With This Puzzle, I Thee Kill (Puzzle Lady Series #5)

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Overview

Crime, cryptograms, and killer conundrums abound for the Puzzle Lady in the fourth installment of the series USA Today raves is "a fun series for mystery fans and cruciverbalists!"

It looks like wedding bells again for the much-married Cora Felton when distinguished widower Raymond Harstein III moves into ...
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Overview

Crime, cryptograms, and killer conundrums abound for the Puzzle Lady in the fourth installment of the series USA Today raves is "a fun series for mystery fans and cruciverbalists!"

It looks like wedding bells again for the much-married Cora Felton when distinguished widower Raymond Harstein III moves into town and makes a play for the Puzzle Lady. That is, it does until the mail brings puzzling cryptograms, which, when deciphered, warn Cora off the match.

Or do they?

As the puzzles keep coming, a killer's game must be played in earnest, and it's up to the Puzzle Lady to solve the riddle—if anyone is going to live to make it to the altar!
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Hall's light touch continues to entertain, although Cora Felton's "secret," which wasn't well-hidden in her debut in A Clue for the Puzzle Lady (1999), is so worn now as to be completely transparent in this fifth adventure. Cora is the "Puzzle Lady" to admirers of her syndicated crosswords, but her niece, Sherry Carter, is the real author of the puzzles. The fiction, begun when Sherry needed to hide her identity from an abusive ex-husband, is constantly being tested in the little town of Bakerhaven, Conn., where they live. Cora's real forte is solving murders, and quiet Bakerhaven has had murders and puzzles aplenty since aunt and niece took up residence there. The usual players assume their accustomed roles here, from clueless police chief Dale Harper to reporter Aaron Grant. Oft-married Cora is being wooed again, this time by Raymond Harstein III, whose past is a bit clouded. Sherry's best friend, Brenda, asks her to be maid of honor-only her groom is Sherry's abusive ex, Dennis Pride. Hall keeps the complications coming fast, as Sherry tries to cope with a proposed double wedding that could prove doubly disastrous. As always, puzzles, this time cryptograms, play an integral part in the mystery. Hall's trademark word play and gift for creating eccentric characters remain as sharp as ever. (Dec. 2) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
"Hall’s trademark word play and gift for creating eccentric characters remain as sharp as ever."
--Publishers Weekly

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786269945
  • Publisher: Gale Group
  • Publication date: 11/2/2004
  • Series: Puzzle Lady Series, #5
  • Edition description: Large Print
  • Pages: 492
  • Product dimensions: 6.26 (w) x 8.74 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Meet the Author

PARNELL HALL is the author of the acclaimed Stanley Hastings mystery novels and the Steve Winslow courtroom dramas, as well as five other Puzzle Lady mysteries. Nominated for the Edgar, the Shamus, and the Lefty Awards, he lives in New York City, where he is working on his next Puzzle Lady mystery, STALKING THE PUZZLE LADY, which Bantam will publish in 2005.
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Read an Excerpt

1

Cora Felton was radiant. Cora always looked good, which was one of the reasons Sherry had chosen Cora's picture to grace the Puzzle Lady column. But tonight, in the presence of Raymond Harstein III, Cora was positively glowing. She blossomed in his notice, she basked in his gaze.

Sherry Carter was amazed. She had met some of Cora's husbands, but always after Cora had married them. This was the first time she'd witnessed a courtship, and it was an eye-opening experience. Cora was totally gaga. Seeing her aunt in love helped Sherry understand how Cora had fallen for some of the despicable men she'd managed to wed. The woman was giddy as a schoolgirl.

And on her finger was a ring with a diamond as big as the Ritz.

Cora and Raymond had just gotten engaged.

Much to Sherry's dismay.

"You are the most gorgeous girl in the world," Raymond assured Cora.

Sherry Carter shuddered. Her aunt was all decked out in a red satin number that was just a little too young on the one hand, and a little too narrow in the waist on the other. Cora looked perfectly respectable. But the most gorgeous girl in the world? Really.

