he wouldn't have gotten the call that dragged him away from the breakfast table before his toast had even popped, on a rainy Monday morning the last day in May.
But, no, this corpse fell under his jurisdiction. The good citizens of Bakerhaven would expect him, as chief of police, to do something about it. It was up to him to find out who killed her and why. At the moment, he didn't even know who she was.
"Never seen her before," the caretaker said.
It was the fourth or fifth time he'd said so. A shriveled little man with a somewhat belligerent nature, Fred Lloyd had found the body when he'd arrived for work this morning. He'd driven in the gate, and his headlights had picked up the girl's silhouette. He'd called the police station, the cop on duty had called the chief, and now Lloyd and Harper were standing together in the cemetery in a drenching rain.
"So you said." Chief Harper knew he should interview Mr. Lloyd, but at the moment he couldn't think of a thing to ask him. The guy had found the body, he'd never seen the girl before, and what else was there?
Chief Harper wasn't entirely up on procedure because murders just didn't happen in Bakerhaven, Connecticut. Waterbury or Danbury, sure, those were big cities, they had their share of crime. Bakerhaven was one of those small, quiet, respectable towns where nothing much happened. There had not been a murder in Bakerhaven in the year and a half that Dale Harper had been chief. So he was not entirely sure what to do.
One thing he knew was he couldn't touch the body until the medical examiner got there. The ambulance he'd called for had arrived, and the paramedics had confirmed what he already knew, that the girl was dead. But they couldn't take her away until the medical examiner saw her, and Barney Nathan, the notorious stick-in-the-mud who served that function, was undoubtedly taking his own sweet time finishing up his breakfast before venturing out on a morning like this to stand in the cemetery in the rain. The paramedics had gone back to the shelter of their ambulance. Chief Harper hunched his orange slicker up over his neck, wished he were somewhere else.
The phone bleeped.
Chief Harper reached under his slicker, fished out the cellular phone, flipped it open, said, "Hello?"
Chief Harper sighed. His wife. "Yes, dear."
"You ran out on breakfast. Is everything all right?"
"I can't talk now. I'm out in the rain."
"Clara's upset. She doesn't want to go to school."
"I can't deal with that now."
"What shall I tell her?"
"Tell her to go to school."
"Ellen. I'm in the cemetery. A young girl is dead."
"Oh, my God. Who?"
"It's no one we know. I can't talk now. Tell Clara if she doesn't go to school she'll miss all the gossip. The phone's getting wet. I gotta go."
A car drove through the cemetery gate, stopped behind the police car. An umbrella popped out from the driver's door, mushroomed open. The trim figure of Barney Nathan emerged. Despite the early hour and the rain, Dr. Nathan was nattily dressed in a blue suit, white shirt, and red bow tie. He would have looked more in place on the dais of a medical convention than at the scene of a homicide.
If this was a homicide.
Dr. Nathan stepped carefully through the streams of water up to the two men. "What do we have here?"
"You tell me," Chief Harper said.
"You mean you haven't touched it yet?"
"Just to make sure she's dead. Aside from that, we've all been waiting for you."
If Dr. Nathan took that as a pointed remark, he didn't acknowledge it. He went over to the grave, bent down beside the body. Examined it with one hand, while holding the umbrella with the other. After a few moments he straightened up.
"Okay. Let's get her out of here."
"So what do you think?"
Dr. Nathan's smile was superior. "Much too soon to tell. I'll have to do a postmortem."
"Any idea when she died?"
"That's what I'll be trying to determine. Okay, that's all I need here. They can take her away."
"In other words, I can touch the body," Chief Harper said.
"With all due care. I still have to determine the cause of death."
"Yes, of course. I'd also like to know who she is."
Chief Harper rolled the body over.
The girl was wearing a cotton pullover and blue jeans. No shoes or socks. Harper felt in the hip pockets, looking for an ID, but they were empty. The right front pocket had some cash. Eight dollars in bills and some change. He put it back.
The left front pocket appeared empty, but proved to contain a folded piece of paper. Chief Harper slid it out in his cupped hand, and looked up to see Barney Nathan standing there watching him.
Which irritated him. Granted, Chief Harper had never liked the man, but it was more than that. Chief Harper had waited for the doctor, held everyone off, shown him the proper respect for his office. In return, Dr. Nathan had not given him the time of day, and was now looking over his shoulder, poking his nose into police business, as if insinuating he didn't trust him to do his job.
This particularly grated since Chief Harper wasn't all that confident about doing his job in the first place.
Which is why, instead of opening the paper, Chief Harper palmed it and casually slid it into his pants pocket as he straightened up.
"Okay, you can take her," he said.
"You find anything?" Dr. Nathan said.
"She's got no ID on her."
"That should make it more difficult." Dr. Nathan gestured to the two medics in the ambulance to bundle up the body.
"Where they taking her? The hospital?"
"No. My office. I have one of the rooms set up for autopsies."
"Uh huh," Chief Harper said. As he watched Barney Nathan walk off, he couldn't help wondering how much the good doctor charged the town for the service.
With the umbrella gone, Chief Harper was getting soaked. He gave way for the paramedics, nodded to the caretaker, and plodded through the mud over to his police cruiser. He hopped in the front seat, started the car, turned the heater up. He snuffled, found a tissue, blew his nose. It occurred to him it would be just his luck to catch a cold.
Dr. Nathan had already driven off. Watching him go, Chief Harper reached in his pocket, and pulled out the piece of paper he'd taken from the pocket of the girl.
He knew it was probably nothing. And he was not entirely sure why he had concealed it from the doctor. With low expectations, he unfolded the paper.
It was an ordinary piece of lined notebook paper.
Chief Harper looked at it and blinked.
On it was written in ballpoint pen:
4) d - line (5).
Chief Harper shook his head. Just his luck. A dead body in the graveyard wasn't enough. He had to get an enigmatic clue.
Chief Harper sighed, wondered what it meant.
From the Hardcover edition.