cover image Last Puzzle & Testament

Last Puzzle & Testament

Parnell Hall. Bantam Books, $23.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-553-80099-9

The second puzzle for Cora Felton (following A Clue for the Puzzle Lady) is even better than her clever debut. Although nationally syndicated columnist Cora is known as the ""Puzzle Lady"" to her Bakerhaven, Conn., neighbors, it's actually her brainy niece, Sherry Carter, who creates the famous crossword puzzles attributed to Cora. With a grandmotherly appearance that belies the oft married, cigarette-smoking, hard-drinking reality beneath, Cora fancies that her forte is solving mysteries. And Sherry's reticence and desire to shun the spotlight hides a puzzle constructor of the first rank. Their respective skills get a real test when wealthy, eccentric Emma Hurley dies and leaves a will that requires her potential heirs to compete in a puzzle-solving contest. She has furthermore appointed Cora final judge and arbiter. The assembled heirs-in-waiting are a motley lot--from obnoxious battling twins, Phyllis and Philip, to hermit-like Chester and disaffected young nephew Daniel. Reporter Aaron Grant returns as a romantic foil for Sherry, though things keep getting in the way of their budding amour. Edgar nominee Hall, a master of wordplay himself, has great fun as bloodletting and other forms of skullduggery complicate the search for clues and answers to a 40-year-old puzzle. The bantering affection between irrepressible Cora and shy Sherry, the antics of Emma's kin and a bit of murder and mayhem allow Hall to mask the puzzle's solution to the very end. (Sept.)