Friday, January 04, 2019

FFB Review: THE CROSSWORD MURDER (1999) by Nero Blanc Reviewed by Barry Ergang

Barry is back today to get your 2019 started off right. Make sure you head over to Patti Abbott’s blog for the full list of FFB suggestions today. GO COWBOYS!

THE CROSSWORD MURDER (1999) by Nero Blanc

Reviewed by Barry Ergang

As I’ve pointed out in at least one or two other book reviews, the late, great Johnny Carson frequently said about comedy routines and sketches, “If you buy the premise, you’ll buy the bit.” Published under the pseudonym Nero Blanc by the husband-and-wife team of Steve Zettler and Cordelia Frances Biddle, The Crossword Murder is the first in their series of “crossword” mysteries and, though not really a comedy, nevertheless fits into Carson’s general definition.

The very wealthy Thompson Briephs doesn’t need a regular workingman’s salary. A man who lives a kinky lifestyle, he is the crossword puzzle editor of the Newcastle Herald. He lives in a custom-designed house on an island called Windword, the house a modern replication of the royal home of the Minoan civilization, right down to Daedalus’s labyrinth, and loaded with valuable antiquities. Blackmailed and eventually murdered, his remaining crossword puzzles eventually prove essential to the murderer’s identification.

Yet despite the fact that, according to local newspapers, the demise of this nephew of federal Senator Hal Crane has been attributed to heart failure, Brieph’s mother, Sara Crane Briephs, has hired former Newcastle police detective Rosco Polycrates, now a private investigator, to investigate the death of her son, who has had “no history of coronary disease”—this in opposition to the objections of the senator’s right-hand man, one John “Bulldog” Roth.

Rosco’s investigation inevitably leads him to Annabella Graham (a.k.a. Belle), the deviled-egg loving and pretty-but-married crossword editor of the Evening Crier. Belle is immediately and enthusiastically determined to help Rosco, especially as Briephs’ puzzles surface and she solves them, certain that the decedent left vital clues to his slayer. The fact that she and Rosco are attracted to one another adds to the story’s complications and subplots.

Rosco has a number of suspects to consider, and the reader is supplied with the four crucial crosswords, as well as a bonus puzzle, to solve if he or she wants to. I correctly guessed, rather than deduced from the crosswords I solved, who the murderer was, but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment.   

I remember seeing paperback editions of this and other titles in this series years ago, but despite being a long-time crossword fan, I never bought any. When I discovered they’re now available as e-books, I decided to try one, expecting—as I had previously, and thus didn’t buy—an utter lightweight populated with cardboard characters and pedestrian prose. I admit to pleasant surprise at finding a novel populated with individualized characters and situations rendered in intelligent, colorful prose. I further admit I’ll probably read some of the other titles in this series, though I seriously have to wonder how many murder mystery solutions can plausibly relate to—and/or solve—crossword puzzles. There’s a poser for you who are reading this!   

© 2019 Barry Ergang

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Mathew Paust said...

Interesting concept, Barry, and as a former crossword junkie I don't see how I've managed to miss this series. Thanks for enlightening me!

Barry Ergang said...

Enjoy, Matt!