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Whispers of Vivaldi by Beverle Graves Myers

February 28, 2014 Leave a comment

Whispers of Vivaldi by Beverle Graves Myers

Whispers of Vivaldi by Beverle Graves Myers (Poisoned Pen Press, 2014) is a delightful historical mystery, the sixth and final in the series featuring the castrato Tito Amato — I seem to specialise in finding good things just as they are ending. This is playing in the same sandpit as Dave Duncan whose trilogy features a fictionalised nephew of Nostradamus and his savvy apprentice (it starts with The Alchemist’s Apprentice) and is also set in Venice, albeit about one-hundred-and-fifty years before this novel. It also matches the alternate history fantasy novel, The Black Opera by Mary Gentle, by focusing on the problems of getting the production of an opera underway.

The political situation in Venice has always been fascinating and is nicely explored here. Given that the local theatres depend on patronage to be able to mount their extravagant stage productions, there’s an important intersection between the arts and the powerful nobility. By subsidizing these productions, the wealthy buy the support of the pit audience who live for opera. Equally, they give themselves a platform from which to be seen and acknowledged by the people, all having private boxes at the theatres from which they can bow and accept the applause of the common man. It’s also worth commenting on the longevity of the Italian rules preventing women from appearing on stage. To get the right vocal range for singing purposes, this not only requires men to dress as women but also be castrated. In Rome, priests act as enforcement officers who inspect singers to ensure they began life as males. In the provinces, there’s no tradition of physical inspection which can lead to speculation if a singer bulges in the wrong places.

Beverle Graves Myers

Beverle Graves Myers

Our sleuth showed vocal talent as a boy so went through the process of castration and training to become a star of the opera. However, he loses his voice in an earlier episode and now spends his time assisting Maestro Torani, the director of Teatro San Marco in Venice. Their relationship is as close to father and son as it’s possible to get and, all other things being equal., the old man would like to see his protégé take over the running of the opera house. This is largely accepted by most who work in the Teatro although, for different reasons, there’s some animosity and not a little jealousy. Opera prima donnas are, by definition, emotional and aggressive in pursuit of their ambitions. At the beginning of this book, Amato is approached by Niccolo Rocatti with a politically controversial opera score called The False Duke. Deciding the beauty of the music will seduce the audience into overlooking the problematic libretto, Amato first sells the idea of the score to the Maestro and then to Signor Arcangelo Passoni who’s the Teatro’s primary patron. Approval is given, but conditional on two inconvenient factors. A spectacular stage effect is to be introduced into this pastoral setting, and the lead is to be sung by the young castrato, Angeletto. Because he’s convinced the opera will be a financial success, Amato manages to talk the stage designer into creating a shipwreck, and he recruits Angeletto even though being forced to pay more than the usual rate for someone relatively untested.

This sets us off on the initial preparations, rehearsing the cast and getting the musicians familiar with the score. Unfortunately, when a reception is held at the Passoni residence to introduce Angeletto to Venetian society, Amato finds himself required to defend the honour of a lady and, some fifteen minutes later, to receive the news the Maestro has been murdered. He’s immediately suspected by many of the influential people present who assume he would kill the Maestro to replace him. Fortunately, the senior law enforcement officer is soon able to confirm Amato’s account of events and, within the circles that matter, he’s no longer a suspect. This leaves him free to pursue his own investigation to identify the one responsible for the death of his “father”.

