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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


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THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
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Hall, Parnell: A Puzzle in a Pear Tree

  Amazon  

3.5 stars

As Christmas nears in small-town Bakerhaven, Connecticut, both Cora Felton--the public face of the syndicated Puzzle Lady column, though not the brains behind the operation--and her cruciverbalist niece Sherry Carter are roped into participating in Yuletide festivities. Cora finds herself miscast as one of eight maids-a-milking in a production of The Twelve Days of Christmas, and Sherry is one of a number of young women playing the Virgin Mary in a live Nativity. When a series of acrostics (not crossword puzzles in this fourth installment of the series) is found with clues threatening the "leading lady"--apparently Becky Baldwin, star of the play and Sherry's rival for the affections of newspaper reporter Aaron Grant--and when one of the Virgins Mary turns up dead, Cora is more than eager for another round of amateur sleuthing. Also joining Bakerhaven's small and ineffectual police force in trying to solve the town's most recent rash of murders is Englishman Jonathan Doddsworth, a detective with Scotland Yard who happens to be in Bakerhaven visiting his estranged family. Meanwhile, regular cast member Harvey Beerbaum, Bakerhaven's other cruciverbalist, appears to be as suspicious as ever of Cora's alleged puzzle-solving abilities. In the future, however, he is apt to be more trusting: this time around Cora is finally forced into solving a puzzle in the presence of onlookers, an occasion in the Puzzle Lady's universe similar in import to Clark Kent having to change clothes in a crowded locker room.

The mystery in Hall's A Puzzle in a Pear Tree will keep readers happily guessing to the end, though they may be disappointed finally in a solution that is difficult to credit. But the most surprising thing about the book is the dramatic change in the character of Cora Felton. Portrayed in the first three books of the series as a chain-smoking lush, Cora doesn't pick up a cigarette or a bottle for the first 200 pages of this installment, and we never see her drunk. It is odd that this change in Cora's habits--if it is indeed to be a lasting alteration in her character--has occurred without comment, but it is nevertheless welcome: Cora's more usual celebration of her self-destructive habits and the author's treatment of them as charming, even comical, have been serious impediments to my enjoyment of the series. In A Puzzle in a Pear Tree we get the clever crime solver without, for the most part, the unfortunate habits that would render her noisome and obnoxious--and too close to an early death--in real life.

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