One down: The solution's in a puzzle

Ever notice how nicely things fall together for amateur sleuths when they have a mystery to solve and 300 pages in which to do it? Well, it’s made even simpler in Nero Blanc’s latest mystery. This is a case in which the usual chatty sources and smooth paper trail are supplemented with a steady supply of anonymous crossword puzzles– quite handy when the investigator in question happens to be a puzzle editor herself.
Belle Graham has to put her work compiling crossword puzzles aside when her estranged father dies of a heart attack en route to visit her. As she is putting his papers in order, many questions arise, prompting Belle to put her husband, a private investigator, on the case.  Soon all of Belle’s assumptions about her father’s hermetic scholarly life are turned upside down, as she begins to suspect that her dad, the esteemed Princeton professor Dr. Theodore Graham, was a drug smuggler, an ecological whistle-blower, an aging seducer, or all of the above.
More disturbing than these revelations is the growing body of evidence that his heart attack was not a natural death at all. But who wanted to kill him and why? While it is the PI hubby, Rosco, who ultimately confronts the killer, it’s up to Belle to decipher the bigger riddle through her deft handling of the mysterious crosswords that appear in the mail. (For readers who can tolerate extended suspense, the six puzzles are printed between chapters.)
A Crossword to Die For is the latest crossword mystery by Nero Blanc, the pseudonym for husband and wife team Cordelia Frances Biddle and Steve Zettler. Wordsmiths will appreciate the alias– itself a tribute to crosswording in Romance languages ( It. and Fr. var.) If either decides to go solo, let me be the first to recommend Septimus LaBas for a penname.
All of the Blanc books feature Belle and Rosco and a slew of helpful anonymous crossword puzzles. In fact, one might argue that the biggest mystery here is why so many murderers feel the need to tip their hand– albeit, cryptically.  Still, there is brilliance in the premise of accommodating both mystery and puzzle appetites in one pretty package. To quote one of Nero Blanc’s most enthusiastic critics, Evoe! (Look it up, Scrabble buff).

Cordelia Francis Biddle and Steve Zettler, aka Nero Blanc, discuss murder, puzzles, and the merits of  marital cooperation at Barnes & Noble on Friday, August 23, at 7pm. Barracks Road Shopping Center. 984-0461.