Solving puzzles can be murder when a PI and a crossword editor join forces to catch a killer in the first novel of Nero Blanc’s fiendishly clever crossword mystery series
Playboy Thompson C. Briephs has just been found strangled in his bed. The police believe the Newcastle Herald crossword editor, a scion of a blue-blooded New England family, died from kinky sex gone wrong. But cop-turned–private investigator Rosco Polycrates thinks there’s a six-letter word for what happened. Enlisting the help of Annabelle Graham, the crossword editor for a rival paper, Rosco unearths a crazy quilt of suspects who had it in for the victim—and one of them was blackmailing him. Belle is certain the answers lie in Briephs’s twisty puzzlers. Now she and Rosco will have to employ some dazzling wordplay of their own to stop a cunning killer from crossing paths with another victim.
Readers will delight in solving the crime, along with six crossword puzzles, which can be downloaded as PDFs, with answers in the back of the book. The Crossword Murder is a book to be savored by mystery lovers and crossword-puzzle enthusiasts alike.
The Crossword Murder is the 1st book in the Crossword Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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The Crossword Murder
A Crossword Mystery
By Nero Blanc
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1999 Cordelia F. Biddle and Steve Zettler
All rights reserved.
"Hold my calls!" Thompson Briephs flicked the lock in his office door as he barked out the command. At ten-thirty A.M. the temperature in the Massachusetts coastal town had already reached a brutal 94 degrees and the despairing throb of the antiquated window air conditioner did nothing to alleviate the problem. The brass doorknob twisted greasily in Briephs' hand; the heat wave that had gripped New England for a relentless two weeks had begun to feel like his personal demon. He shook his head as if trying to expunge his sense of frenzy and oppression, but there was no escape. The heat followed him everywhere, clogging his lungs and nostrils and swelling his eyelids until they ached. Beneath the urbane lines of a navy blazer and knife-pressed khaki trousers, his middle-aged but athletic body railed at man's impotence when confronting the forces of nature.
Briephs ran damp fingers across his well-formed lips, then tested the lock again. Through the door's frosted glass panel, he watched the blurred outline of his secretary move across the outer room: a tall and hopelessly angular female physique topped by an aging, toothy face and hair the color of dirty sand. JaneAlice Miller's single display of femininity was a bold slash of fuchsia lipstick. Briephs stared through the glass at the repellent color; the door panel illuminated and enhanced the purplish-red shade like a rainy night magnifying the glare of oncoming car lights.
"Are you all right, Mr. B? It sure is hot out ..."
JaneAlice idolized her boss; she'd been his willing slave for thirteen years and so abject and fawning in her attentions that her fellow employees at the Newcastle Herald were convinced she had masochistic tendencies. That and the fact that her sole source of solace seemed to be an obsession with aging or dead movie stars and their life works. She could rattle off the name of any film, its cast and director as well as recite salient lines of dialogue. It was a trick she was not encouraged to perform.
"Mr. B? Are you okay?"
Briephs didn't respond. Instead, he automatically repeated his previous gesture, passing a perspiring hand across his mouth and then wincing as if in physical pain.
"Maybe you need a bicarb, Mr. B ... You probably didn't get enough sleep last night after that lavish fund-raiser ... Oh, speaking of lavish, Mrs. Housemann phoned to thank you ... She said the affair went very well ..." Jane Alice's gawky form bobbed about as she spoke. She was so close to the door's far side that Briephs could hear her palpitating breaths. She sounded like a gaffed sea bass, the thought of which immediately produced a spasm of nausea. Thompson was forced to gasp and shut his eyes; sweat covered his scalp and the backs of his legs.
"Did you hear me, Mr. B? ... This heat sure is something, isn't it? The meteorologist says we can't expect any relief for at least another week ... Oh, Mrs. Housemann also said she's lunching with the mister today and mentioned she'd stop by to show her gratitude in person—sort of like when Adolphe Menjou ..."
Briephs leaned his head into his palms and groaned aloud. The last person he wanted to think about was his editor in chief's newest wife, the flame-haired, aggressively voluptuous Betsey Housemann—née Grumpilski.
"I heard you!" The words flared out of Briephs' mouth. He groaned again, but more softly. "Mrs. Housemann already telephoned my residence to thank me for last night. She neglected to mention she'd be lunching with her good husband."