There are one or two mechanical problems with the plot which enable the murderer to be in the right place at the right time but, if we look past these details, the core of the mystery is multilayered with three major strands all bound together in a pretty package for us to consider. First, there’s a problem with the provenance of The False Duke. Then we have the question of whether Angeletto is a castrato or a woman breaking all the rules. And finally there’s the rivalry between the opera companies which may have gone beyond the usual skullduggery into murder. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to tie either of the first two strands to a likely motive. Even the third is problematic because, if Amato is not guilty, he’s likely to be a more formidable competitor if he takes over the running of Teatro San Marco. Killing the old man would therefore seem counterproductive. So perhaps there’s another motive involved. The answers are rather pleasing. Overall, this leaves me recommending Whispers of Vivaldi. It has a good sense of this period of Venetian history and the mystery is very satisfying.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

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Castle: Season 6, episode 16. Room 147 (2014)

February 27, 2014 6 comments

Castle

Well, thanks to one of my readers, I’ve just watched my first episode of Castle: Season 6, episode 16. Room 147 (2014) — only five seasons and fifteen episodes to go and I’ll have caught up. This is not a show that’s aired on terrestrial channels in my neck of the woods, so this episode comes as a bolt from the blue. On the face of it, this is a very interesting plot idea. Because of the time constraints on “one hour” episodes, it has to compress everything into 43 minutes of screen time but, within that constraint, this manages to muddy the waters and then see through the glass clearly in regulation time. As you’ll gather from the title, there’s a murder in Room 147. A man has been shot twice in the chest. He has a bottle of water in his hand, evidently just removed from the fridge. When he fell, he seems to have pulled over a chair which is lying beside the body. So far, this is a standard murder in hotel bedroom plot. The victim’s girlfriend has no explanation as to why he was in the hotel, but one of her fellow actors remembers an incident in the street when an angry woman accosted him. The police follow this up, identify the woman and, when she walks into the police station, she immediately confesses to the murder. At this stage, there’s just one problem. She has a very credible alibi which puts her miles away at the time of death. Then a man walks into the police station and makes almost word-for-word the same confession. And then a third man appears with the same confession.

In the world of the canned mystery show, there are certain rules to follow. For example, there can’t be any supernatural explanations, there are no science fiction wrinkles with new technology able to allow people to implant memories, e.g. as in Inception (2010). There must be a reasonably credible explanation based on today’s reality. So let’s set up the problem as it first appears.

Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) and Kate Beckett confront a witness remotely

Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) and Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) confront a witness remotely

These people have the same set of memories. They admit being angry with this man and shot him.

This suggests they either had acted out the drama for some reason — the victim was an actor — or the killer wore a camera during the shooting and these three were able to watch a recording.

But even if these three viewed a recording of the event, why would they not only feel guilt, but also come forward to confess?

There’s no obvious link between them and/or the victim, so no motive for the shooting and no motive for a conspiracy to confess and thereby make a prosecution difficult. Had they not come forward, the second and third confessors would not have been identified as suspects.

So back in the real world, there must be a connection between these three and something must have interfered with their memories. I won’t spoil it for you. I’ve seen the basic idea in several other series but this is probably the most elegant version. Why? Let’s take the possibility of a hypnotist as murderer. He or she is able to implant suggestions and manipulate the suggestible individual into committing suicide or acting to his or her detriment in some specific way. If that’s what was going on here, it would mean our hypnotist recorded the shooting and then programed the three individuals to come forward and confess. That would make any subsequent investigation very difficult. In fact, the episode offers a solution that’s rather more devious and less linear. Within the time available, this is a very good example of a murder plot. It’s just unfortunate I have no idea how Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion), an author, gets to spend years attached to a homicide unit and ends up sleeping with Kate Beckett (Stana Katic), a homicide detective with big hair. But I’m sure it all makes perfect sense to this who have loyally watched this from the pilot back in 2009. For those of you who missed the episode, Crown’s daughter moves back into her father’s apartment at the end so all’s well with the world again. My sincere thanks go to the reader who recommended I watch this. Castle: Room 147 was an entertaining episode even though, if this was to occur in the real world, I seriously doubt this outcome. People don’t spontaneously confess to murders.

