Puzzle For Puppets (1944) by Patrick Quentin

Peter Duluth wanted nothing more than a weekend’s leave in San Francisco, trading his ship in the Navy for a weekend with his beautiful wife Iris to celebrate her birthday. Needless to say, given the genre, that’s not going to happen. Instead he finds his uniform stolen, used to frame Peter for the murder of Iris’ cousin. The police are soon on his tail – all he can do is hide the incriminating evidence and find the real killer.

But the trail of the killer leads to another dead body, and Peter finds himself in a race against time to avoid capture, track down a killer out for revenge for past sins and save his next victim from a deadly fate. And clear his name, of course…

This is the third in the “Puzzle For…” series featuring Peter Duluth. Not all of the Patrick Quentin books feature Peter and not all of the books featuring Peter are called “Puzzle For…”. It’s a bit confusing, to be honest. It brings me up to date, as I’ve now read the first four titles – I started with Puzzle For Wantons and then went back to the start. And I have to say, this is the most disappointing of the four.

It starts well, with an intriguing premise and some witty writing. The writing style continues throughout the book, always enjoyable to read, but the plot… well, it’s not really a classic mystery. It’s much closer to a thriller as Duluth moves from suspect to suspect, feeling more like a bright and breezy noir rather than a clued mystery, and the villains are in plain sight for a good portion of the text. The long chapter detailing the backstory towards the end is too long as well.

How to discuss the ending… tricky as if I intimate there is something to look out for, then the reader might well spot what it is. There is something, and I expect that readers of the author would expect something, but it’s very guessable, to me at least, although how the villains thought they would get away with it, goodness only knows.

This isn’t the title to start the series with – I doubt I’d have gone back for more if this was the first Quentin book I’d read. It’s entertaining enough, but not much of a mystery.


  1. I liked this one quite a lot. It’s more like a screwball mystery movie of the era than a puzzle certainly, but the (rather obvious) solution is dovetailed nicely. And as ever with QPQ it is vividly told.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I remember enjoying this one a lot too as a great piece of entertainment. The movie made from it, Homicide for Three (1948), was done as a screwball mystery, but was drearily unfunny and determinedly lowest-common-denominator — a great disappointment, as I’d been licking my chops eagerly on the basis of its origin.

      a bright and breezy noir

      A bit oxymoronic, surely?


  2. I’ve had the edition pictured above at the top of my TPR pile for several weeks now, but one thing or another has led me to pick up different books. Your description of it being more thriller than mystery will set it back a few more months.


      • It is quite different from them, and it is also the road that the Peter Duluth will travel along in coming novels. That is, they are less fair play mysteries and more thriller-ish.

        As Wheeler became the dominant partner, and in the end the only writer, these traits became increasingly important in the Patrick/Quentin/Stagge oeuvre.


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