“The Milli Vanilli of the crossword puzzle community” confronts the ugly consequences of masquerading as the Puzzle Lady, in her seventh installment.
What bothers Cora Felton (A Puzzle in a Pear Tree, 2002, etc.) is not her uneasy conscience over pretending to be a nonpareil creator of crosswords, but the lucrative endorsement by a cereal company that requires her to tour malls and grocery stores feeding children new, improved Corn Toasties. Worse yet, the tour will be filmed and turned into a series of “reality show” commercials. Cora can’t get out of the tour and, to be honest, is enjoying the behind-the-scenes entertainment when a creepy fan joins the entourage anonymously, sending Cora homemade crossword puzzles containing sinister rhymes. Who’s stalking the Puzzle Lady? Could the besotted, annoying Freddy Fosterfield have murdered the child actress whose only crime was being over the age of consent? Producer Quentin Burns has a toupee that ought to be a crime, but might his rug conceal a more dangerous obsession? Cora’s niece Sherry, the real puzzle constructor, has her own stalker: her brutal ex-husband Dennis, who tries to woo Sherry with a copy of one of the stalker’s puzzles. Knowing that Dennis can’t create a crossword puzzle, Cora and Sherry look everywhere else to solve the homicidal clues.
Hall juggles facile satire and suspense in an entertaining effort that never quite rises to the top.