That difficult father, Dr. Theodore Graham, stands up his newlywed daughter, crossword-puzzle constructor Belle Graham (The Crossword Connection, 2001), by dying en route to a rare visit. Now Belle must go to Florida to wrap up his affairs and resolve her estrangement from her cold, intellectual parent. There, she discovers clues to his unsuspected secret life. Debbie Hurley called him “Ted” and served as his much younger “research assistant”; Woody, a disreputable-looking sailor, comes looking for him; his notebooks suggest an interest in the environment. When Rosco Polycrates, Belle’s p.i. husband, discovers that Dr. Graham bought a yacht for the suspicious Woody in cash, he and Belle decide to reconsider his apparently natural death. Rosco checks out Dr. Graham’s ex-employer, Princeton University, where he recently confronted the CEO of a multinational oil company. Belle gingerly investigates her father’s relationship with Debbie, married but devoted to “Ted.” Blanc dangles visions of drugs smuggled in oil tankers, carcinogens in drinking water, and a Gallic femme fatale so fake even a poodle wouldn’t go near her, while throwing in the obligatory crosswords for Belle and like-minded readers to solve.
Apparently deciding that the sedentary occupation of constructing crossword puzzles can provide only so many dead bodies, Blanc turns here to espionage and drugs. But the late Dr. Graham is believable in neither the dangerous world of professional criminals nor the more emotional world of personal relationships. The center of this puzzle remains a blank.