Almost Human: Season 1, episode 12. Beholder (2014)

February 26, 2014 3 comments

Almost-Human2

Almost Human: Season 1, episode 12. Beholder (2014) begins with a terrible warning about playing virtual golf. There’s no quicker way to lose face than playing against the machine. So our pretend golfer in shorts is distracted and gets the wrong type of hole in one side of his neck courtesy of a bandaged intruder. Switch now to police HQ where Dorian (Michael Ealy) takes a call from Samantha — the woman Detective John Kennex (Karl Urban) dated last night. Naturally Kennex is upset Dorian has interfered in his private life. Dorian offers the insight that the women he dates find him boring which is why they keep taking calls when out with him. This bromantic heart-to-heart is interrupted by Detective Valerie Stahl (Minka Kelly) who speculates she has an unnatural death involving a chrome. Such people are genetically modified so don’t die young of heart attacks. We then get the slightly spooky view of Dorian taking a blood sample from the deceased and injecting it into himself. Of course he doesn’t have to worry about HIV or any other infection, but it’s a faintly surreal moment. Dorian’s internal CSI lab processes the blood and he announces the entry wound has been contaminated by the DNA from seven people — such bad hygiene from our killer should have consequences but this is not about the DNA. A records search reveals all seven donors are dead from natural causes.

Meanwhile, our bandaged man wearing the hoodie goes to his local unregistered physician who “fixes” his face (again). This is quite the best approach to cosmetic surgery I’ve seen in a television series or film for a while. It makes shapeshifting abilities redundant. Just one quick injection and a lot of pain, and nanobot cosmetic surgery does the trick every time. Who needs to manipulate the DNA when you can have the robots map the desired facial features from the inside of the model and then replicate the same effect inside the target human. Be still my heart — unfortunately that’s the effect the bots had on most targets. Their electrical action induced arrhythmia when injected into the models (except when those donors were prepared for the shock by the injection of adrenaline). The only drawback to this illegal version seems to be it doesn’t work on the already damaged person which is why he has to signal his continuing threat to society by wearing bandages.

Eric Lathem (Michael Eklund) gets the eyes he's always coveted

Eric Lathem (Michael Eklund) gets the eyes he’s always coveted

The theme of tonight’s episode is not so much that people make barriers for themselves and so find it difficult to relate to those around them, but rather that technology makes barriers between people. Genetic modification makes the chromes who don’t like associating with normals. Women prefer taking calls from their friends rather than talking with Kennex on a date. When Kennex rants anti-technology, Dorian reminds John of his leg (and the salad oil that keeps it working smoothly). A further application of technology is the midget inside the obese woman — you have to see it to believe it — which is a really strange life choice when, presumably, the midget could have chosen the body of a giant hunky man. Dorian proves the exception that proves the rule. He can bridge the gap with humans because he’s a walking defibrillator who can jump start a heart assuming not too much adrenaline in the target body.

All this would not be unreasonable if it were being used in service of a sensible plot. But this is mawkishly ironic and overextended. Eric Lathem (Michael Eklund) as our homicidal nutter is forcing the reconstruction of his face so he can appear perfect when he introduces himself to his online chat partner. With time running short and the police moving in for the arrest, he finally picks up enough courage and goes to meet her. It turns out she’s blind and he’s been wasting his time. She loved him for who he was as a person, not what he looked like. It’s a ghastly moment as our facial dysmorphic disorder person throws himself on the scrapheap of life, i.e. off the top of a tall building. This just leaves one thing to perfect the already perfect day Kennex has been enjoying. He finally asks Stahl to go out for a drink with him only to find she’s agreed to go out with the chrome she met earlier in the episode. Carpe diem was not his approach to life and he’s cast adrift at the end of the episode, reflecting on how slowly the plot has moved. Sadly, although there’s some character development, the episode itself is intensely boring. And despite this now being episodes running in the order intended, Almost Human: Beholder shows no plot continuity with the last episode.

For reviews of other episodes, see
Almost Human. Season 1, episode 1 (2013)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 2. Skin (2013)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 3. Are You Receiving? (2013)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 4. The Bends (2013)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 5. Blood Brothers (2013)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 6. Arrhythmia (2013)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 7. Simon Says (2014)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 8. You Are Here (2014)
Almost Human: Season 1, Episode 9. Unbound (2014)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 10. Perception (2014)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 11. Disrupt (2014)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 13. Straw Man (2014).

