A Crossworder’s Holiday

I enjoy crossword puzzles. I enjoy mysteries. I enjoy pretty much anything that involves solving. And that actually may be why A Crossworder’s Holiday didn’t really do much for me. I wasn’t expecting it to be as fluffy as it was, like a parlour trick. Nero Blanc is the pseudonym for husband and wife team Cordelia Frances Biddle and Steve Zettler, and I know she has written other actual mysteries.

This series features crossword editor Bella Graham and her PI husband Rosco Polycrates, present here in five short stories. All are set over the Christmas holidays, though we must presume in different years unless the couple are ridiculous travelers. In each case a crossword puzzle holds the key to explaining a situation.

Part of the problem might be the short story format. There isn’t really room for development so instead the tales come off like two-minute mysteries, a cute exercise but one that the reader is given little reason to care about. The other problem, which rests completely on my side, is plausibility. Personally I find it hard to believe that all these people feel the need to create crossword puzzles to hide important messages.

The eponymous first story was the worst of the bunch and probably prejudiced me, but it seemed filled with unnecessary details and red herrings (like the fuss about Herman Melville). The second had a much better mystery but absolutely no motivation for a crossword to have been involved. The fourth, however, I thought was very good, and not just because of the Philadelphia Mummer’s Day Parade setting. It was the only one of the bunch that had real suspense and kept me not only guessing but interested.

Basically, I would say the concept based on this book is geared not towards mystery lovers who like crosswords, but to crossword lovers who like their puzzle to have a hidden message or implication. And who don’t like mind writing in a book.

I feel slightly like a hypocrite, since I just recalled that The Clue in the Crossword Cipher is one of my preferred Nancy Drews, though here the puzzle is a clue and not the end-all-be-all. I’d be willing to give one of the full-length books a shot in the hopes that it retains the good qualities while fixing the problems. I don’t think I’ll actively seek it out, though.

Apparently multiple series of sudoku mysteries are being published now as well. It’s a cute idea, but why does every cozy author feel the need to find a niche of the market? I can’t quite see these being a long-lasting contribution to the genre.

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Published in: on August 7, 2009 at 11:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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