The former Betsey Grumpilski's husband, Steven, was a quick-tempered septuagenarian who'd clawed his way up through the Herald's ranks. Ever conscious of having been denied a prep school and Ivy League education like Thompson's, Housemann's response to any adversarial situation was sudden and ruthless anger. His feuds and vendettas were as legendary as his rages over misprints and errata. Heads could roll over misspellings; careers were threatened by sloppy reportage. Steven carried this business doctrine into personal life, becoming a vengeful and often mendacious opponent in the many competitive sports he played. There were few golfing partners he didn't outlast, few squash and tennis courts that hadn't echoed with his outraged shouts. Housemann also believed he could outmaneuver Father Time if he picked a younger bride as soon as the previous model began to show wear; he married frequently, with the fervor some men reserve for purchasing automobiles.
"Now, JaneAlice, as you're well aware, I require privacy to sort through the day's submissions." Briephs sighed noisily as if to express how beleaguered he felt. "I don't wish to see or converse with anyone ... Betsey Housemann, included. Is that clear, Miss Miller?"
The sudden use of her surname sent chills of self-pity up and down JaneAlice's spine. "Oh, Mr. B! Don't be cross with me! I'd never do anything to hurt you! Not in a billion years. I'm your Girl Friday, you know." She paused at the door briefly, then skittered away, a praying mantis changing color and shape.
Returned to silence, Thompson Crane Briephs, the Newcastle Herald's renowned crossword editor, pushed aside the latest offerings from his many contributors as well as an envelope bearing the logo of his crusty literary agent, and another from the New York publisher who compiled his annual puzzle collection. Those messages would wait—but the hand-delivered envelope, the one that had been slipped surreptitiously into the pile of incoming mail would not. Briephs found himself breathing irregularly. His mouth was as dry as baked mud.
He stared at the cheap white paper; it was smudged with grime as if the fingers that had carried it to the Herald's offices had never encountered soap. "This has gone on far too long," he announced. "I've been reasonable until now, but the entire situation has become absurd. Farcical, really ... If one were given to dramatic allusions ..." Despite the brave words, he was sweating profusely. The starched collar of his pima cotton shirt felt sodden and oily around his neck. "Dammit!" he muttered more loudly.
Briephs' public persona—his impeccably tailored jackets, the discreet silk neckties and regal mane of silver hair—were all part of a carefully constructed façade. As a member of the illustrious Crane family, the clan who'd first settled Newcastle's rocky shores, he wasn't permitted to appear in any guise other than exemplary blueblood and model citizen. At fifty-one, Thompson had had plenty of practice.
"Dammit," he repeated, then slit open the grimy envelope. Inside was the usual word game—or more accurately, a piece of a word game cut from the Herald's daily crossword. But whoever had developed the habit of hacking apart Thompson's puzzles had created new sets of clues that even the most slack-jawed, nose-ringed teenager would have found embarrassingly inadequate. Only infrequently did the format vary or a clue contain a sophisticated etymological riddle, leading Briephs to suspect his tormentor might be more than one person—or a single being so verbally adept that he, or she, could afford to play the idiot. Thompson guessed he was being toyed with; if not, his elusive correspondent would have demanded more money. Everyone in Newcastle knew Thompson Crane Briephs was a wealthy man. A very wealthy man.
The present message contained the usual threat of "exposure" if "Thompson Briephs" didn't "ante up." This time the amount was a paltry two hundred dollars.
"Eleven hundred last time ... five hundred before that ... three thousand four months ago ... A year of being nickel-and-dimed to death," Briephs groaned. "What is this creature waiting for? Where is the method to this madness?"
Briephs dropped the letter and envelope into his calfskin attaché case. By now, his handsome shirt was thoroughly soaked; the monogrammed pocket clung to his skin like ancient adhesive tape. Reflexively, he tucked his hand back into the attaché case, fingering a loose-leaf notebook that contained the beginnings of his latest and as yet unfinished collection of puzzles. This "bible" was never far from his reach; touching it gave him momentary solace.
"Bartholomew Kerr's on the line, sir." JaneAlice's tenuous voice broke into Briephs' reverie. "He says he won't take a moment. It's about the society column. He wanted to mention the theatre piece you're backing, but didn't have time to discuss it last night ... He said you must have slipped away before he realized it ..."
Briephs' hand jerked away from the notebook, ripping a manicured fingernail on the hard edge. "Dammit, JaneAlice! I distinctly said 'no interruptions'!" His voice rattled the glass.
The secretary again retreated from the entrance to her boss's forbidden sanctuary. "But he said—"
"I don't care what that sniveling snoop told you!"
"Yes, sir." A faint sound of weeping followed this exchange. Briephs raised impatient eyebrows but stifled an additional tirade.
"I'm going home," he said instead. "I can't operate under these appalling conditions. Tell Mr. Housemann I'll fax the Saturday and Sunday puzzles."
"Oh, Mr. B, I hope it wasn't anything I did!"
But Briephs had already slammed out of his office and strode through Jane Alice's. The attaché case was clenched in his fist.
