A Puzzle to Be Named Later by Parnell Hall is the 18th Puzzle Lady mystery book and the first in the series to be released on commercial audio. Matt Greystone, the newest sensation on the Yankees who just signed a big contract with the team and then got into a serious car accident that night, leaving him disabled for at least a year, has moved to Cora Felton’s hometown of Bakerhaven, Connecticut. The public face of the Puzzle Lady, Cora lives with her grown niece, Sherry Carter. Sherry has been privately creating nationally-syndicated crossword puzzles for years but using her aunt as the stated author of the puzzles, since in the earlier books, Sherry was in hiding from an abusive ex-husband and using Cora as her cover in order to keep secret her location. Now, Sherry is married to a journalist and has a pre-school aged daughter.
Matt Greystone throws for the movers and shakers of his new community and enlists Cora to help prepare for the party. At the planning meeting, Matt’s wife, Jackie, gives Cora a crossword puzzle left for her as a message, not knowing that Cora can no more solve crossword puzzles than speak Japanese. After Sherry solves the puzzle, they find the cryptic message to look in the files, but it doesn’t specify which files. At the pool party, Matt’s wild minor-league pitcher buddy, Don Upton, shows up, wanting to use the sauna with naked ladies. As they prepare the sauna for use, Jackie opens up the door to the sauna and finds the dead body of Leon Bratz, a muckraking tabloid writer known for trying to create slime against anyone well-known, and he has another crossword puzzle placed on him. Is the killer taunting the police and Cora, the Puzzle Lady?
Years ago I read the first four or five books in this series and fell in love. I loved the way the puzzles fit in so well with the plots and the very creatively written characters. So it was with great excitement that I saw that one of the books is finally on audio. However, I was disappointed to miss the strongest points of the earlier books in this book. The addition of the puzzles to the book seems to be contrived. The puzzles serve as anonymous messages in the form of a crossword, which just didn’t fit in very well. The conclusion explains the reason for the puzzles, but they play minor roles in the book until the very end.
In addition, I especially missed the delightful, fully round characters. Cora, in her eagerness to solve the murder, commits a lot of breaking and entering, even getting herself arrested. But the zeal I remember from the past that would have led to these actions doesn’t come through very clearly. And Sherry and her husband Aaron have very little action in this book. Further, I did tend to get lost among the numerous characters who have evidently been regulars in the previous books, but since this book is the first to be available on audio, listeners may especially get confused by the numerous characters whom the author seems to assume we all know already.
Nan McNamara does the narration for the audio version of this book. I was disappointed in the quality of the reading, especially since many times I had a hard time telling the characters apart based upon the use of her voices. The book lacks much expression too, making me unhappy with the narration in general.
This book does have some hints of the earlier books’ delightfulness. The book does have certain points of fun and likely is very enjoyable to those who have been following the series all along. I just wish they had published the series from the start. I give this book three stars.
DISCLAIMER: I received this book free from the publisher, but it in no way influenced my review of this book.
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