If the truth be known, Sherry was not as upset with the assessment as with the assessor. Raymond Harstein III was, in Sherry's humble opinion, one of the most pretentious human beings she'd ever met. She didn't care for the way he talked, the way he moved, the way he tilted his nose, the way he carried his chin. She even resented the III in his name, although, presumably, that was Raymond Harstein Jr.'s fault, and not his. Be that as it may, Sherry Carter was not smitten, and it took only a single effusive, hyperbolic compliment to set her teeth on edge. Although, as a wordsmith, Sherry had to admit "the most gorgeous girl in the world" was not really hyperbole, just a gross exaggeration.

Cora, however, seemed to take the praise at face value. "Oh, Raymond," she simpered. "You spoil me."

It was all Sherry could do to keep from gagging.

"Not at all, my dear," Raymond declared, patting Cora on the hand, another gesture that Sherry deplored. Good lord, couldn't Cora see through this man? A lovesick schoolgirl of sixteen could see through this man. Surely her aunt had learned something in her umpteen previous marriages. How could she be so blind? When Raymond favored her with "Of course, you look lovely too," it was all Sherry could do to keep from leaping across the table and strangling him.

Raymond Harstein III was a slender man of indeterminate age, the difficulty of that estimation a testament Sherry ascribed to the effectiveness of Just For Men hair coloring. Raymond's dark brown hair was gray at the temples, which didn't fool Sherry one bit. She suspected him of having snow-white hair, dyeing it brown, and then touching it up with gray highlights.

As to the rest of it, Raymond Harstein III had blue eyes and a nose both pointed and rounded at the same time, as if the scurrilous gentleman was unwilling to commit to anything. A trim mustache, brown from the bottle, topped thin lips that never ceased to smile. He was dressed in a blue suit, white shirt, red patterned tie. Raymond always wore suits, ranging in Sherry's opinion from the cheap to the inexpensive, or in Cora's, from the practical to the thrifty.

"Thank you," Sherry told him now. "You're looking quite distinguished yourself."

Raymond made a self-deprecating gesture. "Please. I am a weed amongst blossoms, happy to be growing. So sorry your young beau couldn't join us. I should really get to know him if I'm marrying into the family now, shouldn't I?"

"Aaron's not really family," Sherry said.

"Ah, but he could be." Raymond's eyes twinkled. "If your aunt wouldn't mind sharing the spotlight. What do you think, Cora? How would a double wedding suit you?"

Sherry stiffened at the suggestion.

Cora threw back her head and laughed. "Fine by me, Raymond, but I'm afraid you don't know my niece very well. I don't think Sherry's inclined to accept a wedding proposal unless it's the bridegroom making it."

"Yes, yes, of course. Wouldn't want to usurp the young man's prerogative."

"Of course," Cora agreed. "But you should snap him up, Sherry, before that Becky Baldwin gets her claws into him."

For Sherry, that comment marked the point at which she knew her aunt really was out of control. Under normal circumstances, Cora never would have teased Sherry about her rival, Becky Baldwin, in front of a third person. The idea that Cora was treating Raymond as family didn't cut it with Sherry. As far as she was concerned, her aunt had gone completely round the bend.

A waitress with a notepad swooped down on their table. "Can I get y'all something to drink?"

Raymond immediately took charge, proceeded to relay all orders through himself--another habit Sherry detested. "And what would you like, my dear?" he asked her.

"I'll have a white wine," Sherry said directly to the waitress.

Raymond went on as if he hadn't noticed. "Excellent," he said. "A white wine for the young lady. Now, my dear, what would you like this evening?"

Cora hesitated just a moment before saying, "I'll have a Shirley Temple."

Raymond nodded his approval, relayed those instructions, and ordered a seltzer and lime for himself.

Sherry watched with growing horror. Raymond had taken exception to Cora's drinking, counseled moderation. For one who imbibed as heavily as Cora was in the habit of doing, this was a major step, and one of which Sherry would have ordinarily approved. The thought Cora was doing it for him rankled. Sherry sighed, glanced around.

