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by Omar, September 29, 2017


The Cryptic Crossword Caper

By Russell Atkinson

ISBN: 978-1975605919

Author’s website:   

Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie



Mags, recently widowed, has retired to tiny Buck’s Gap off the Big Sur coast, content to work her crosswords and discuss mysteries with her book club. Then she discovers the body of a murder victim, a professional puzzle-maker, and is drawn into the investigation. Soon a glamorous FBI agent arrives in town trying to find some stolen diamonds from a long-ago heist that she thinks may be connected. Mags is happy to help the police chief, but she may have bitten off more than she can chew. Fortunately, she has the Buck’s Gap Women’s Auxiliary by her side.

There are several puzzles in the book which can be worked by the reader, including a hybrid cryptic crossword, a Sudoku, and two cryptograms. These provide clues to the murder. The crossword and Sudoku are available online where they can be worked interactively or downloaded and printed out to be worked on paper. Details on how to do so are available in the Appendix.


This is an exciting, fast-paced novel in which the mystery might be solved by completing a cryptic crossword puzzle and cryptogram. Might be, as the clues are as cryptic as the name suggests! The author hits a home run with this exceptional mystery, the setting of the gorgeous  area of Big Sur,California, and a crew of highly intelligent, mature investigators and puzzle solvers in the Women’s Auxiliary. I do hope this will become a turn into a new series!.

Rick Moran the police chief; is a former FBI agent. A few years of surveillance were not what he expected. He and his almost-ex-wife moved back to Buck’s Gap from New York City. He, officer Bud Porter, and dispatcher Sally made up the Buck’s Gap police force. Rick is very observant, checking on an unfamiliar car at the cafe. Someone the waitress didn’t know had come in hoping to get directions to Butcher’s house.

An avid crossword puzzle buff, Mags took an early retirement and moved to Buck’s Gap after her husband’s death. She enjoys baking pies for her book club gatherings and other friends. The last thing she anticipated was being in a real-life murder mystery. The day after Rick heard about the stranger in town, she found Morris Butcher dead in his home and his home ransacked. Morris was a man who designed crossword puzzles for a syndication, and made very detailed, unique puzzle boxes from various expensive woods, not someone who seemed destined to be murdered.

Being a small police department, Rick and Bud didn’t have a CSI team, and they are now faced with the first murder that has occurred in the Gap. Thankfully they could receive the services of the sheriff’s department. Sally was already swamped with getting the new budget ready to turn in, and she suggested that Mags could perhaps type the volume of dictation related to the crime scene. Mags loves reading good mysteries and was excited to be part of the team, even for the short term. She and Rick were already somewhat acquainted from the times he brought home her pup Raisin who escapes from her yard. And before he knows it, she is off and running to follow the clues she finds in the tapes she transcribes.

They learned the stranger in town was Oliver Dunlap, recently released from federal prison after serving time for a huge diamond heist. Rick was put in touch with the FBI special agent who had him convicted of the 12-year sentence. The FBI hopes it will be the connection they need to recover the $40 million gems still unaccounted for. Dunlap wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, so it was possible that Butcher was the brains behind the daring.

Mags is having a great time, and basks in the approval given by Rick. Until FBI special agent Lisa Murphy came to town with an eye on Rick and sportin’ a nasty ‘tude to Mags. Then Mags and her puzzle loving friends start cracking the codes that are left as clues for Dunlap to find the rest of the diamonds, codes that the FBI hadn’t even solved yet. The bad guy figures out that Mags has some of the answers, and starts to go after her.

The folks in Buck’s Gap are endearing. The author’s excellent dialog and actions in this fast-paced mystery define who they are, and the characters are worth investing in. Mags is still a bit naive when it comes to asking questions and looking for evidence, but Rick is ever the encouraging boss. I like Mags the best, and while she gives away too much info to her friends in the women’s auxiliary, I like them, also. They are each adept at solving certain puzzles; what a well-rounded group! It is exciting to see female sleuths who are a little older than the norm.

This story pulled me in at the beginning and kept my attention throughout. Retired from the FBI, the  author has first-hand experience so the crime is solved with authenticity. At no time is it a given that Oliver Dunlap was the bad guy; he was definitely the top suspect. The various plot twists and turns kept the resolution in a state of flux because without the diamonds, the case is too weak. I was so fascinated watching the characters that I didn’t give much thought to who the bad guy(s) might be, which is not like me. I do love the puzzles! I think I finally figured out how to do Sudoku, but am not sure if I am ready for cryptic crosswords but it might be fun to try to do more. I highly recommend this novel to those who enjoy their cozy mysteries with great characters and dialog with a setting of the California coast, a touch of romance, and of course, puzzles to help solve the murder and the disposition of the diamonds.

*OBS would like to thank the publisher for supplying a free copy of this title in exchange for an honest review*



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