The Puzzle Lady embarks on another adventure involving one classic movie and featuring new puzzles by Will Shortz
When an elderly boarder at a Bakerhaven bed-and-breakfast drops dead during afternoon tea, there's nothing particularly suspicious about itexcept for the Sudoku in his jacket pocket. But when a second body turns up in the window seat and an autopsy shows both men were poisoned with elderberry wine, the Puzzle Lady suspects she's dealing with a cold-blooded killer who for some reason is copying the Cary Grant movie Arsenic and Old Lace, in which two old ladies who run a boarding house poison elderly widowers and bury them in the basement. More murders, more puzzles, and a grave dug in the cellar seem to cement the theory.
Ordinarily, Cora would eat a case like this for breakfast, but for once she can't figure it out. And she's not sure if the clues don't add up, or if the much-married Puzzle Lady is just distracted by being involved in her first romantic entanglement in years.
Arsenic and Old Puzzles is filled with laughs, mayhem, and fun new puzzles by Will Shortz. Mystery and puzzle fans will find much to enjoy in this latest treat from Parnell Hall.
About the Author
Parnell Hall is the co-author of the New York Times bestselling Teddy Fay thrillers. He is the author of the Puzzle Lady mysteries, the Stanley Hastings private eye novels, and the Steve Winslow courtroom thrillers. He is a Shamus Award winner, and has been nominated for the Edgar and the Lefty. He lives in New York City.
Read an Excerpt
“So when’s she going to walk?” Cora said.
Sherry Carter shot an amused glance at Aaron Grant. Jennifer Carter Grant was crawling back and forth from Mommy to Daddy on a beach blanket on the front lawn. Cora Felton was sitting on a lawn chair. Not sitting on the ground was one of the privileges accorded a great-aunt, and Cora was taking full advantage.
“She’s nine months old,” Sherry said.
“What’s your point?”
“Babies walk around a year,” Aaron said.
“A whole year? That must tire them out.” Cora cocked her head. “I don’t see why she couldn’t start walking. I mean, look at the size of her. You’d never know she was premature.”
“That’s not the type of thing she needs to grow up hearing all the time,” Sherry said.
“You’re going to withhold it from her?” Cora said. “My God, the kid will grow up with a complex. She’ll have a therapist before she’s five.”
“Did you ever have a therapist?” Sherry said.
“That’s a rather personal question. Particularly in front of a young man. Just because he married into the family doesn’t mean he gets to share our household secrets.”
“Secrets?” Aaron said. “You mean you did have a therapist?”
“You tell me,” Cora said. “Do you think I had a therapist?”
Aaron’s mouth fell open. That was a loaded question. Any answer would be wrong.
“Stop teasing Aaron,” Sherry said. “Let the poor guy have some Daddy time.”
“Oh, you want the wicked stepaunt to go away?”
“You’re not a stepaunt. You’re a great-aunt.”
“The best,” Cora said. “Seriously, what are you going to tell the kid when she asks what that scar on your stomach is?”
“You can’t even see it,” Aaron said. “The doctor was right. It’s a bikini cut, and you can’t even tell.”
Sherry wasn’t wearing a bikini, she was wearing shorts and a halter top, but the result was the same. The horizontal scar was below the panty line.
Sherry smiled. “Are you torturing me because you’re bored? Can’t stand it when things are quiet?”
Aaron grinned. “I think that’s it. She’s an action junkie. Hasn’t had a murder in months, and she’s climbing the walls.”
“I am not,” Cora said. “If I never see another murder case, it will be too damn soon.”
Jennifer reached the edge of the blanket and let out an excited whoop. Daddy headed her off.
“Killjoy,” Cora said.
“There’s germs in the grass.”
Cora mentioned another place germs might hang out.
“Cora!” Sherry said. “You are not going to talk that way around the baby.”
“What, she’s going to be offended? She doesn’t look offended. Hey, Jennifer. Are you offended with Auntie?”
Jennifer didn’t answer.
“When’s she going to talk, anyway?”
“She’s nine months old,” Sherry repeated.
“Well, not full sentences, but a good ‘Cora,’ would be nice.”
Aaron picked Jennifer up, put her back in the middle of the blanket. “I think she’s wet.”
Sherry dug in the diaper bag. “Care to change the baby, Auntie Cora?”
“Certainly not. I’m the aunt, not the nanny. My job is to look proud and brag at PTA meetings.”
“Oh, my God,” Sherry said. “It’s not enough you want her walking. You’ve already got her in school.”
“Well, you have to plan ahead,” Cora said. “If you’re not careful, next thing you know she’s bringing home some irresponsible bum.”
Sherry shook her head. “I’m changing her diaper and you’ve got her dating already.”
“And as for you, Mommy, I thought having a kid wasn’t going to change anything?”
“Oh, no? I’ve had to send in the last five Puzzle Lady columns myself. And I’m no good at it. I keep screwing up. An editor called and asked what’s wrong. I told her I had to send the stuff myself because my secretary had a baby.”
“You’re lucky I don’t make you write them,” Sherry said.
Cora grimaced. While she was the famous Puzzle Lady, whose smiling face graced the nationally syndicated crossword column, in point of fact Cora couldn’t solve a crossword puzzle if you gave her the answers. Sherry Carter actually constructed the puzzles. Cora Felton merely lent her name to the project.
Aaron’s cell phone rang. He flipped it open. “Hello?… Yes, she’s right here.”
Sherry reached for the phone.
Aaron shook his head. “No, her.” He held it out to Cora.
Cora took the phone. “Hello?”
“Cora? Chief Harper.”
“Oh, hi, Chief. What’s up?”
“I’m out at the Guildford sisters’ bed-and-breakfast. Do you know it?”
“Can’t say that I do.”
“Fifty-one Elmwood Circle. About a half mile north of town.”
“What about it?”
“Wanna take a ride out there?”
Copyright © 2012 by Parnell Hall
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I think that Parnell Hall wrote the best Puzzle Lady yet. I found myself laughing out loud through the entire book
Cora Felton has found herself involved in another murder when a Sudoku shows up on the body of a man poisoned at a boarding house in town. It's the usual verbal sparring and puzzles fans of the series will love. I was just bothered by one action Cora took part way through the book.
The Cary Grant movie, “Arsenic and Old Lace,” seems to be the basis for this murder mystery, except when it isn’t. And so, the plot is as mixed up as the Puzzle Lady, Cora, and the rest of the characters in this latest addition to the series. When an elderly boarder at a bed and breakfast operated by two ditzy old ladies dies, with a Sudoku puzzle in his pocket, Cora is called in by the chief of police to solve the puzzle and a subsequent crossword that is found. It seems meaningless, but Cora almost immediately detects the smell of almonds, indicating poisoning. It turns out that a combination of three poisons in the exact proportions as in the movie were in a carafe of Elderberry wine that the victim drank. Then the town drunk breaks in and is found in a window seat, dead of the same poisons. Other deaths occur, some according to the movie script, others not even close. Of course, Sudoku and crossword puzzles turn up along with the victims. The novel follows the usual components of a Puzzle Lady mystery: a wacky protagonist, funny dialogue, puzzles created by two leading editors, and a carefully plotted mystery with clues along the way, if one can grasp them without Cora’s help at the end. Some of Cora’s antics can become somewhat tiresome, but on the whole, a fun read, and one that is recommended.