They were dining in the Country Kitchen, Bakerhaven's homey, inexpensive, and popular restaurant, which featured a well-stocked salad bar and standard American cuisine. As usual, the tables and booths were quite full. Most of the customers were local, and many seemed to have taken an interest in their table. Bakerhaven was the type of town where most everybody knew everybody. A stranger such as Raymond Harstein III was indeed cause for comment.

"What do you think, Sherry?" Raymond asked.

As she hadn't heard a word, Sherry was hard-pressed to offer an opinion.

Luckily, Cora swooped to the rescue. "Oh, what does Sherry know about weddings? The poor girl's only had one, and that was an elopement. Trust me, this is not a big deal. The TV people probably won't even come."

Raymond frowned. "TV people?"

"Yes, the Channel 8 news team. They cover this town."

Raymond seemed amused, but Sherry could have sworn he was putting it on. "You expect your wedding to rate TV coverage?" he asked Cora.

"Our wedding," Cora corrected demurely. "No, I don't. I was just saying I don't expect them to come. Even though that reporter seems to have it in for me."

"A TV reporter? Why?"

"No reason. Just every time Rick Reed tries to cover me he winds up looking stupid."

Raymond's blue eyes twinkled. "You mean you make a fool of him?"

"No. I think he's just naturally stupid."

Aaron Grant came in the door. The young newspaper reporter looked around, spotted their table. He strolled over just in time to have his way blocked by the waitress with her tray of drinks.

"Hi, gang," Aaron told them. "Don't let me interfere with your dinner. Just dropped by to say hello."

"Would you care to join us?" Raymond invited. "We're just about to order."

"Thanks, but I'm working," Aaron replied. "I'm doing an interview."

"Having dinner with someone?" Sherry asked him.

"Just a drink. I'm interviewing an ambulance driver. I checked the bar, he's not there yet."

"Interviewing an ambulance driver in the bar?" Sherry said. "I would think that's a story in itself."

Aaron frowned. "I hadn't thought of that."

"Your readers won't either, unless you start off with a folksy, 'I caught up with so-and-so in the bar, and over a few pints of ale he told me,' " Sherry pointed out.

"You're very good with words," Raymond observed.

Sherry grimaced. "Runs in the family."

"That it does," Aaron said, with a knowing smile. Aaron was one of the few people in town who knew that Sherry, not Cora, was the real Puzzle Lady and composed the crossword puzzle column.

"Say, nice ring, Cora!" Aaron whistled. "Do I gather there is to be an announcement in the near future?"

Cora shot a glance at Raymond. "Yes, but don't put it in the paper. We haven't even set the wedding date yet."

"Really? Well, congratulations! This is wonderful."

"Thank you," Raymond said. He added tentatively, "You will sit on the announcement?"

"Sure thing. As long as it's just me. If my editor finds out and tells me to write it, that's another story."

"Just hold off as long as you can," Cora said. "Once it's published it's tabloid material. I don't really want to read about it in the National Enquirer."

Becky Baldwin came in, looked around.

Sherry Carter caught her breath. Sherry often did on seeing Becky Baldwin. Stunning as usual, in a purple pants suit, which could have served the young lawyer quite well had she had to appear in court, and could easily double as evening wear, Becky looked so good that had Raymond Harstein III pronounced her the most beautiful girl in the world, Sherry would have found it hard to refute.

Becky swooped down on their table, hooked her arm through Aaron Grant's, and said, "Well, here I am. Where do you want to do the interview?"

Sherry Carter arched her eyebrows at Aaron.

Cora Felton, boundlessly amused by Becky's announcement, pretended to cough into her napkin.

"Do you drive an ambulance, Becky?" Sherry inquired politely.

"Not that I am aware of."

"No, that's my other interview," Aaron said. "You're early, Becky. The ambulance driver's actually scheduled first."

"Yes, of course," Becky said. She turned her eyes to Raymond Harstein III. "I don't believe we've met. I'm Becky Baldwin. I'm the town lawyer."

Raymond Harstein III rose to his feet, crossed around the table to take her hand. He didn't shake it, however. Instead, he clasped it in both of his as if it were a precious thing. "Raymond Harstein III. Very pleased to meet you. You say you're the town lawyer? You mean you're the only one?"

