No profession is too niche for a Hallmark detective, and in this new mystery series, Lacey Chabert does double duty in as a professional crossword writer and an amateur sleuth. The story adds a bit of a twist to your usual murder case because the clues are hidden inside a crossword, a plot device I imagine can only be used so many times. It sets up a good first mystery though, one that involves an art heist and murder.
Alan Nightingale is shot at his New York gallery, and Detective Logan O’Connor (Brennan Elliott) runs into some early roadblocks when he can’t get any security footage. The guy in charge of the cameras (Jonathan Langdon) happens to have been vacationing at the time, but he turns out to be one of many suspects who had disagreements with the deceased. Nightingale was unloved by a number of people, including his ex-wife (Catherine McGregor) and art dealer (Kathy Maloney).
Meanwhile, Tess (Chabert) is preparing for an upcoming crossword tournament when she gets drawn into the case by her aunt (Barbara Niven), a friend of Nightingale, and her New York Sentinel desk partner. Harris (Zach Zmadu) has the crime beat, and Tess learns that an oddly filled crossword puzzle was found amongst the evidence, piquing her curiosity. She thinks she’s hit on a clue after examining copies of old puzzles, but Logan isn’t very receptive to her suggestion that someone is sending out coded messages via the daily crossword. Tess’s persistence and foresight cause him to reconsider though.
A Puzzle to Die For is a strong start to the series. I always find Chabert and Elliott to be an odd couple since I still think of Party of Five era Lacey when I see her, but I’ve gotten used to the pairing, and they get on comfortably with one another. Tess and Logan don’t stand out in any way though, and I hope the writers can find something more interesting about these characters as the series continues.
The case, on the other hand, is full of quirks. It manages to go in many different directions without losing control of the plot. Tess says she can profile a puzzle writer by using his or her clues, so she and Logan try to unmask an elusive “puzzlehead.” They also have to figure out what an antique gun and forged paintings might have to do with the murder and whether someone at the tournament is hiding in plain sight.
Highlight for spoilers: Pierre, Tess’s crossword friend, killed Nightingale, who was actually his brother. A native of Newcastle, he changed his identity and secretly partnered with Alan to steal paintings from their own galleries, collect insurance, and then sell them abroad. The scheme was under threat, however, because Alan was deeply in debt and took unnecessary risks. Pierre, not wanting to be dragged down with his brother, instead killed him.
Dir: Don McCutcheon
Writer: Gregg Rossen, Brian Sawyer
Cast: Lacey Chabert, Brennan Elliott, John Kapelos, Barbara Niven, Victor A. Young, Genevieve Kang, Zach Smadu, Kelly Penner, Anna Hardwick, Catherine McGregor, Jonathan Langdon, Kathy Maloney
Time: 83 min
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries