The Chicago Sun-Times crowns Parnell Hall's Puzzle Lady mysteries "a joy for lovers of both crosswords and frothy crime detection...Cora Felton is a lovable and unique sleuth." Now the crime-solving powers of the inimitable Cora and her clever niece, Sherry Carter, are put to the ultimate test as they square off against a yuletide killer who hides within the white-and-black shadows of an acrostic....
A Puzzle In A Pear Tree
'Tis the season to be jolly, but Cora Felton, shanghaied into "The Twelve Days of Christmas" as a most reluctant maid-a-milking, has every right to feel like a grinch. When someone steals the partridge from the pear tree and replaces it with a cryptic puzzle she has no hope of solving, it's almost more than the Puzzle Lady can bear. But then smug crossword creator Harvey Beerbaum solves the acrostic, and it turns out to be a poem promising the death of an actress. This is more like it! Could the threat be aimed at Cora and her thespian debut? Or at Sherry, one of the ladies-dancing? Or at Sherry's nemesis, the pageant's predatory lead, Becky Baldwin?
Cora and Sherry barely have time for a mystery, what with trimming Christmas trees and buying Christmas presents, but rehearsals go on, under police protection--until a killer strikes elsewhere in a most unexpected manner.Ordinarily Cora Felton would be delighted to have two murders to solve. But this time she finds herself vying with a visiting Scotland Yard inspector who appears to have an all-too-personal stake in solving the crimes. Cora does too when her own niece becomes a prime suspect and the murderer strikes again.
Is someone trying to shut down the Christmas pageant? Cora would be only too happy if that were the case, but she fears the secrets lie deeper. Now she is interviewing witnesses, breaking into motel rooms, finding evidence, planting evidence, and having a merry old time. In fact, she would be perfectly happy--if this wasn't turning out to be a Christmas to die for!
Just in time for Christmas comes Parnell Hall's latest puzzle mystery, A Puzzle in a Pear Tree. In this round, series heroine Cora Felton and her indomitable niece, Sherry Carter, must track down a killer who's been planting clues in acrostics rather than crosswords. The fate of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" pageant in which the two ladies are performing hangs in the balance.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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November 03, 2003
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Excerpt from A Puzzle in a Pear Tree by Parnell Hall
"No, no, no," Rupert Winston cried, silencing the piano and vaulting up onto the stage with all the spry grace of a much younger man. Rupert tugged at his turtleneck, a habit he had when not particularly pleased. Which, in Cora Felton's humble opinion, was almost all the time. In the few rehearsals she'd had, Cora had come to detest the "innovative and gifted" director, as the Bakerhaven Gazette had termed him, who had left the "stifling constraints of the Broadway stage" in order to "ply his craft in the liberating atmosphere of an enlightened village."
Although no linguist, Cora Felton didn't have to be hit over the head with a condescending remark to recognize one. Rupert
Winston had Cora's back up before she'd even met him. Being tapped to appear in Rupert's Christmas pageant was the last thing in the world Cora Felton wanted. Had she been able to think of any polite way to get out of it, Cora would have done so.
Had she known what rehearsals would be like, an impolite way would have sufficed.
"Miss Felton." Rupert Winston extracted his hand from his black turtleneck, entwined his long, slender fingers together, and rolled his steel-gray eyes to the heavens, as if invoking the deities to witness his tribulations in dealing with mere mortals, and inferior ones at that. "You are a milkmaid. A hearty, robust milkmaid, fresh from the fields, sunny and bright and imbued with a lust for life. If you are to sing the solo line, I have to hear the solo line. You cannot mumble it into your sleeve."
Cora Felton set down her wooden milking stool, fixed the director with an evil eye. Rupert Winston was, in Cora's humble opinion, one of those marginally famous men who affected rudeness as a sign of genius. The good citizens of Bakerhaven might be taken in, but not Cora. Particularly since Rupert invariably singled her out for abuse. Cora, who appeared in breakfast cereal commercials as the Puzzle Lady, suspected this was largely because she was on TV and he wasn't.
Cora was sorely tempted to remind Rupert that she hadn't got a sleeve, this wasn't the dress rehearsal, and her milkmaid costume had yet to be sewn. She stifled the impulse and glanced around the stage, where the seven other maids a-milking stood holding their stools. "You're absolutely right, Rupert," she said sweetly. "I'm totally wrong for this part. I'm sure any of the other milkmaids could do better. I understand completely why you'd wish to replace me."
Rupert Winston looked shocked. "Miss Felton. Did I say any such thing? Of course not. You're perfect for the part. It's just a question of pulling a performance out of you."
Cora bit back a groan. Were there any way to agree with this fool and get on with it, Cora would have done so, but she knew from experience Rupert loved to pontificate. Under the guise of giving direction, he could run through his entire Broadway resume at the drop of a hat. Already, she could see the other actors emerging from the wings to listen. They soon filled the stage. The piece was The Twelve Days of Christmas, complete with pipers piping, drummers drumming, and so on. Cora could barely calculate how many actors were in the show, let alone the odds of all of them ever doing it right.
"I'm not perfect for the part," she protested. "I'm dead wrong for the part. I'm way too old. Just like the rest of your milkmaids--no offense, ladies--but your maids a-milking should be rosy-cheeked country girls in fetching peasant blouses."
"You're saying you can't work without your costume?"
"No, I'm saying someone else should be wearing it. It's just bad casting." Cora pointed stage left, where her niece, Sherry Carter, stood in a cluster of nine attractive young women. "Look at your ladies dancing. They're all young and pretty. They should be the lusty milkmaids, and we old biddies should be the refined ladies dancing."
Rupert didn't get mad. The director never got mad. Instead, he exhibited, as he always did, a tolerant amusement at the misguided views of the unenlightened.
"Yes, Miss Felton," he replied. "That is how it is usually cast. Which is precisely why I have not done so here. This skit is deliberately 'miscast,' as you would characterize it, for, one would hope, humorous effect. Which, as you might have gathered, is the same reason for so many entrances and exits. Which is also why rehearsal time is so crucial. I hope I don't have to spend too much of it reassuring you that you are right for your part."
"I thought you were the one telling me I wasn't doing it right," Cora countered.
Rupert Winston chuckled. "Well, there is a huge difference between not doing it right and not being right for it. Trust me, you're right for it."