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$10,000 in Small, Unmarked Puzzles: A Puzzle Lady Mystery by Parnell Hall
Cover Artist: Young Jin Lin
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312602475
Date: 31 January 2012 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Cora Felton, the Puzzle Lady of Bakerhaven, Connecticut, is hired by beautiful attorney, Becky Baldwin, to deliver $10,000 in small, unmarked bills to someone who is blackmailing her client. Every time Cora drops off the money to a secret location (which is provided by a crossword puzzle and an accompanying sudoku), she discovers a corpse. Each money drop results in hilarious shenanigans that bring Cora ever closer to a vicious, vindictive killer who threatens the lives of those closest to her.

Normally, I want my mysteries to be bloody and violent. However, I like to give myself a break from the gore and read a cozy that is charming and hilarious, but still has a few intriguing murders thrown into the plot. Parnell Hall's latest installment in the Puzzle Lady Mystery series, $10,000 in Small, Unmarked Puzzles, surprisingly has twice the number of corpses as its predecessor, The KenKen Killings, but only half as many laughs. In fact, irascible Cora, with her constant refusal to answer questions, frayed my nerves so bad that I was rooting for the killer to shoot her.

Don't get me wrong; I enjoyed $10,000 in Small, Unmarked Puzzles. I just want to warn potential readers that it is more violent than most other cozies I've read. The killer takes great pleasure in dispatching his/her victims with a bullet to the head. However, there is a lot of slapstick humor, especially between Cora and Becky who are an Abbott and Costello-like odd couple who team together for most of the storyline. The man-hungry Cora made me laugh out loud on several occasions, beginning with the narrator's description of her reaction upon finding the dead man inside the dumpster: "Cora would've considered him marriage material if not for the bullet hole in his head."

Also playing significant roles in the storyline are Cora's niece, Sherry Grant, who is the puzzle-constructing brains behind the Puzzle Lady, and her reporter husband Aaron Grant. After a rough delivery, Sherry gives birth to a preemie who must be kept inside an incubator. Baby Jennifer is a great source of stress and merriment. Naturally, Cora will do anything to visit her grandniece when she is in ICU and visiting hours have ended. Though she has a rough exterior, Cora has a soft heart.

Parnell Hall's 10,000 in Small, Unmarked Puzzles is highly recommended for mystery fans who love their cozies leaning towards the violent side, which I do. Its headstrong, wisecracking, over the hill, perpetually horny heroine, Cora Felton, is always good for a few laughs. Cora, I believe, should've been a character on the Carol Burnett Show. She is the type of woman who should never be allowed to marry. Furthermore, the novel's violent, shocking ending depicts a darker side of her I've never seen. Nevertheless, I will be eagerly awaiting the next installment in this crazy series.

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