"No," Becky told him. "Just the only one worth mentioning."

"I'll say." Raymond smiled. "I bet the young men invent excuses to hire you."

"Oh, please," Becky demurred. "What do you say, Aaron? If the ambulance driver's not here, why don't we go first?"

Aaron smiled sheepishly. He clearly wasn't comfortable walking off with Becky, but there didn't seem to be any alternative, short of sitting down to eat dinner.

"Run along, you two," Sherry said. "I'm sure you have lots to talk about."

"Do we?" Becky said archly to Aaron. "What did you want to interview me about, anyway?"

"Oh, we'll think of something," Aaron said breezily. In point of fact he was doing a piece on single career women, but he was damned if he was going to start explaining. Anything he said would only sound defensive.

"You better," Becky purred. "If you don't write an article, the paper won't pay for the drinks."

"The paper won't anyway," Aaron said. "What, did you think I had an expense account?"

Sherry's smile was becoming more and more frozen. Any more cute banter and she was going to scream.

"Sherry!" came a voice from across the room.

Sherry looked up, and was amazed to see Brenda Wallenstein, her college roommate, hurtling across the dining room floor.

Brenda was what the boys called pleasingly plump, a short, cute, comfortable dynamo, with a sense of humor to boot. Brenda and Sherry had been close and stayed in touch even after college. When Sherry had been going through rough times with her husband, there were many nights she had crashed on Brenda's couch.

Sherry's face lit up. She hadn't seen Brenda since she'd moved to Connecticut, but the sight of her old college chum always cheered her. She leaped to her feet, gave Brenda a hug.

"Oh, my goodness, it's good to see you. Brenda, it's been too long. It's nice in the country, but I miss my friends from New York. Not lumping you with my friends in general, I mean I miss you in particular. Oh, my goodness. Everyone, this is Brenda, my roommate from Dartmouth. You know my aunt Cora. This is my friend, Aaron Grant. He's a reporter. And Becky Baldwin, she's a lawyer. Aaron's about to interview her for the paper." Sherry flushed slightly. That was more information than she needed to give. "Brenda's a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital," she appended, as if to make up for it.

Raymond had stood up again.

"Oh, and Raymond Harstein III." Sherry looked at Cora. "Can I tell her?"

"If you can do it quietly."

"Yes, of course." Sherry lowered her voice. "Raymond and Cora are engaged."

"Oh, my God!" Brenda shrieked in excitement, then lowered her voice and hissed congratulations. Brenda had round cheeks, big eyes, long lashes. Her curly brown hair added to her perpetually bubbly look. "This is so amazing! And what a coincidence."

"Coincidence?" Sherry's mouth dropped open. But of course. How could she have missed it? Her friend was radiant, glowing, giddy--just like her aunt. "Brenda, are you kidding me? Do you mean it?"

Brenda nodded. "It's true. Can you believe it? Me. It finally happened to me."

Sherry shrieked, hugged Brenda again, and they were off, chattering like crows on amphetamines.

"Well, who is he?" Sherry demanded. "Do I know him?"

This time Brenda's laugh sounded somewhat forced. "Yes, you do. . . "

And in from the bar walked Sherry's ex-husband, Dennis Pride.

2

Sherry's heart stopped. A cold, icy feeling gripped her from head to toe.

Dennis.

Good God.

Dennis.

It was too much to take in all at once.

The last time Sherry had seen Dennis he'd beaten her up. He'd defied a court order to do it. He still called her now and then, when he was on a binge. On such occasions Sherry would simply let the answering machine pick up.

Now here he was, standing in front of her, for the first time since her bruises had healed. Long enough ago that the only reminder was a faint trace of a scar remaining from her split lip.

"Dennis," Sherry said. "You shouldn't be here."

He winced, then smiled deprecatingly as if she'd committed a social faux pas. "Times have changed, Sherry. Things are different now. I'm different."

