Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Puzzle in a Pear Tree by Parnell Hall

Someone gave me this book or I'd never have read it. I was given the first book in this series years ago and couldn't finish it. These are terrible, terrible books. I suspect no one ever buys these books for themselves; they're only ever given as gifts.

This is the fourth book in the "puzzle lady" series. In this case, the puzzles are acrostics rather than crosswords. There are three or four of them in the book to solve, but if you don't want to bother the solutions are given a few pages after each puzzle. The puzzles are pretty good.

The writing, however, is awful. Every character speaks alike except for the "Scotland Yard" detective, who is so cheesy-fake-British that it's embarrassing. Author Parnell Hall uses the words wanna, gonna, gotta and so forth all the time, so that all his characters sound like they're speaking with mouths full of mashed potatoes. And his prose tics, such as leaving the conjunctions out of compound sentences, are so constant they started to get to me within a few pages--and even show up in dialogue.

The plot isn't all that great either. Cora Felton is taking part in the local Christmas play, as is her niece Sherry and pretty much everyone else in town as far as I can tell. When someone leaves an acrostic that, when solved, implies that the leading lady is in danger, Cora swings into action. Well, okay, she doesn't. For reasons no doubt made clear in the previous three books, despite being known as the puzzle lady, Cora can't work puzzles worth a damn. Her niece solves the puzzles. Then a high school girl playing Mary in an unrelated pageant is murdered, and the clues point confusingly to different people in different plays.

I won't spoil the plot, but I will say that it's one of those horrible mysteries where the clues hinge on timetables that are so convoluted no one but the author would be able to figure them out (or care). The murderer's motive is weak, and verges on ridiculous. The local cops are portrayed as morons who don't know the first thing about conducting a murder investigation, who are happy to take orders from the "Scotland Yard" detective (look, we do all know it's not called Scotland Yard anymore, don't we?), and who don't seem to care that Cora is committing felonies left and right as she "investigates." If I were a cop, I would shoot this book for being too stupid to live.

No one better give me any more of these awful books, because I refuse to read another one.

B&N link


Kelly Robinson said...

When this series first came out I was intrigued because I love crosswords, but I skimmed a bit and thought they looked pretty terrible. Glad to know I was right. If somebody has a good puzzle series, I'd love to read it. (When I was young, one of my fave books ever was Ellen Raskin's The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel). The wordplay was like a puzzle that tied in to the mystery solving --fantastic!

K.C. Shaw said...

I loved The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel)! I remember drawing horses made up of words like the one illustrated on (I think) the back cover. I loved the puzzle component too. Too bad Raskin didn't write a mystery series.