Hotel Brasil by Frei Betto

February 25, 2014 2 comments

Hotel Brasil by Frei Betto

Hotel Brasil by Frei Betto (Bitter Lemon Press, 2014) translated by Jethro Soutar, sees the first publication of this prolific author’s work in English — there are fifty-two other books to wait for. This modest volume is subtitled, “The mystery of the severed heads” which suggests it is either a crime or horror novel. The reality is rather different. It’s set in a rundown guest house in Rio de Janeiro. Originally, it was a private mansion, but when the owner departed, Dona Dino, the woman left behind, could not pay the bills unless she admitted paying guests. To call it a hotel would be to miss the mark. It’s rather more a collection of individuals who have come together in cheap accommodation offered by an apparently benign and supportive elderly lady (and her cat). When one of the guests, an elderly man who traded in semi-precious gemstones, is found decapitated, this provokes the police into action and, as each of the residents is interviewed by Delegado Olinto Del Bosco, we’re introduced to their lives.

The primus inter pares resident is Cândido. He’s a modern-day equivalent of Volatire’s Candide, a not unworldly man who makes a meagre living as an editor for a local publishing house while volunteering to help the street kids who get into trouble. He wants to find the best in people which is why, during the course of this book, he becomes involved in defying the military police who are dealing with a mass breakout at a juvenile detention centre. On a whim, he protects a girl who escapes, involving others in hiding her, even though it makes him even more a target for harassment and possible disappearance if he gets caught. Then there’s Rui Pacheco, a political aide and Marcelo Braga, a newspaperman. Both are, in their different ways, relatively powerful. Pacheco has networked into the political class and knows the right people to get some things done. But he’s also a contradiction. He ought to be building up wealth alongside his influence yet he lives in reduced circumstances. Marcelo could write front-page opinion pieces to castigate Del Bosco for his failure to catch the killer. This would probably lead to Del Bosco being sidelined if not dismissed. But he doesn’t think an intervention worth his while. There are few men of talent in the ranks of the local detective force and Marcelo does not believe any replacement would be any more likely to find the killer.

Frei Betto

Frei Betto

This leaves us with the flamboyant Diamante Negro who’s a professional cross-dressing transformista, and Madame Larência who’s reached the age when she can no longer easily turn tricks and so acts as a pimp. Rosaura Doroteia dos Santos is a young and naive fantasist who dreams of becoming a star of one of the prevailing television soaps. While Jorge Maldonado is the general factotum around the hotel and, when no-one else seems likely to have been the killer, he’s the one arrested. He’s lucky enough to have an older bother who was a notorious, if less than successful, crook. Beating a confessional out of him seems the most reasonable solution to the case. Except, while this unfortunate is locked up, there’s a second decapitation.

In a way, the hotel and the sequence of murders is just a excuse to talk about Brazilian society. Through the characters we get an insight into the social dynamics of the culture in Rio. This is not the tourist version with street carnivals and beach parties. Rather it’s a study of the progress being by the post-junta government, highlighting the problems of the disadvantaged and marginalised. The are moments of humour and equal elements of tragedy as the stories of the different residents play out. So you should not pick up this book if you are looking for a traditional whodunnit. Although the final pages do explain who’s responsible for the killings and why, that’s of secondary importance. The real thrust of the narrative is whether Cândido can find love and redeem the girl from the streets. In this, no-one is an angel. Equally, it’s hard to single out any of those who survive to the end of the book as being devils. Everyone does what they must to survive. They may be required to do some things that, objectively, they will acknowledge as illegal or merely immoral. But people will pay such prices if they emerge with their lives intact. This makes Hotel Brasil a social commentary with some satirical ambitions and relatively unflinching insights into Brazil’s current social and political problems.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

