Mags has settled in Buck's Gap, CA to enjoy a quiet retirement from her civil service job, spending her time solving crossword puzzles and discussing the latest thriller with her mystery book club. While her well-meaning friends try to set her up with wealthy crossword puzzle author Morris Butcher as the perfect match, Mags is content to enjoy the single life. But when she discovers Morris stabbed to death in his kitchen, the investigation uncovers a possible link to a jewel heist that occurred years ago and many of the missing diamonds have never been found. A series of cryptic puzzles could hold the key to the mystery, and Mags is determined to help Chief Rick Moran crack the case.
I'm already a big fan of this author, having read most of his Cliff Knowles FBI series, and when I saw that The Cryptic Crossword Caper had combined a realistic police procedural with a cozy mystery, I was intrigued; how well could these two very different genres work together, especially since the author hasn't written any cozy mysteries? Extremely well, as it turns out. By the end of the first chapter, I was hooked and I read most of it in one evening! The cozy mystery blended with the hard-nosed procedural perfectly, with all the cozy elements you'd expect; a light read, a little bit of action, amateur sleuths, a sprinkle of light romance, and a lovable cast of characters. Combining it with Chief Rick Moran's methodical and realistic investigation makes for a riveting, suspenseful story that even Jessica Fletcher would envy.
Besides being probably the only book to combine cozy mystery with police procedural, what sets this book apart was that it was so interactive, with several puzzles that the reader can work on their own that, when completed, held several clues to the murder. (Don't worry, if you're not a puzzle fan, the puzzles are "worked out" in the book, so you can still follow along.) I really enjoyed trying my hand at the puzzles and while the cryptic crossword was a bit above my skill set, I had a great time working it and the cryptograms and Sudoku. For me, it added an extra layer to keep me involved and reading (not that the book needed anything more to keep me reading!)
The Cryptic Crossword Caper is an excellent read that will appeal to any mystery fan, there's something for everyone. I look forward to reading more adventures with Rick, Mags, and the rest of the charming citizens of Buck's Gap.