Book Review: The Puzzlemaker by Brian Christopher

George Withers is happy with his reclusive life, comfortable living alone in his boyhood home with his collection of intricate puzzle boxes. On weekdays he shuts himself inside his tiny office at the Times where he creates the cryptic crosswords that are the bane of puzzle solvers throughout London. It’s a job he’s been doing for thirty years, ever since he left his position with MI6.

When his old friend and former MI6 colleague, Benton Bryce, calls with a special request, George is happy to accommodate him.  He places a special hidden message in the Sunday cryptic that, unbeknownst to George, triggers a series of murders across Europe.

A few days later, George’s peaceful routine is shattered by a man who breaks into his house and takes him captive. The man wants answers: who is responsible for his son’s death? This in not just any man—he is Dragan Nikolic, former henchman for ex-Yugoslavian President Tito—and he will go to any means to get what he wants. Meanwhile Benton has disappeared and George has no idea what is happening. George must use his puzzle-solving skills to find the murderer, but once he does, will his captor find him expendable?

Newly promoted Detective Constable Rachel Song desperately wants to put her degree in criminal science to work. Instead she is tasked with investigating a disturbance at the Principal Hotel in which a revolving door is damaged, trapping a man inside—more an insurance issue than a police case. At first annoyed to be handed such a low-level case, she soon uncovers enough evidence to point to an abduction. Then an Interpol search identifies one of the men as Dragan Nikolic, a man wanted for crimes against humanity during the Balkan War.

Rachel is relieved when the case is assigned to a team, until she discovers it will be headed by Detective Sgt. Ramsay–an old school cop who likes to show his authority–and staffed by team members who appear bored at the thought of tracking down “two geriatrics.” Assigned to a minor role in the investigation, Rachel is determined to find Nikolic, perhaps at the cost of her career.

The Puzzlemaker is as crafty as its protagonist with each chapter beginning with a cryptic crossword clue. (The puzzle grid is included at the end of the book.) It’s a must read for any mystery or crossword lover. For more information about The Puzzlemaker and Brian Christopher, go to

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