The Puzzle Lady goes to Hollywood.
Cora Felton, famous for creating crossword puzzles, is actually hopeless at them. Her success as her niece’s frontwoman and her genuine abilities as a wisecracking sleuth are about to be tested by a former husband’s tell-all book, which reveals her checkered past. Melvin Crabtree has sold the movie rights to his book, but Cora and her lawyer, Becky Baldwin, have negotiated a contract that allows her some control over her portrayal. Upon her arrival at the New York City shoot, the director gives Cora a crossword puzzle that she ignores, since she’s much more interested in the casting call to select the two actresses who’ll play the present-day Cora and the Cora once married to Melvin. The first day of auditions is capped by a midnight phone call from NYPD homicide cop Sgt. Crowley, with whom Cora’s been briefly involved, telling her that someone’s been murdered at the theater. Cora recognizes the victim as production assistant Karen Hart. Her boyfriend is also found dead, a possible suicide, but when Cora learns he has tickets for Hamilton she becomes convinced it's murder, because, after all, no one would kill himself before seeing the show. Cora’s not happy with the casting of her present-day self, but she’s thrilled with the casting of talented star Angela Broadbent as the younger Cora. True, the actor cast as Melvin is awful, but he’s found hanging in his trailer just before he can be fired—another murder made to look like suicide. Apart from some weather-related problems, everything runs more smoothly once a much better actor is cast as Melvin, until the director’s almost smashed by a falling light. Cora learns a great deal about which staffers are sleeping with whom in order to get better jobs, but the motive for the murders eludes her until she remembers the crossword puzzle she ignored.
Although the latest in Hall’s long string of amusing mysteries (The Purloined Puzzle, 2018, etc.) features only a single crossword, there’s still plenty to be puzzled about.