The After Dinner Mysteries or Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de or 推理要在晚餐后 (2011): Episodes 5 and 6

February 24, 2014 2 comments

The After Dinner Mysteries

Episode 5 gives us the earth-shattering news Kageyama (Sho Sakurai), our intellectually superior butler, is a fan of manga while Kyoichiro Kazamatsuri (Kippei Shiina), our dimwitted detective, is now infatuated with our less than successful heiress cum detective, Reiko Hosho (Keiko Kitagawa), in her alternate persona of Ms Shao Rei from Hong Kong. Obviously the infatuated only see what their heart desires, i.e. lots of money on marrying the mysterious heiress from Hong Kong rather than the attractive woman in front of them. So now we get the introduction to the murder, this time committed in the Kunitachi Shrine, an act of sacrilege. The victim is an unknown woman, stabbed through the chest with a small knife. She has no handbag or handphone — no means of identifying her. The “brains” of the outfit sees this as a robbery gone wrong whereas our heroine speculates the killer took the handphone because it would contain evidence they knew each other.

So now we get into evidence collection where it immediately appears the victim is the author of a famous manga which has scenes set in the Shrine. Curiously, she’s been unable to finish the series leaving fans somewhat frustrated. The artist is the first and only suspect, but he seems to have a completely airtight alibi. The episode therefore has two themes. The first is the means of deconstructing the alibi which is pleasing in its own right. The second is the reason why such a good alibi came into being. This is a beautiful inversion of expectation. Although the precise circumstances of the death are easy to reconstruct given the brief prologue scene, the explanation for everyone’s motives is masterful making this episode a cut above the average. It may flirt with sentimentality, but it’s a remarkably practical way of achieving the desired end and, by any standards, worthy of being included in any hit manga (or a television detective series, of course).

Reiko Hosho (Keiko Kitagawa) arrives for work

Reiko Hosho (Keiko Kitagawa) arrives for work

Hotfoot into episode 6 sees our detective late in arriving at the scene of another death. This time the body of a woman is rather tastefully laid out in the greenhouse of another of these properties inhabited by the rich. But before we get into the detail of it, the brainless one has been checking into the background of the “object of his desires” and has discovered no-one named Shao Rei has come into the country recently. It seems being a detective does come with some perks (if only he actually knew what to do with them).

Now into the death in the rose garden (which looks rather beautiful, as does the corpse — but no-one would dare say anything so disrespectful of the dead). The victim is Takahara Kyoko, an ex-hostess who’s been living in the manor for about a month. It then occurs to the detectives that this death scene is a rerun of “The Curse of the Red Rose” — one of the seven unsolved mysteries of the area. We then get the usual supernatural tropes paraded before us to make fun of the dimwitted detective who’s gullible enough to believe an ancient curse can affect people today. The deductions surrounding the cat are wonderful and, to my shame, completely unexpected. Flashbacks to recall relevant statements really can be humiliating at times like this. Although this is nowhere near as successful as episode 5, it nevertheless maintains a good standard with the reasoning pleasingly specific to identify which of the three suspects must be the guilty one. The less satisfying element is the explanation of the motive which depends on such a fleeting moment, no viewer could have caught it. That said, it’s a good clue if one of the oldest motives in the book.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
The After Dinner Mysteries or Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de or 推理要在晚餐后 (2011) Episodes 1 and 2
The After Dinner Mysteries or Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de or 推理要在晚餐后 (2011): Episodes 3 and 4
The After Dinner Mysteries or Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de or 推理要在晚餐后 (2011): Episodes 7 and 8
The After Dinner Mysteries or Nazotoki wa Dinner no Ato de or 推理要在晚餐后 (2011): Episodes 9 and 10.