Dennis certainly looked different. The Dennis of old had hair to his shoulders, wore dirty T-shirts and ratty jeans, as befitted the lead singer of a rock group. Today, his hair was razor cut and styled, slightly long by normal standards, but practically a crew cut for him. He wore a navy blue sports jacket, a white shirt, open at the neck, and tan pants. His black hair glistened, his blue eyes sparkled, his white teeth gleamed. It was a shock to see him standing next to Aaron Grant. Aaron looked good. Dennis looked like a movie star.

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First Chapter

Chapter 1

MALTA 1552

On the morning the slavers came, the children were looking for treasure.

Swept up in their purpose, they didn't see the mast of the corsair galley, all but obscured by the high rocks surrounding the cove where the ship had anchored in the night.

They didn't see the dead sentry hanging upside down on the watchtower. It was Bartholomeo, an older boy who lived on their own street, his throat cut deep as he slept, cut from ear to ear. His blood had already baked dry on the platform from which he was to have sounded the alarm, a platform from which his killers had stolen several planks of wood. The children didn't see Bartholomeo because they were hiding from him, keeping to the deep gullies or crouching behind the low stone walls that separated fields so dry and barren that even the crows didn't bother to scavenge there anymore. As long as they stayed behind those walls they knew Bartholomeo couldn't glimpse them and spoil their plans. He would do that, and just for spite: Bartholomeo was plain mean.

They couldn't see or hear the stream of galley slaves snaking along the ravine a hundred paces to the east, men laboring in silence as they hauled water beneath the watchful eyes of their guards.

And they couldn't smell the galley, because the wind was at their backs, a majjistral blowing from the northwest. With the right winds the smell of a galley preceded the sight, the stench an unmistakable herald of danger. Had they smelled it, they would have known the scent of doom. There would have been time to fear, time to flee.

Today, however, they smelled nothing but Maria's dreams.

"Father's going to whip us," Nicosaid solemnly. He was breathing heavily, struggling to keep up with his sister as she led him toward the southern coast of Malta. The limestone over which they ran baked under a sun that was already scorching despite the early hour. "We're supposed to be cleaning out the dung pit."

"He'll never know," Maria said. On bare feet she moved like quicksilver over the rocks, threading her way barefooted between stands of prickly pear. She was thirteen but small for her age, athletic and lean, her figure as yet betraying no sign that she was a girl. Her clothes were worn through in spots, and she carried a knife in her belt. Her hair was cut short and ragged, like a boy's. Her face was smeared with grime, her skin deeply browned by the sun, her green eyes lit with determination and adventure. "He's busy today, seeing the capumastru for a job building one of the knights' new forts. Besides, I'm not giving up until we've found it. If you'd rather slop shit than dig treasure, suit yourself. I don't care."

They'd been two long days at the dung pit beneath their house, hauling out pail after pail of human and animal excrement to be spread over a rocky field outside the village where their family tried to grow vegetables. They emptied the pit twice a year, when the flies in the kitchen got too thick. Except for the flies, Maria saw no point to it. Nothing had grown in that field for two years. It was the same all over Malta. The rains hadn't come, and there had been no grain from Sicily. Her own baby sister and brother, twins, had starved to death, like half the babies in the village of Birgu that year. "Nothing grows in Malta but rocks and misery," her mother often said. "Nothing but dung, that is. If only there were a market for it, we would be rich beyond dreams." It was perhaps the only matter in which Maria agreed with her mother. Spreading the dung was pointless, just another of Father's nasty chores. It was better to be here, doing something that mattered.

"We've been looking forever and we haven't found it," Nico grumped.

"We'll find it today. But you can go back if you want."

He would never go back, of course. He idolized his sister, who was the sunrise in his life. She protected him from the anger of their father and the despair of their mother and all the troubles of a hostile world. She wasn't like the other girls her age, not at all. Most of them covered their faces with barnuzi and stayed indoors. "A woman should be seen but twice in public," Maria's mother said. "The day she is married and the day she is buried." Maria never listened. She was a tomboy with a hot temper, and she vowed never to hide behind a barnuza. The other girls shunned her. She shunned them back. That suited Nico because it left him someone to run with, someone who knew things and told stories and climbed rocks and hunted treasure. If she asked, he would follow her over the edge of the cliffs, even though such devotion often meant trouble for him with their father.

