Crossword Mysteries: Proposing Murder (2019)

There’s nothing like an unexpected opening scene to hook in a viewer, and Proposing Murder makes quite the first impression. Some poor guy meets his end when he opens his front door and is greeted by a dramatic white-blue glow, which is not the way things usually go down in a Hallmark mystery. My first thought was death by nuclear blast or maybe alien invasion, but no, dude was just stabbed with a kitchen knife. Not that that’s trivial because it’s horrible. It’s also no small matter to Tess (Lacey Chabert), our crossword puzzle-making, crime solving hero and friend of the deceased.

Lyle (Kyle Buchanan), the victim, seemed to have everything going for him when he met with Tess days before his murder. A recently tenured history professor, he was getting ready to propose to his girlfriend, Abby, via crossword puzzle when he came in deadly contact with a ceramic knife. Suspicion turns to her because she’s a chef and has whole sets of cutlery with which to kill people. The situation looks even sketchier after she’s seen sharing a tender moment with Clayton, Lyle’s TA. When the gruff coed starts asking more questions than he’s willing to answer, he also gets thrown into the suspect pool, along with the ex-girlfriend who sends threatening notes, the colleague passed up for tenure, and the antique book lady who likes to freeze stuff. I’d add Tess’s new crossword intern into the mix too – because you never know.

She doesn’t need the reminder though and can solve all the crimes with or without police detective Logan (Brennan Elliott) hounding her to stay the hell away. Tess, who feels definite chemistry with the good detective even though it’s been a few, sasses her way around his protestations and goes snooping for information anyway. He eventually gives in because girl is tenacious and consistently brings in twice as much evidence as all the dum-dums in that office. Logan’s chiding bothers me as a rule; I can’t stand an overprotective detective. But he also acknowledges that Tess got skills, and he’s not so arrogant as to try to solve a case without her.

This is the movie where I finally get onboard this Chabert-Elliott train. I still think he looks way older despite a reasonable seven year age difference, but that’s details when every other part of their relationship feels so natural. They make this pairing look effortless, and their comfort with one another comes through in Tess and Logan’s playful jibes. Their chemistry gives the film a real boost and keeps things from lagging. Despite a mystery that’s both easy to solve and mildly suspenseful at best, the movie brims with personality.

I’m still wary about how this series will proceed overall. Unlike the first film in which a crossword puzzle figured prominently in the crime, future cases will be probably be crossword-adjacent. The mystery in Proposing Murder, for example, coincides with the codebreaking theme in Tess’s puzzle, which takes a ton of research if this movie is anything to go by (it’s the only thing I’m going by). This may allow for broader possibilities, but it also kind of takes away from what makes this series special. Tess could have any job and we’d still end up with the same basic story.

Highlight for spoilers: The most innocent one is usually the most guilty, and that’s Christina, who plotted her crime along with Emory. Christina felt she was owed some money from the sale of the jewels since Lyle’s success was due at least in part to her research assistance and acquisition of rare books. When Lyle refused, she decided to confront him and killed him in a fit of passion and then tried to pin the crime on his ex, Bethany. Emory gladly got in on this plan after he was passed over for tenure. Clayton and Abby were not in fact having an affair. He just helped Lyle as a thank you to the professor for getting him back on the right track and into college. He also promised Lyle that he would take care of Abby if anything happened.

Dir: Don McCutcheon
Writer: Gregg Rossen, Brian Sawyer
Cast: Lacey Chabert, Brennan Elliott, John Kapelos, Barbara Niven, Genevieve Kang, Romaine Waite, Lara Jean Chorostecki, Alex Paxton-Beesley,
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2020