It's Groucho Marx meets Jessica Fletcher as Puzzle Lady Cora Felton takes
on small-town secrets and hands out romantic advice. Hall's tale is slick and laugh-out-loud funny, with witty banter and eccentric characters. He catches a reader's attention from the first page with crackling dialogue, a convoluted plot and an intriguing wrap-up. Cora's sharp tongue could sharpen the lead in a pencil as she looks into murder, theft and blackmail. A definite keeper.

After a young wife asks Cora, the public face of her niece's cruciverbalist creations, to create a very personal puzzle to explain a dented fender, Cora finds herself under arrest for a seedy hustler's murder. Benny Southstreet turns up dead in a motel bathroom after claiming that Cora plagiarized one of his puzzles, and all the clues lead to Cora.

As if she weren't busy enough investigating the theft of antique chairs from a rundown shop, now she's got to find out who hated Benny enough to kill him -- and set her up for the crime. Cora's getting help from her clever niece, Sherry, Sherry's reporter fiance and, unwittingly, her niece's obsessed ex-husband, to tie three separate crimes into one neat package before the grand jury indicts her. (Bantam, Nov., 320 pp., $24.00)
Reviewed by: 
Pat Cooper