Heirs of the Body by Carola Dunn

February 23, 2014 Leave a comment

HEIRS OF THE BODY by Carola Dunn

Heirs of the Body by Carola Dunn (Minotaur Books, 2013) is the twenty-first in the series featuring (The Honourable) Daisy Dalrymple (Fletcher) and has us firmly back in historical times all wrapped up warm in what approaches the status of a cozy mystery. As to era, we’re firmly located in the Britain of the 1920s in which wealth and privilege were still hanging on by their fingernails. Thematically, we’re caught up in the problems of the primogeniture rule for succession to a title. In the days before the suffragette movement was alarming the horses on race courses and straining conversations over tea in country houses, titles passed down the male line. In the best regulated families, husbands would bear down on their wives on a regular basis and, in due course, lots of little heirs would populate the nurseries, thereby ensuring a smooth transition of the title and the lands entailed with it. Except not all households were successful with problems of fertility, lack of interest in sex, or worse, the production of female offspring only, blighting succession. It was at this point that lawyers with an interest in genealogy came into their own, delving into dusty records in colonies and other less likely places around the world, to find the nearest male relative who might be elevated to the ranks of the nobility. In this case, the current Lord Dalrymple has reached the age of fifty and, having spent his life in pursuit of butterflies and moths, decides the chances of catching an heir are remote. He therefore sets the wheels in motion to find the male with the best claim to the title and the estate that goes with it.

Meanwhile Daisy continues in domestic bliss with her husband who, breaking the cozy rules, is a senior police officer at the old Scotland Yard. This gives our heroine the perfect excuse to get involved in all the more interesting cases falling into her husband’s care. Indeed, she’s been at this so long, not only the younger officers but also the more senior officers of London’s finest are aware of her ability to make pertinent suggestions on whodunnit. This time, the family solicitor comes up with a list of four possible claimant to the title. They are an unpleasant South African who appears to be moderately wealthy thanks to his trade as a diamond merchant, a British man and his French wife who run a hotel in Scarborough, a mixed-race boy from Trinidad, and a Jamaican sailor — his pregnant wife comes to England to protect his claim since no-one is entirely sure where he is.

Carola Dunn

Carola Dunn

This starts well. There’s a very nice sense of the style and manners of the time with the stratification of social class ringing true. The interest is maintained as we begin the search for the heirs and first impressions as the early claimants appear are auspicious. Unfortunately, the central section loses it way. In part, this is a direct result from plot choices. In the classical detective story, we reestablish our core of series characters, meet the newcomers for this book and, usually no later than one third of the way through the book, the first body appears. This gives our heroine plenty of time to flex her mental muscles, decide what to wear for dinner, and solve the case in the library over a snifter or two. But this case is about succession. One of the claimants must think he has a poor chance of meeting the criteria for being the first male heir and so decides to eliminate the competition. The most amusing version of this trope is Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) in which the predatory Louis Mazzini works his way through the ranks of the D’Ascoynes.

Allowing for the film being somewhat over the top, this is completely free of tension as there are reports of “accidents”, or we see the donkey race to disaster, or the butterfly net of doom almost strikes. When we do get to a death, it appears to be natural causes. Although once you put it in context, it does look suspicious. Of course it heats up again as we come into the final bend but the feeling as we cross the line is that the criminal(s) is/are remarkably amateurish — this is just too cozy with very little of the killer mentality we associate with the British nobility. Having taken the decision to eliminate the competition, you would expect the villain(s) to be better organised and leave nothing to chance. Indeed, continuing in the ineptitude stakes, the professional police officer who married into this clan of noble eccentrics comes out of this book looking less than effective. Although we’re not supposed to blame him — he’s distracted — his failure to examine the key evidence is woeful. Perhaps he’s more on the ball in earlier books.

So Heirs of the Body ends up slightly ho-hum. It promises more than it delivers on the mystery front, once the evidence comes in, the question of the heir’s identity is easy to see, and the historical background is impeccable. So if all you want is a gentle outing into the lives of one of the larger British aristocratic families of the latter part of 1920s, this is the book for you. Presumably if you’ve already read the twenty books preceding this, you’ll want this if only to see what happens on the family front.

