It's no mystery why readers love the Puzzle Lady, Miss Cora Felton, the eccentric amateur detective who keeps everyone guessing as she keeps herself in the thick of trouble. Find out why critics agree that "Cora is emerging as a lovable and unique sleuth" (Chicago Sun-Times) in "a fun series for mystery fans and cruciverbalists" (USA Today).
Wealthy widow Emma Hurley died with only her servants at her side -- but after she passes away, her greedy heirs crawl out of the woodwork to stake a claim in Emma's fortune. To their surprise, Emma was not content to leave behind a simple will. Instead, her final testament includes a clever puzzle ... one to be given only to her living heirs.
The first one to solve the puzzle will inherit Emma's entire estate; everyone else will be left with a pittance. The will also stipulates that Cora Felton -- local celebrity and famed author of a popular syndicated crossword puzzle column -- must referee the contest.
Unfortunately, it's Cora's niece, Sherry Carter, who is the brains behind Cora's "Puzzle Lady" persona. And it's up to Sherry to unravel the bizarre riddle Emma Hurley engineered before her death. For soon it's plain that Emma's game is one without a clear winner ... and that the players could lose far more than they ever imagined!
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August 28, 2001
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Excerpt from Last Puzzle & Testament by Parnell Hall
Sherry Carter was happy. She ran her hand through her hair, pushed the bangs off her forehead, tugged at her earlobe, and smiled across the table at Aaron Grant.
The young reporter was wearing a sports jacket with his shirt collar unbuttoned and the knot of his tie pulled down. His brown hair was wavy and slightly mussed. And he was clean shaven -- it occurred to Sherry he was always clean shaven, very clean shaven, almost as if he was too young to shave.
"How's your soup?" Aaron asked.
Sherry barely heard him. "Huh?"
"How's your gazpacho?"
"Oh. It's okay."
"I could have warned you," Aaron said. He gestured with his spoon. "Chicken soup you can't go wrong. Anything else you take a chance."
"I said it was okay."
Aaron smiled. "Yes, you did. But okay is not a word of praise. It is an equivocation, indicating a reluctance to make a value judgment. And implying a less than favorable assessment."
Sherry tried to scowl, but made a poor job of it. Her eyes twinkled. "Does everything with you have to be wordplay?"
"Not at all," Aaron replied. "Just look me in the eye and tell me the truth -- your gazpacho is barely adequate, and you could make much better yourself -- which I am quite sure is a fact -- and I would do nothing but agree."
"Oh, you like women who brag about their accomplishments?"
"Who said anything about women? I like people who are straightforward. Sex doesn't enter into it."
"That's for sure."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Does that happen to you often?"
"That sex doesn't enter into it?"
"Now who's indulging in wordplay?"
"I wasn't," Sherry replied. "I was just looking you in the eye and telling you the truth."
Aaron Grant laughed. Sherry laughed back. They found themselves leaning on their elbows, smiling at each other.
Aaron and Sherry were having lunch at the Wicker Basket, a small family restaurant on Drury Lane, just off Main Street in Bakerhaven, Connecticut. The restaurant was a step up from the local diner, featuring tables, not booths, with red-and-white-checkered tablecloths and linen napkins. It was a quiet, homey place, and while the food was nothing special, on this occasion the atmosphere was more important.
It was their first date.
And by Aaron and Sherry's standards, it was going well. Even if they had taken refuge in the safety of wordplay. Both were linguists. Aaron was a writer, Sherry was a crossword-puzzle constructor, and as such they were highly competitive. Sherry loved sparring with Aaron, loved having an intellectual equal who was capable of giving it back as good as he got it. Bantering with Aaron Grant was a treat.
It was also safe.
It kept Sherry from exposing herself, from opening up, from talking about the things that really mattered. Like their relationship, for instance, and where it was going.
There were lots of things unsaid.
Sherry was older than Aaron. Just a few years, but with an unsuccessful marriage to her credit. Aaron was only a year out of college and still lived with his parents, which made him seem young on the one hand, and precluded him inviting her up to his room on the other. Or so Sherry imagined. Their relationship hadn't gotten to that point yet.
For her part, Sherry lived with her aunt. And while the much-married Cora Felton couldn't have cared less if Sherry had invited Aaron over -- on the contrary, from the start Cora had been the one pushing the relationship -- Sherry still would have felt inhibited by her presence.
So they really had nowhere to go.
As if that weren't enough impediment to the relationship, Sherry had one more stumbling block.