Cruciverbalists, rejoice! Pick up a pencil and get ready to solve a puzzling murder-and an actual crossword puzzle-in this sparkling debut of a unique amateur detective: Miss Cora Felton, an eccentric old lady with a syndicated puzzle column, an irresistible urge to poke into unsettling events, and a niece who's determined to keep her out of trouble.
When the body of an unknown teenage girl turns up in the cemetery in the quiet town of Bakerhaven, Police Chief Dale Harper finds himself investigating his first homicide. A baffling clue leads him to consult Bakerhaven's resident puzzle expert-his first big mistake. Soon Cora's meddling, mischief-making behavior drives Chief Harper to distraction and inspires many cross words from her long-suffering niece, Sherry. But when another body turns up in a murder that hits much closer to home, Cora must find a killer-before she winds up in a wooden box three feet across...and six down.
Penzler Pick, February 2000: The versatile Hall is already responsible for two series: under his own name he has written the Stanley Hastings mysteries, a lighthearted series set in Manhattan and featuring a smalltime private eye, while as J.P. Hailey, he's penned the Steve Winslow courtroom mysteries.
Now he's switching course again, this time presenting what can only be termed a disreputable Jessica Fletcher: Miss Cora Felton, famed from coast to coast for her popular crossword puzzle column syndicated in many newspapers. Closer to home, however, Cora's as well known for her hard-drinking, chain-smoking ways. When one starts to look more closely, there's a real possibility that she doesn't even write her own puzzles and that she may be something entirely different from the public's perception of her.
But one will have to read A Clue for the Puzzle Lady to learn the whole truth. In the meantime, readers will also enjoy the small-town Connecticut ambiance and the challenge of trying to figure out what the two female murder victims have in common, aside from the fact that both have been found in the town's cemetery (where the bodies usually come in coffins) and that on their person are what appear to be crossword clues.
What are known in the trade as "cozies" generally are not my cup of tea, as it were, but I'm on record as being a longtime admirer of the author--as well as not being averse to a little-old-lady sleuth with a highball, instead of knitting, in her hand. --Otto Penzler