Before I picked up this book, I thought seriously about what I wanted from a collection of word puzzles. Something academic? To learn and to feel clever? To be entertained and to have fun? To stretch my mind and show off? No: I want puzzles that make me feel like an important code-breaker at Bletchley Park during WW2, where the future of the world may hang on my ability to spot the correct combinations of letters.
Kate Jackson’s book is a triumph from this point of view, but it also does fulfil all the other possibilities.
Most people have come across the British Library series of Crime Classics – reprints of Golden Age detective fiction. They have those lovely multi-coloured covers and have been a publishing phenomenon: no-one can seriously have expected they would be as successful as they are.
Kate blogs on crime fiction over at Cross Examining Crime, and is sometimes known as the Armchair Sleuth. She had the brilliant idea of creating a book of puzzles based on the BL Classics: I think half of us are saying ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’, but she did have form, as she has always done occasional excellent puzzles and quizzes on her blog.
This book is small and neat – it really would fit in your pocket – and has the fabulous cover shown above. Inside there are more than 100 puzzles, of many different kinds: wordsearches, odd one outs, match the murderer to the victim (I got them all right), spot the difference, distorted covers… the book is endlessly inventive.
I particularly enjoyed the ‘Cross Out’ puzzles – very simple and lowtech but curiously addictive. The Missing Vowels questions were surprisingly hard. And I LOVED the Kriss Kross ones: here you were given a list of words relating to a British Library crime title, and a framework to fit them into by means of logic. Apart from anything else, the lists of words were wonderful – look at this:
How appealing does that sound? – Frozen Fang! Gold Digger! Nancy, Bobbie and Nosey Ruslin loose in Soho and Piccadilly! I am going to have to read this book, which is Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston.
I’m searching hard to find some criticism of the book and this is all I can come up with:
1) In the crosswords, the down clues come before the across ones, which goes against every puzzling tenet.
2) In one of the Kriss Kross puzzles, it is stated that ‘disappearances’ has 13 letters, when actually it has 14.
But all I’m really proving is that I paid a lot of attention to the book – I closely examined every page.
And one tip if you are doing the puzzles (I don’t think this is cheating) – many of the answers will be titles, words from titles, or authors from the BL crime series. Well, there is a compete list of the titles to date at the back of the book, which would be very helpful – I didn’t find it till after I had finished the puzzles.
This book would make a fantastic Christmas present for the crime fiction fan in your life – perhaps match it with Kate’s other entrepreneurial scheme, one of the legendary Crime and Coffee Boxes. But make sure you buy a copy of The Pocket Detective for yourself too.
And the book certainly passed the Bletchley Park test – I felt as though I was single-handedly breaking all the codes…
Congratulations, Kate, on producing a real winner.