The Crossword Murder by Nero Blanc

Crossword MurderMeet Rosco Polycrates, an ex-cop and current private investigator, hired to look into the unexpected death of crossword compiler Thompson C Briephs. The official word is that he died during some… um, strenuous exercise with a young lady of ill-repute,  but when his secretary is attacked and his final crosswords for the newspaper vanish into thin air, suspicions begin to form.

Meet Annabelle Graham, the crossword editor for a rival newspaper who Rosco goes to for information. Solving Brieph’s Monday crossword leads to a suspicion that Briephs left clues identifying his murderer within his crosswords – it becomes imperative that the remaining puzzles are to be located before the killer comes across them first or things will go down-hill fast.

It wasn’t totally apparent where this book fitted in the range of detective fiction at first. Rosco seems to be from the hard-boiled school (at least at first) but when Annabelle appears (and she’s definitely a co-sleuth)  and the book presents its first crossword for the reader to solve, it’s clear that we’re in cosy territory once again.

Well, you’d have to be in a position to swallow the notion that the murder victim could identify his potential killer in a set of crosswords. Especially when in the opening sequence, Brieph is surprised when a mysterious person turns up to kill him.

It’s a fun read though. The back and forth between Rosco and Belle is fun – in fact the whole book’s a fun read. Unfortunately, the crossword element undermines it for me. The problem is that the crucial clue is buried in the grids and crosswords are a very cultural thing. As much as I like puzzles – and I’m not too bad at crosswords – I found these basically impossible to do. Very different from the ones that you see in the UK – no word breaks, a mix of cryptic and straight clues and many cultural clues that I simply didn’t have the knowledge to solve. So as a mystery, it wasn’t the sort that I could apply myself to solving.

But despite that, it’s a fun read, and I’d probably revisit the series (yes, there’s a series of crossword-clued mysteries) in the future. But it’s hard to recommend as a mystery without getting a feel for the difficulty of the crosswords themselves for people who are used to the US style. Still worth a look, though.


  1. As much as I like puzzles – and I’m not too bad at crosswords – I found these basically impossible to do. Very different from the ones that you see in the UK

    That was exactly what I was going to ask about. Otherwise the book sounds tremendous fun and I’d be on it like a terrier! Although I can do US crosswords and would probably, having lived here for 15 years, have a better chance with the cultural references than yr good self, there isn’t the fascination in the US variety that would make the mystery “special”!

    If it cheers you, those (few) US crossword puzzlers I’ve discussed this with find the UK variety — Bunthorne, Araucaria, Azed, etc. — completely incomprehensible.


    • To be fair, my puzzling skills tend to dry up when actual knowledge is involved beyond logic. But I’d love to know what a crossword lover would think of this – especially a UK crossword expert unfamiliar with the US style.


  2. I’m an American, and do indeed find British crosswords “utterly incomprehensible”. I’ve read this book and at least one later in the series, and this was the best. As American-style crosswords go, the ones in these books are of only medium difficulty. If you’re interested in American crosswords, you may enjoy the books, but otherwise I would suggest avoiding them.


    • If this was the best, then I’ll probably shy aware from the later ones. I felt that I was missing something by not doing the crosswords, and I imagine this becomes more and more important (and probably more and more contrived as to why they are clues!). Thanks for this, Gary.


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