Meet 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.