Liza left her career as a PR specialist in Hollywood, and her husband Michael, for her hometown. An incognito sudoku creator for the Oregon Daily, Liza decides to enter a sudoku tournament, where she bumps into an old friend, film star Derrick Robbins. He tells her that a series of sudoku puzzles published by a paper surprised him – they didn’t fllow the usual grading of easiest on Monday to hardest on Sunday, and seemed quite random. Derrick believes the puzzles are being used to send coded messages, which Liza’s quite sceptical about. Until the next day, that is, when Derrick’s body is found in vegetation on the hillside below his home. His library has been ransacked and his niece is missing.
Though the back story is woven into the narrative, Death by Sudoku reads quite a lot like the second in a series, causing me to twice check that I hadn’t missed the first book. I am a very amateur sudokuist and while I found some of the discussion about puzzle solving technique interesting, I suspect the target audience are more familiar with the rules and gameplay than I. On occasion I’d just be getting into it when the focus would shift and I felt frequently like I was playing catch up. I also couldn’t get a handle on how a covert message could be transmitted this way, though to be fair I did lose interest and stop halfway, just as Liza and Michael are working that out. Also, to be fair, I did put Death by Sudoku down part way through and pick up another novel instead, because I was going out, only had enough room for one book, and would have finished it before getting home. This interruption in my rapport with the novel clearly didn’t help, but wasn’t the sole reason I couldn’t finish.
It’s strange – I quite like the author’s voice, the concept was an interesting twist on the more common crossword-themed murder mysteries, and the dialogue was naturalistic. I’d be interested in knowing how Morgan manages to get more mysteries out of this relatively slender concept, but suspect I won’t be reading the sequel to find out. - Alex