Book Review: LIGHTS! CAMERA! PUZZLES! a breezy mystery

hall, parnell - lights camera puzzlesLights! Camera! Puzzles! A Puzzle Lady Mystery
Parnell Hall

Cora Felton’s ex-husband, Melvin, has written a tell-all memoir, Confessions of a Trophy Husband: My Life with the Puzzle Lady, documenting their fiery marriage, though he’s kept secret the biggest scandal of all: Cora, the Puzzle Lady, can’t solve a crossword to save her life. Still, the book paints Cora poorly, and she’s lost an endorsement deal that provided most of her income. When she learns that Melvin’s book is being made into a movie, she signs on as an associate producer, partly to influence how she’s depicted but mostly because she needs the money.

Cora’s first day on the movie began with auditions for “present day Cora” and she was grumpy as she compared herself to the parade of actresses ushered to and from the stage by a production assistant. She’s called back to the theater by her friend NYPD homicide sergeant Crowley when one of those PAs is found murdered. The screenwriter had given Cora a crossword puzzle he’d found; Cora was convinced it was supposed to be planted on the body.

As director Sandy Delfin tries to keep the shoot on track while Sergeant Crowley haunts the set, additional murders plague the production making everyone wonder who will be next and why a killer targeted the Untitled Puzzle Lady Project.

Lights! Camera! Puzzles! is an entry in the long-standing Puzzle Lady series, and while reading the previous books isn’t necessary to understanding and enjoying this addition, I believe it would help give context to the returning characters and their relationships.

Though there are multiple murders, the book doesn’t have violence or gore so would be ideal for mystery lovers looking for those features. Solving the murders relies not on forensics or profiling but on observation and logic, and Cora excels at that, though her access to crime scenes strains credibility.

Cora communicates through witty, raucous banter, primarily with Sergeant Crowley, an ex-boyfriend, and it’s often funny, though at times it can be quite cutting and a little harsh for my taste. The characters that populate the movie set are a little stereotypical, especially when it comes to sex and gender, and these conventions feel outdated, but even more almost in deliberate defiance of changing expectations around equality and sexual harassment.

As a Puzzle Lady book should, Lights! Camera! Puzzles! includes puzzles for the reader to complete—a crossword by Fred Piscop and a Sudoku by Will Shortz. The book is quick and light-hearted and a good choice for an undemanding airport diversion.

Thanks to NetGalley and Pegasus Books for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

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