Briephs watched the doors of the Herald's elevator snap shut. Its sculpted bronze façade to the contrary, the car's interior was airless and stank of old shoes, unwashed hair and too many layers of yellowing floor wax. He wrinkled his patrician nose in distaste, then jabbed the button for the garage level. The elevator began rumbling through the brick building, coming to a halt on the third and second floors, although the halls remained mercifully empty. Briephs could hear voices arguing, doors slamming and a cacophony of unanswered telephones—the customary panic to meet Friday's deadline. "Dammit," he swore, stabbing the garage button again. The minutes were ticking away, and he was stuck in an elevator from hell. He could feel sweat prickling his scalp and the palms of his hands. "This is ludicrous," he muttered between clenched teeth. "I'm Thompson Briephs. I should not be subjected to this type of abuse."
Finally he reached the Herald's cavernous underground parking garage. An inadequate number of fluorescent lights cast putrid green shadows that intensified the humidity while failing to fully illuminate the area. Involuntarily, Briephs combed his fingers through his silver hair as he peered through the murky gloom, searching for signs of life. When he was certain there were no witnesses, he opened his attaché case, pulled out the letter and envelope, shredded them and dropped the pieces into a Dumpster. Then he walked to an adjoining arched alcove and his waiting canary-yellow Jaguar XJS convertible—a toy purchased with the advance from his tenth annual collection of puzzles.
Briephs pushed the Jag's black canvas top into its boot, tossed in the calfskin case, jumped into the driver's seat, and was about to turn the key in the ignition when he heard the unmistakable sound of high heels tapping across poured concrete. He jerked around and stared through the darkness, gradually recognizing Betsey Housemann sashaying slowly toward him. A statuesque woman who claimed to be thirty-seven, she was dressed to kill in a tight black silk blouse and short blue leather skirt that barely covered what it had been designed to cover. Her hair billowed around her face like mounds of crinkled red cellophane.
"Sneaking out on me, are you, Tommy-Boy?"
"I wasn't aware you were coming so soon, Betsey."
"I'm 'coming' to see Steven, honeybunch ... Besides, I thought you didn't approve of inelegant speech in public."
"The verb is a common one, Betsey ... Old English cuman, meaning to approach ..."
"You know that lingo stuff bores the you-know-what out of me ..."
"Perhaps you shouldn't have espoused yourself to a newspaperman. Words, I believe, are Steven's stock in trade ..." Briephs made an instinctive grab for his briefcase.
"My lord and master isn't expecting me till lunchtime. Maybe I could make a quick detour ... Come out to your hideaway for a little warm-up exercise ... We could pick up where we left off last night ..."
"Not today." Briephs turned the key in the ignition.
"You can be a real creep, Thompson."
"'So is this great and wide sea, wherein all things creeping innumerable ...' I'm a man, dear girl, in case your memory doesn't span a mere twelve hours. I don't slither on my belly. I walk on two feet. Now, I'm afraid I must go. I'm regrettably late."
Betsey's tall form swayed over the driver's-side door. For a moment Briephs imagined she was going to grab his keys and heave them toward the garage's inaccessible recesses. Or swallow them. Betsey was capable of almost anything.
"You know, Tommy, sometimes I think I hate you," she cooed in a husky voice.CHAPTER 2
Briephs gunned his car up the garage ramp, wincing at the sudden glare as he entered Thomas Paine Boulevard. Lining the broad pavement, shrubberies, trees and pots of geranium, verbena and dusty miller wilted and withered while heat waves shimmered from the rows of handsome Greek Revival- and Colonial-era buildings that housed the city's financial and commercial hub.
He stared at the stone and clapboard structures and at the shops and banking institutions nestled discreetly within them. Many of the buildings dated from the glory days of the clipper ship and whaling trade; they were an understated but affluent compendium of fresh white paint, gold lettering, Doric columns and scrubbed brick sidewalks. At another time, Thompson would have been grateful for the town fathers' foresight in maintaining Newcastle's architectural heritage. Today the refurbished façades seemed the epitome of venality and deceit: elegance concealing corrupt and money grubbing souls.
Briephs turned right on Nathaniel Hawthorne Place and headed for the former customs house, now converted into a transportation depot. There, he bypassed a Peter Pan bus discharging passengers from Springfield, parked his car, entered the restored stone building and went through the same procedure he'd followed for the past twelve months. When he'd deposited the payment in its customary locker and hidden the key in its usual nook, he walked slowly out the main entrance, circled back to his car and sped off again, following a circuitous route of waterfront lanes that skirted the pristine base of Liberty Hill.