"I just don't want to get whipped."

"There are worse things."

"Like what?" Nico could feel the leather of his father's belt on his backside. There wasn't much worse than that.

"Like spending your life hauling shit. Like letting someone else find the treasure. Here we are," she said.

They'd arrived at their private place, a series of ruins situated on a plateau overlooking the sea. They'd never seen another soul there. Dust carried on the winds of eons had buried most of it, but there remained great megaliths of stone, marking a temple built by some ancient and forgotten race. A few stone columns still rose to the sky, while others had toppled into a confused jumble. There remained subterranean chambers and innumerable places to hide. They'd explored much of it, crawling through openings and burrowing beneath slabs, sometimes discovering new passageways and rooms merely by moving rubble and digging a little.

Somewhere in that labyrinth, carefully concealed in a box or a pot or behind a stone panel, Maria was certain there was treasure. Half a century earlier the Jews had been expelled from Spain and her domains, including Malta. During their flight from persecution, they were believed by many to have buried their uncountable riches, intending to return for them later. So far all Maria had found were seashells and some old bones, but even without the hope of treasure she'd have come anyway. She loved the ruins. There was a purity to them, from their smell to their glorious view of the sea to their telltale hints of glories past. She felt the presence and spirit of the people who built them, people who had money and enough food and wore clothes even more magnificent than the Knights of St. John, who strutted like peacocks through the streets of Birgu. These people had lived well, dancing and laughing and holding great feasts. She told Nico all about them as they dug at the bases of the columns and turned over stones.

"If they were so great," Nico said, pawing through the rubble, "why is this all they left?"

"They went to Franza. It's greener there. Everyone is rich."

"Who says they left treasure here, anyway?"

"I say they did. Dr. Callus told me. He spends all his time looking for it, too. Some Jews left it about a thousand years ago, after the king made them leave."

"Jews wouldn't leave money. Mother says Jews would leave their children before they'd leave their money."

"Well, these did," Maria huffed. "It was gold and silver. They couldn't carry it all. And I'm going to find it. I'll hide it until I'm old enough, and then I'm going to buy a castle in Franza." At the wharf she'd heard talk about France, about its mountains and rich fields of lupine. That sounded grand: she'd buy a castle and put slaves in her fields, growing lupine.

"What's lupine?" Nico asked.

"I don't know exactly, but I'll have lots of it. And servants, and all my clothes will be spun from silk, and my spoons will be made of silver. You can live with me if you like."

"Girls can't have castles."

She snorted at that. "Queens can. I will. You'll see."

They dug for a while without uncovering anything but more dirt and rock. She was almost ready to suggest they go look in the caves that dotted the cliffs overlooking the sea. Some were occupied, but not all. She knew the Jews would have had many clever hiding places, and caves would make good ones. She was digging with the tip of her knife when she heard a clink. She cleared away the earth with her fingers and found a small object. It was oval in shape, crusted with age.

"Look!" She held it up.

"What is it?"

"Munita! A coin!"

"It looks like a rock to me."

"Your head is a rock! It's old, stupid, but it's still treasure." She scraped it with her knife. In the sunlight she could see the dull glint of corroded metal. "There, look, don't you see? A man's head. He's wearing a helmet!"

Nico didn't see, but his eyes went wide anyway.

"You can keep it," she said magnanimously, passing it to him. "There's more here. What did I tell you? Now put it in your pocket. Whatever you do, don't show it to a grown-up. They'll just take it away."

"Grazzi," Nico breathed, scarcely believing his good fortune. He slipped the coin into his pocket and labored feverishly beside her, his enthusiasm renewed. They dug for more than an hour, sweat mingling with thick dust on their brows as they grunted and heaved and dug for her dreams. She unearthed a bowl, well preserved but broken in two. Buried beneath that they found a perfect white femur. "You see? It's a Jew bone," Maria said confidently. "A marker. They always leave them near treasure. We're getting close."

Nico gave a low whistle. They dug ever more furiously.

