At Puzzel Manor, piecing together crime

December 24, 1992|By Carolyn Miller | Carolyn Miller,Orange County Register

It was to be a quiet, restive Christmas holiday at Puzzel Manor for Jack Tarrant and Maria Lethbury.

But the cold corpse they found sprawled on the floor changed that. It would be a working holiday.

Right from the start, "The Christmas Crimes at Puzzel Manor" has all the ingredients of a delicious murder mystery.

The perfect setting: A blustering snowstorm covers the English countryside, isolating 12 strangers within the ancient walls of Puzzel Manor. There, centuries earlier, the Puzzel family was destroyed by the deadly insanity of the beautiful, young mother.

A bizarre cast: The manor has a potpourri of guests, all oblivious to the deadly game of murder in which they are all suspects and targets.

A feisty heroine: Maria Lethbury is intelligent, beautiful and witty. She is a partner in scheming to outsmart the murderer.

A powerful motive: A courageous detective sent to early retirement from Scotland Yard by a serial killer who shoots him, confining him to a wheelchair and leaving him with an intense wish for revenge.

And, of course, an ingenious killer, one who masterminds puzzles to trick his stalkers. It is in these clever puzzles that the author's true talent lies.

Simon Brett's 15th mystery is fun for the amateur sleuth and the experienced mystery fan alike.

"Christmas Crimes" has a new twist. The reader can unravel the mystery by solving puzzles at the end of each chapter: anagrams, crosswords, logic puzzles and word games. Each solution brings the reader closer to the murderer's identity.

Clues, sometimes obvious, are woven throughout the story.

The clue that former detective Jack Tarrant and Maria Lethbury find on the corpse is the first in a sequence of fiendish puzzles.

Jack, a whiz at crossword puzzles, discovers that the Puzzel family's coat of arms, painted on the shield that lay near the corpse, needs to be divided into a grid of 19 squares.

The answer to each puzzle fits in a square. When the whole

shield is filled, there will be a message from the murderer.

The first puzzles are simple, but they become more challenging as the book progresses.

For those determined to solve the mystery themselves, it is helpful to have a pencil and paper. For those just seeking good mystery reading over the holiday season, "The Christmas Crimes at Puzzel Manor" might be a great place to stay.

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "The Christmas Crimes at Puzzel Manor."

Author: Simon Brett.

Publisher: Delacorte.

Length, price: 186 pages, $15.

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