Crossword Mysteries: Abracadaver (2020)

Crossword Mysteries comes roaring back with Abracadaver, the third installment in Hallmark’s murder mystery series about a New York crossword editor and her homicide detective sidekick. This is the jolt to the brain I needed after months of Christmas romances, and I hope I won’t have to complain about predictability for awhile. The movie is full of unexpected twists and presents a difficult case to untangle unless you have a magician’s way of thinking.

The film opens with Tess Harper (Lacey Chabert) wandering the halls of the Magic Manor, a creepy Victorian mansion where multiple unnatural deaths have undoubtedly occurred. She’s taking classes there to help with her latest crossword puzzle and decides to celebrate her birthday with a show by the Manor’s Amazing Alistair (Noam Jenkins). Her special evening quickly goes down the drain when Alistair is killed on stage while performing a trick. At least that would be the mood if Tess wasn’t so into true crime. She can’t help herself and immediately starts looking for loose ends in the case, which she suspects is murder and not just an illusion gone horribly wrong.

Her sleuthing annoys the hell out of Logan (Brennan Elliott), a New York City police detective and now a good enough friend to be invited by Tess’s aunt (Barbara Niven) to her birthday party. Logan would rather Tess stay out of his investigation, but what can you do when the woman keeps coming back with helpful clues? While comforting Alistair’s assistant, Bianca (Kaitlyn Leeb), she learns that the two magicians had been in a relationship, that is until Bianca wanted a more prominent role in the show. Tess also volunteers information about a conversation she overheard between her teacher, Cormac (Matthew Gouveia), and the deceased.

Nothing is as it seems when magicians are involved though, and Tess and Logan need to figure this out together. Hell, I could have used a partner too. This is one of the more complicated cases I’ve seen from a Hallmark mystery and there’s probably one or two names too many. I totally dropped the ball on some character named Drexler, but the story is not so complex that you can’t see how things fit together when they get a late break in the case.

Overall, I enjoyed the sharp storytelling and the heightened style of this film, which makes the most out of its creepy shooting location. A good mystery inspires suspicion, and I had my eyes on everyone, including the squirrely new crime reporter (Steve Belford) who’s awfully eager to be invited to Tess’s party on his first day. I also liked how Tess deflected suspicion from Bianca, whom she sympathized with for better or worse because a woman can relate. Tess knows what it’s like to be belittled and ignored. I mean, Logan never wastes a chance to tell her to chill with all the crime solving. Granted, she takes some pretty foolish risks that have me questioning her judgment, but she’s clearly an asset to his investigations, and it’s time the law enforcing men of these shows respect that. (I’m still looking at you, Detective Mike Kingston.)

Highlight for spoilers: Woo-wee. Hopefully I get all this right. Alistair never died. All along, it was a plot between Alistair and his lover, Julia, to get rid of her abusive husband, Scott. After he was supposedly shot, Julia killed the house lights, giving her cousin and the guy who delivered the box, enough time to switch Alistair for Scott’s dead body. Julia then went to the coroner’s office, posing as Alistair’s sister to ID the body. Everyone else is innocent and has no clue – including Reed, the new reporter dude. Also Alistair stole the stuff because, well, the magician’s life is not all that.

Released: 2020
Dir: Jonathan Wright
Writer: Cecily Rhett, Kathryn Rhett
Cast: Lacey Chabert, Brennan Elliott, John Kapelos, Barbara Niven, Genevieve Kang, Romaine Waite, Noam Jenkins, Kaitlyn Leeb, Cynthia Preston, Matthew Gouveia, Paulino Nunes, Steve Belford
Time: 84 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2020