Have you seen shop windows decked out for Christmas? They are filled with fake snow, artificial light, and populated by mannequins. (The last term is deemed more acceptable than “dummies”.) Such windows and this offering in this particular series are identical- both filled with fluff, fakes, and falsehoods. This is the second and final book featuring Cora Felton, the “Puzzle Lady” that I have read and will ever read. What a waste of time!
To the public she is a genteel matron of middle years who creates crossword puzzles for national publications and even has a television audience. In reality she is a multiple divorcee with an acerbic tongue and unquenchable thirst for alcohol. She knows nothing of crossword puzzles or any sort of word games. “Her” puzzles are created by her niece, Sherry, who is the self-appointed caretaker or co-dependent of her aunt. Cora revels in her addiction while Sherry meekly accedes to her aunt’s shenanigans.
This time the scene is a Christmas pageant in which the gifts of the twelve days of Christmas are presented one after another until the stage is filled. The director is a celebrity although if this production is an example of his work his merits remain a mystery. He actually casts Cora as a milkmaid and gives her a solo although she can’t sing or act. The star of the show is a local lawyer and rival of Sherry’s for the affections of a local swain who seems to have death threats aimed at her in the form of acrostics which appear in her wake. Cora is unable to solve this or any form of word game so others step in and provide answers and she takes the credit.
Crime escalates as a young girl in the living Nativity scene is murdered. Suspicion is on Sherry who possesses acrostic software, possibly because a modicum of intelligence and resourcefulness is suggested. A visiting Scotland Yard inspector attempts to solve the crime and Cora is on her high horse as a result. The two compete to see who will successfully find the culprit. As all the characters are one dimensional clichés, it really doesn’t matter who did what to whom nor why. Were a concentrated convocation of conundrums to collapse on this entire collection of dullards who would mourn their demise?
I certainly was not dazzled by the brilliance of the puzzles. British puzzle enthusiasts would be insulted by their simplicity. The daily London Times selection would produce palpitations among the entire population of this dim village. Parnell Hall should not consider puzzle creations for a career.
Cora Fenton, unreformed dipsomaniac, is an unpleasant character. She lives a lie and basks in undeserved admiration while the true source of creativity, her niece Sherry, is unacknowledged. Does the author find this admirable behavior? He is certainly unacquainted with the dynamics of addiction and co-dependency which are exemplified in his work. Most detectives have some knowledge of human psychology which aids their investigations but Cora Fenton seems oblivious. Character comes with an attempt to understand one’s failings and strengths and to aim for improvement. Without this, characters never develop but remain unbelievable just like the mannequins in the store window.