The “Puzzle Lady” team of Cora Felton and her niece Sherry Carter (Last Puzzle and Testament, 2000, etc.) is still working on its highly successful model: Sherry secretly creates the crosswords and keeps her aunt away from the booze; Cora provides the Puzzle Lady’s public face and investigates murders. But when Cora’s nemesis, pedantic crossword constructor Harvey Beerbaum, contrives a charity crossword tournament to put Bakerhaven on the map, the Puzzle Lady is roped in to co-host, to Cora’s consternation. While you’re wondering exactly what kind of map features crossword-puzzle tournaments, which sound about as thrilling as proctored exams, things get interesting. Cora unwittingly proposes a charity beneficiary that antagonizes both ends of Bakerhaven’s political spectrum; Harvey tries to force Cora to demonstrate her nonexistent puzzle expertise. Since the franchise demands crime and detection as well as crosswords, Cora decides to investigate the death of housewife Judy Vale, apparently strangled by her cuckolded husband Joey. As Sherry ponders a cryptic clue Judy left behind, Cora interrogates Mrs. Roth, Judy’s nosey neighbor. Hours after attending the tournament’s opening night and speaking to Judy’s lover, Billy Pickens, and celebrity contestant Paul Thornhill, Mrs. Roth is strangled, clearing Joey, who was in jail, but making more trouble for everybody else. As bodies accumulate and crossword competitors turn ugly, Cora plays detective, concealing both her blood-alcohol level and her real part in the Puzzle Lady masquerade.
Sherry reveals that a crossword puzzle was written using the computer program Auto-Fill. Hall must have used a similar device to tie up his convoluted plot.