Thompson needed to avoid the denizens of the exclusive neighborhood. His mother's house sat among the gracious, pillared Revolutionary War-era mansions, only a stone's throw from that of her brother—Briephs' uncle, the senior United States Senator Hal Crane. White Caps and Gull's Way had been Crane family properties since they were built; not one had been sold, nor a foot of their spacious lawns and gardens altered. Long-dead Cranes, descending on Newcastle from their homes in heaven or in hell, would have found their former domiciles undefiled.
Briephs left Liberty Hill and turned onto the harbor road, pushing his foot to the accelerator as the lanes widened and flattened. He flicked on the Jag's CD player; the Pavarotti recording of Turandot rang out at full volume but Puccini's arias of dominion and power were of no avail. Thompson Briephs didn't feel capable of conquering anything.
As he approached the posh Patriot Yacht Club and its marina, he slowed and came to a halt beside the security gate, affixing his customary, noncommittal smile.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Briephs, sure is a hot one, ain't it? Weatherman says New England's breaking all kinds of records this year." The guard's face bore the grin of a peace-filled man. "You're home early today."
"You're most observant, Daniel." Briephs hedged. "I assumed I'd be more comfortable at home. Sea breezes are generally considered cooler than those on land."
"Hope you're right ... No end in sight, neither ... Not even a drop of rain, the paper says ... My wife's tomato plants ... well, they're a right mess, that's all—"
"Difficult times all around," Briephs interrupted, then gunned the Jag again, passing scores of multimillion-dollar yachts bobbing serenely in their berths. At the far end of the parking area stood a row of garages disguised as the boat sheds of an earlier era. The door to Thompson's garage opened in response to the click of a remote control wand, and he slipped inside. From there, he proceeded on foot down a walkway until he reached a floating dock and his new seventeen-foot Boston Whaler. Boarding, he let out a sigh that was partly relief and partly joy.
Excerpted from The Crossword Murder by Nero Blanc. Copyright © 1999 Cordelia F. Biddle and Steve Zettler. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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A puzzle lover's delight.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I liked it. But did not take the time to work the crossword puzzles. I just skipped over them. They were important part of the book however. I would have liked the puzzles to be in back of the book for easy finding when I wanted to work them. There is a lot of quotes, crossword questions and answers throughout the story. I should have bookmarked some of the facts. There is the death of a Crossword Puzzle editor Thompson C. Briephs from the Newcastle Herald. private investigator Rosco Polycrates is hired by Thompson's mother to find out what happened to her son. Rosco does not know anything about crossword puzzles so he goes to Annabelle Graham crossword puzzle editor for his rival newspaper to learn. Annabelle sees the crossword that comes out after Briephs death and she works the puzzle and realizes that he is hinting about his own murder. She tries to get people to believe her. They find Briephs had 5 more crossword puzzles with clues in them. Lots of suspects, a smart mystery I was kept guessing till the reveal. There is some suggestive motives for the murder. but really a clean story in all. I was given this ebook to read by Net Galley and Open Road Integrated Media and in return I agreed to give honest review of The Crossword Murder.
First in a cozy mystery series. Rosco is a PI investigating the murder of a newspaper crossword writer. He ends up getting help from Belle, another crossword writer from another paper. She believes that the murderer's identity can be found in puzzles that the murder victim created just before his death.
This is a good mystery--good twists and turns. It kept me guessing until the end. There is also a romantic aspect in it as Rosco and Belle get close during the book. I will continue with this series.
Great fun read!
Title: The Crossword Murder - Crossword Mystery 1 Author: Nero Blanc Published: 10-14-2014 Publisher: Open ROad Integrated Media Pages: 323 Genre: Mystery, Thrillers & Suspense Sub Genre: Amateur Sleuth; ISBN: 97814976716783 ASIN: B00N2CLU16 Reviewer: DelAnne Reviewed For: NetGalley Rating: 4 Stars . Rosco Polycrates is hired to investigate the murder of Thompson Briephs the eccentric member of the Briephs aristocracy and nephew of Senator Hal Crane. Thumbing his nose at his mother, Sara's more traditional family lifestyle. Thompson lived on a island and lived in a massive labyrinth style home. Anticipating his eminent demise, Thompson, the Crossword developer for the Herald, left numerous clues behind for someone to decipher and follow to the one who killed him. I thought this would be something like the Puzzle Lady Mysteries. It took a moment to shift gears and see it for the fun read that it is in its own right. Rosco and Annabell Graham's relationship is a bit complex but you can't help but hope there is a way they can end up together. The plot is well thought out and flows smoothly except for two hiccups where the book stalls for a few paragraphs, but quickly picks up pace again. My rating is 4 out of 5 stars. There are a few puzzles for the reader to enjoy and try their hand at.