Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Puzzle for Wantons

In my last blog post, I mentioned my favorite Quentin, A Puzzle for Wantons, and I thought today I’d discuss my reasons for that. First, the book is the fourth in the Puzzle series that features Iris and Peter Duluth.

The couple met in A Puzzle for Fools, then married in A Puzzle for Players and reunited when Peter returned home from the war in A Puzzle for Puppets. The first three books are thoroughly enjoyable, but as detective stories they fall short of what I hope for. Fool and Players uses a third party (Dr. Lenz, the psychiatrist) to solve the crimes at the last minute, which reduces the part of the main characters from sleuths to merely pawns. Puppets has a wonderful first half where the Duluths are trying to solve a series of crimes, but then takes the entire second half of the book to explain the solution.

Which brings the reader to Wantons. Iris, who is now a nationally known actress and her husband visit Reno as the guests of Lorraine Pleygel, an insanely wealthy woman who has invited a number of couples to her mansion. With the exception of the Duluths and Pleygel (who has recently fallen for a man) and the unaptly named “Lover and Mimi, all the other couples are in the throes of divorce.
One by one, the women in these failed relationships begin to die. Dorothy, who ran through her husband’s money while he was off at war, is the first to go by way of a poisoned gambling chip. Then Janet is killed as well.

This is the only book in the series that the Duluths are not presented with the solution. Both together and separately they hunt for the clues that will lead them to the answer to a particularly twisted ending. I can’t talk about the ending without spoilers, but it’s as delicious as the rest of the book.
There would be four more books in the series, two more Puzzle books and two books where Lt. Trant begins to become the lead character for the series. The remaining Puzzle books were Fiend, which was more thriller than detective novel, and Pilgrim, which was just frankly depressing.

There were paperback reprints of these novels in the 1980s, but nothing since then. Since they were the joint collaboration of Richard Webb and Hugh Wheeler, I have no idea what the estate would look like for getting these books digitally published. 


  1. The Quentins are very variable, aren't they? I like "Fools" because it's so claustrophobic, and this one because -- well, you can see it as a film, can't you? It's almost as if the writers had cast the parts in their mind but for the life of me I can't figure out quite who they had in mind.
    I have the Avon Deco-ish edition of all six that you show at the end of your post, but I like the early Pocket editions better. I have a copy of the edition of "Fools" that you show, but I'd love a copy of "Slay the Loose Ladies"!

  2. Noah, they are probably the most variable series I know. I like all of the books for different reasons, but for the sake of a strictly "detective" story, Wantons probably is one of the few in the series that meet the criteria. I'm showing my age, but back in the day, I always thought that Victoria Principal would have been a wonderful Iris.

    I love the title "Slay the Loose Ladies." It needs to be a movie.

  3. I think i read this one about 30 years ago albeit in an Italian translation - i remember next to nothing sadly but will try and get an original language version - I do like the Avon reprints.

    1. They're all worth checking out, but Wantons is my favorite.