Book Review: Final Girl Suspense in "Puzzle Me Dead"

The Fiction Addiction

Puzzle Me Dead, by Kathy Childs, is a fast-paced suspense novel. In her teens, Careen Tamley was a final girl in a serial killer's spree. Although she survived, the killer was never caught and continues to send her creepy messages. Now an adult, Careen ignores her past and focuses on work.

Careen is a bit of a workaholic, but as the story goes on, readers discover just how much trauma she ignores by throwing herself into running her company. While Careen deals with the creepy clown messages, a muckraking journalist is messing around in Careen's past. Turns out, surviving the clown killer is just one of the murky areas in Careen's life that can be turn into dramatic podcast fodder.  Careen got her position from her beloved mentor, but under kind of mysterious circumstances, including a presumed-suicide where the body was never found. (I know that's a bit of a mystery-novel trope, but it's one of my favorite tropes. I love the tension that comes from a possible sighting, and wondering if the  missing person could be back and out for some kind of revenge? Or is the protagonist imagining things? Is someone else messing with the protagonist?) And, although the nosy podcaster hasn't figured it out, someone close to Careen is in an abusive relationship.

A clown killer suspense novel is pretty much guaranteed to have the drama on eleven the whole time. This story is full of creepy messages, with numbered jigsaw puzzle pieces forming a clown face, appearing in Careen's personal spaces, where no one else should be able to enter. There are just so many suspects in this story, with so many motives. Some of the messages were so horror-movie chic that I had to agree with one character's theory that this was a copycat messing with Careen for business (or personal, or muckraking) reasons. The suspense builds because so many people around Careen have dark secrets.

In addition, some of the good people around her are accidentally untrustworthy, too, by letting slip details that might help the villain harm Careen. This sets up a real contrast in Careen's life, with obvious danger coming from a shadowy stalker and additional trouble from, say, a friendly security guard who's only too happy to reassure an anxious resident about exactly where all the building's cameras are located, and how the building's security works. 

Also, you might not expect it from the creepy clown cover, but this is 100% gore free! The suspense comes from wondering who is behind the creepy messages invading Careen's personal space, not from descriptions of guts and gore.

Puzzle Me Dead is written by Kathy Childs and published by Jamuna Press on October 26, 2020.

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