Maria stopped abruptly. She tugged his sleeve for quiet. "What was that?" she whispered.

"What?"

She cocked her head, listening intently. A blue thrush hopped among the rocks, looking for insects. A tiny lizard clung to the side of a rock. The wind blew steadily, dry and hot. "I thought I heard voices."

A moment later she shook her head. "Never mind. It was nothing."



The timbers on the Algerian galliot creaked softly as the ship rode the gentle swells at anchor. Seawater lapped quietly at the freeboard. Soldiers stood in the poop with their arquebuses at the ready, nervously awaiting the return of the slaves fetching water from an inland spring. The ship had been brought about in the cove until her prow faced the open sea, ready for a quick departure.

She was a sea hunter, swift and lean, a galliot of the same type that had carried the legions of Rome and the trade of Carthage. Long and sleek, she was a fair-weather craft, shallow draughted so she could lurk in rivers and lagoons from which she might prey on rich shipping. Although her mast bore a single goose-winged lateen sail, it was not generally the wind that drove her through the sea, but the force of slave labor. She was primarily a rowing ship. Three men were chained naked to each of the twenty-four benches ranged along each side, pulling at their oars. During the long months of the sailing season they never left their stations. They ate, slept, and relieved themselves where they sat, in fair weather and foul.

Rais Ali Agha, master of the Algerian vessel, wouldn't have come to Malta alone except in an emergency. The island was home to the Knights of St. John, the infidels whose base lay just two leagues distant, at Birgu.

He'd come to make fast repairs and to take on urgently needed water. He had nearly been a victim of his own success. A daring shore raid in Sicily netted him a hundred and thirty slaves. As he was making for Algiers, he encountered an unescorted French merchantman. He took the ship without firing a shot, tying her crew belowdecks and offloading bales of silk and boxes of spices until his galliot rode dangerously low in the water. When he dared take no more cargo, he cut the merchantman adrift and made haste for home.

He would have made it easily but for a freak spring storm. The shallow draught of his keel was designed for speed, not for fighting an angry sea. The waves tossed the vessel like cork. A small cannon, a Portuguese-made verso taken from the French ship, broke free of the heavy timber balks to which it had been lashed. The gun careened wildly on the deck, smashing through water casks like tinder, then splintering wood and the helmsman's legs as it slid the other way. Finally it broke through the wood railing and toppled into the hold.

Only the beneficent hand of Allah guided the cannon onto a group of slaves rather than through the hull itself. The wretches were huddled together in fear of the storm. Their bodies cushioned the cannon's impact, preserving the hull, but the mouth of the gun penetrated the planking at the waterline, which, owing to the heavy load, was even higher than usual. The sea poured in with every swell. The boat was in mortal peril.

Copyright© 2003 by Parnell Hall
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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2003

    Quite a puzzler

    Sherry Carter is the real puzzle lady who constructs them for a syndicated column but because she is so shy, everyone thinks her aunt Cara Felton is the puzzle maker because she takes the credit and makes public appearances. The truth of the matter is she couldn¿t solve a crossword puzzle let alone construct one but she is very good at solving homicides.<P> Murder is the last thing from Cora¿s mind as she gets ready to marry California businessman Raymond Harstein III but Sherry is frantic because she knows nothing about the man. Matters become much worse when Sherry¿s best friend announces she is marrying Sherry¿s physically abusive ex-husband Dennis and they want her to be the maid of honor. A series of cryptograms threatens Raymond if the wedding isn¿t stopped. When the messages are ignored he is murder with Dennis charged for the crime. Cora is positive Dennis didn¿t kill anyone and she sets out to prove it to make sure Sherry doesn¿t soften towards him and to get her mind off her own grief.<P> WITH THIS PUZZLE I THEE KILL is the best book in the series because there are two separate, fulfilling sub-plots and the antagonist from either one could be the killer. Parnell Hall has a wicked sense of humor and it comes out through the dialogues of his characters, especially conversations that take place between Cora and her niece. This amateur sleuth novel will be a thrill for those who like a cerebral puzzle.<P> Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted November 2, 2010

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    Posted January 20, 2013

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