For reviews of other books by Carola Dunn, see A Colourful Death and The Valley of the Shadow.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

NYPD Puzzle by Parnell Hall

February 20, 2014 Leave a comment

NYPD Puzzle by Parnell Hall

NYPD Puzzle by Parnell Hall (Minotaur Books, 2014) is the fifteenth Puzzle Lady Mysteries featuring Cora Felton. If you’ve read the previous fourteen, this is more of the same and you’ll no doubt pick this up, charge through it, and emerge satisfied at the end. For those of you coming to the series for the first time, the structure of the book is very accessible so there’s no difficulty in reading this cold. People who like cozy mysteries will no doubt love this. From this introduction, you’ll detect I have a certain degree of ambivalence about it.

Welcome to small town America, Bakerhaven to be precise, in which a cast of regular characters know each other and, in appropriate circumstances, help each other out. It all depends on Cora Felton. She’s of a certain age, is the face used to advertise breakfast fodder for kids, and consolidates her fame or notoriety by being known as the Puzzle Lady, i.e. she’s launched hundreds of crosswords, sudoku and other puzzles on to the unsuspecting world. Except, of course, she’s a fraud — but in the nicest sense of the word. Although she’s got a real head for numbers, and creates and solves sudoku in her sleep, she has no aptitude for crosswords. The reason for the deception is to provide a source of income for her niece Sherry. When she was on the run from her abusive husband, Cora gave her a place to stay. Sherry earns her living creating the crosswords which the Puzzle Lady markets to those who like puzzles. Indeed, this book has crosswords and sudoku puzzles embedded in the text. Solving them gives vital clues (for those of you with no skill or aptitude in puzzle-solving, the solutions are given on the next page).

Parnell Hall finding a good use for his left hand

Parnell Hall finding a good use for his left hand

This time around, someone has broken into the town hall, but there’s no sign anything is missing. Next Cora’s attorney friend is invited to nearby New York to meet with a client for the first time. Instead of going to this man’s office, she’s invited to his penthouse. Out of an abundance of caution. Cora goes along as bodyguard. Needless to say, they come out of the lift, push open the door and find a dead body with a crossword puzzle pinned to its chest. A noise alerts them to the presence of someone in another room so Cora takes out her gun (yes she packs heat) and seconds later is shooting at a safecracker as he jumps out of the window. This leaves her in a tricky situation because the bullet currently residing inside the dead man’s head is too badly damaged to produce reliable markings. Cora’s bullet followed the burglar out through the open window, so the NYPD is not a million miles from having one of these neat circumstantial cases to show Cora as the killer. Except why would a sudoku puzzle also appear? This question joins a growing list of the unanswerable? Why do people break into small-town town halls and take nothing? Why do people later kill the town clerk with a blunt instrument. How come someone can incorporate a car’s licence plate number in the first sudoku puzzle and then use a car with those plates to follow Cora? and so on.

The accumulation of questions without answers grows somewhat frustrating both for the characters and the readers. So much happens which obviously must have some explanation, but the who and the why of it remain stubbornly elusive. Now we add in the element you will either find endearing or somewhat annoying. Cora’s last relationship has ended somewhat abruptly and she’s feeling a little fragile. Even during the best of times, she’s prone to engage in what one might call “banter”. In earlier books this is moderately friendly and reasonably humorous. This time round, she’s more barbed and, at times, the characters talk at each other rather than with each other. After a while, I found this grew tiresome. You can forgive much when people are feeling vulnerable, but this got out of hand.

So NYPD Puzzle is not as successful as the last in the series. The mystery is not something Cora and her cohorts solve. Rather they have to wait until it’s explained to them at the end. So instead of producing a ta-da whodunnit moment at the end, it fizzles out as the killer(s) is/are taken into custody. Shame really. With hindsight, the plot is ingenious but it never quite engages as the characters go through the necessary gyrations to find out who’s doing what to whom and why.

For a review of the previous book in the series, see Arsenic and Old Puzzles.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

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