Sunday, July 16, 2006

Death on the Diagonal - Nero Blanc



Death on the Diagonal
Nero Blanc
Berkley Prime Crime

Mystery

The Collins family is about as close as you can get to being royalty in Newcastle, their little corner of New England. They’re also about as close as you can get to being a living, breathing nighttime soap. Patriarch Todd Collins, at 74, is on his third wife, Ryan. Ryan, at 37 is younger than two of Todd’s three children. She also insisted, when moving onto the estate-cum-horse farm, upon removing all traces of her predecessors. Not the best way to endear yourself to the already-hostile stepkids. When one of the horse barns goes up in flames, the locals figure it's a case of the rich trying to get richer by bilking the insurance company.

Belle Graham, famed creator of crossword puzzles and puzzle editor for the local evening paper, learns all this and more from the resident gossip columnist. Of course, she knows enough to take it all with a grain of salt. That is, until her husband, Rosco, a private investigator, is hired by the insurance adjustor to investigate the events surrounding the claim.

The family tells the story of a barn manger knocking over space heater and then a bottle of liquor, sparking the blaze. The man, who know lies unconscious in the hospital, was then struck on the head and was carried from the burning building by Todd and a horse trainer. Not impossible, but when other family members weigh in, it starts to look like there’s more to the story.

When a family member is murdered by means of a hoof pick to the temple, the whole incident is cast in different and very sinister light. This gives Belle and her unstoppable curiosity all the reason she needs to join the investigation. As an assistant to Rosco, naturally.

This mystery series is unique in that it includes several crossword puzzles, designed by the authors, that must be completed in order to solve the mystery. For puzzle amateurs, the authors have provided the solutions at the back of the book. This is the latest in a series, but newcomers will have no problems jumping in here. My only quibble is that, somewhere along the way in the series, Belle went from being an ordinary person to being a kind of annoyingly cute and hapless female who is, nevertheless, adored by all. If you can overlook that, and I suggest that you do, you’ll find an interesting story. The mystery itself is interesting, and the authors excel at using slices of everyday life to provide backstory and to propel events forward. The series is a must for anyone addicted to crosswords.

Rating: 7
July 2006
ISBN# 0-425-20998-9 (trade paperback)

Rating Scale = 1-10

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