Cora Felton has achieved some degree of fame in Bakerhaven, Connecticut, the small town to which she has chosen to “retire”. Cora is known as the “Puzzle Lady” whose crossword puzzle appears in syndication in a number of daily newspapers. Cora also has a secret. She knows nothing about constructing crossword puzzles. The constructor is, in truth, her niece Sherry Carter, a bright young lady, who, for a number of reasons, wishes to remain anonymous.
Recently, one of Bakerhaven’s wealthiest residents, Emma Hurley, has died, leaving a most unusual will. Her lawyer, Arthur Kincaid, has been instructed to gather together the heirs to meet with Cora Felton who will preside over the solution to a puzzle, which is purported to be forty years old. The heirs all receive a puzzle grid with an initial set of clues that will complete one quadrant of the puzzle. Cora will check their answers and provide the next set of clues.
Eventually the whole puzzle will be completed and Cora will decide who inherits Emma’s fortune by determining which heir has correctly and most quickly, solved the puzzle. It sounds like amusing entertainment for Cora, especially since Sherry is able to provide the expertise necessary to correctly solve the puzzle in advance of the heirs. However, when several of the principal players are murdered, life becomes a bit more complicated.
In Last Puzzle and Testament, Parnell Hall has produced a clever sequel to Cora Felton’s debut in A Clue for the Puzzle Lady. He offers the reader a real challenge by presenting the puzzle grid minus the clues for the precocious puzzle addict to solve. The plot is decidedly more complex than the successful solution to the crossword puzzle as puzzles within puzzles appear on the scene. The reader, as well as the characters in the story, is lead on a merry chase.
As is true of Mr. Hall’s series starring Stanley Hastings, the characters’ distinctive traits are grossly exaggerated, rendering them most amusing. Cora is about a millimeter away from being a totally out of control alcoholic, but her matter-of-fact way of looking at things, and genuine wit makes her delightful. Her niece, Sherry is the straight man to Cora’s buffoonery; she doesn’t really endear herself to the reader, except she shows instances of perception, which are just brilliant.
While probably not likely to leave one with many moral dilemmas to ponder, Last Puzzle and Testment is enjoyable entertainment for a few evenings. The plot moves along swiftly, the dialogue is often amusing, and the puzzle component worthy of giving the brain cells a bit of exercise. The first Cora Felton mystery taught more about the art of crossword puzzle construction, but Last Puzzle and Testament adds a bit to that storehouse.