Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Killer Sudoku - Kaye Morgan

Killer Sudoku
A Sudoku Mystery
Kaye Morgan
Berkley Prime Crime


It all started with an innocent-sounding thing: a sudoku tournament. The West Coast Sudoku Summit sounds fairly innocuous. But, as with almost any large gathering, there’s plenty going on under the surface. There’s a television network trying to make its new name by televising the event, live, a la worldwide poker tournaments. There are several contestants who would just love to use this summit as a stepping-stone to a book or a newspaper column or some other moneymaking endeavor. Some are in it for the fame, and some are just there for the challenge.

Liza Kelly already has the book and newspaper column angle covered. She’s a sudoku expert and her column recently went into syndication. She’s there for the challenge, and because one of her dear friends, Will Singleton, organized the thing. The fact that it’s taking place at a plush Orange County resort doesn’t hurt one bit. It’ll be a nice chance to get away from her confusing love life, relax a bit, and work some puzzles. As if that’s going to happen. Liza’s suitors manage to follow her from Oregon to California, both planning a ‘surprise’ for her. Another surprise is the TV star who appears for the competition. As a still-sort-of partner in a Hollywood PR firm, that star’s comfort is Liza’s problem.

The next surprise is worse by far. The odds-on favorite, according to Las Vegas people who will bet on anything, goes into convulsions during the first elimination round, making that term all too real. Police quickly determine that the man died of anaphylactic shock due to a severe peanut allergy. The hotel management adamantly denies putting any kind of peanut products in the goody bags. Strangely, only those contestants seated around the dead man got the peanut candy. Later that evening, another competitor dies after ingesting shellfish, to which he was fatally allergic. The thing is, the meal – authentic haggis provided by the authentic Scottish chef for the Scottish owner of the resort – contained no shellfish at all. It’s clear that Liza is going to have to solve more than sudoku this weekend if she wants to make it to the final round.

The author is fiendishly clever. The book looks like a slim, quick read. But there are sudoku puzzles sprinkled throughout, as the competition continues; and if you can read past a sudoku puzzle and not stop and try your hand at solving it, you’re a stronger person than I am. I stopped for each and every one. And, while I’m far from an expert, I can attest that the first puzzle in the elimination round was, no pun intended, a killer.

The concept of sudoku is explained, simply and clearly, in the narrative. If you’ve never worked a puzzle before, please don’t start with the first one here. But do give them a try; they’re fun and addictive. The plot of this latest installment (DEATH BY SUDOKU, MURDER BY NUMBERS, SINISTER SUDOKU) is interesting, full of plausible suspects, and set in a very interesting arena. It makes perfect sense that Liza is, once again, drawn into solving the murders, since she’s in danger, too. The mystery works itself out nicely and with more than a tinge of an Agatha Christie ‘country weekend murder’ feel to it. This has become one of my favorite cozy series, and this entry is my favorite, so far.

Rating: 7 ½
July 2009
ISBN# 978-0-425-22839-5 (paperback)


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