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The KenKen Killings: A Puzzle Lady Mystery (#12) by Parnell Hall
Cover Artist: Jean-Francois Martin
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312612191
Date: 18 January 2011 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Interview: Parnell Hall / Show Official Info /

The world renowned Puzzle Lady, Cora Felton, becomes the victim of a scam; she foolishly cashes the inheritance check of a dead man to whom she was never married. Now her last ex-husband, the womanizing Melvin Crabtree, is suing her for an annulment on the grounds they were never legally married. If he wins, Cora's monthly alimony checks will be terminated. Witnesses at the trial who are testifying on Melvin's behalf are being killed and KenKen puzzles left next to their corpses. The puzzles are providing clues, which are implicating Melvin as the killer. Cora, who still has fond feelings for her ex-husband, is determined to identify the true killer before more innocent people die.

Parnell Hall's The KenKen Killings is the first installment I've read in the long-running Puzzle Lady Mystery series and it certainly won't be my last. Cora Felton has a new fan in me. The KenKen Killings is a delightfully funny cozy with endearing characters, a homey setting and an engaging Agatha Christie-like murder mystery. I read it in less than three days. In fact, I read most of it while eating lunch and drinking coffee at my neighborhood Starbucks.

What I liked most about this cozy was the characterization, specifically that of Cora Felton. She is wacky, kooky and hilarious. I think her and Melvin Crabtree are vying for who can be married more times than the late Elizabeth Taylor. While staying in Bakerhaven, the charismatic Melton is surrounded by three wives: past, present, and future. I personally detested the gentleman myself but, like Cora, I wanted to see the true killer brought to justice. The killer's identity surprised me, but it didn't shock me; I had my suspicions but couldn't prove anything.

Cora often made me laugh out loud. She is constantly bantering with everyone around her, mostly her niece Sherry Carter, her gorgeous divorce lawyer, Becky Baldwin, Chief Dale Harper, and her ex-husband. Melvin made the mistake of teaching Cora how to use a gun and she often brandishes it in a threatening manner. She can be quite forceful, sometimes breaking and entering unlawfully. She also tampers with evidence. However, it is her keen wit, her ability to verbally spar with an opponent, that is the most impressive. When the chief ridicules her inability to remember how many divorces she's had, Cora replies: "You know how it is with husbands. Some stray. Some die. You lose track." The reader learns that Cora's fondest memories of Melvin are when they were dating and he was still married to someone else - when Cora herself was the other woman.

Cozy or not, in order for a mystery to grab my interest and maintain it, there has to be at least one murder, preferably more. I grew up reading Agatha Christie and many of her murder mysteries had more than one killing. For instance, her classic, And Then There Were None, had at least ten murders. Furthermore, the murders in The KenKen Killings are semi-gruesome. For example, the first victim, the banker Roger Randolph, died of a bullet wound in his forehead. In other words, the deaths are definitely homicides and not self-inflicted.

I didn't have any difficulty picking up The KenKen Killings and reading it. I quickly and easily became acquainted with Cora Felton, her niece Sherry Carter, and the other citizens of the fictional Bakerhaven, Connecticut. This novel can be enjoyed as a standalone. A busy man, the author, Parnell Hall, is a musician as well as a screenwriter. I noticed that The KenKen Killings reads like a script in that it contained an abundance of dialogue. Perhaps this is why the plot moves quickly; there is the absence of unnecessary, superfluous description to bog down the storyline. However, sometimes I became confused as to who was actually speaking.

I recommend The KenKen Killings to all those who read cozies. Several of my coworkers enjoy solving crossword puzzles. I took this novel to work and was able to get at least one of them interested in reading the Puzzle Lady Mystery series. As for myself, if I had more time, I would read the series from the beginning. However, I most assuredly want to read the next installment. I envy those who've been reading the series from the beginning.

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