My wife and I took Bepuzzled's "Grounds for Murder," a mystery jigsaw puzzle, for a spin. It was a mixed bag.
A mystery jigsaw puzzle has two parts. The first part is a short story about a crime, ending in the mystery. The second is the jigsaw puzzle itself. You don't get a reference image, so you need to assemble it based just on the pieces itself. The puzzle shows a scene related to the crime that provides evidence to solve the mystery.
"Grounds for Murder" is a story about a mysterious woman who twice weekly visits a coffee shop, meets with various men who give her gifts, buys six pounds of coffee, then flies to Paris. When one of the coffee shop regularly follows the mysterious woman to investigate, the regular ends up dead. Armed with a picture of the suspect's belongings, you need to try and solve the case.
The writing is serviceable, but nothing more. The mystery is intriguing.
Physically the puzzle is okay. The box is nice. Out of the 1,000 pieces, maybe a dozen or two pairs of pieces were still connected, and the backing tore when we separated them. On the up side, they handle well and fit together well. You can usually tell if a piece is in the correct spot purely by how well it fits.
Mechanically, and excepting edges, puzzle pieces come in only one shape two opposing sides have a tab, the other two opposing sides have blanks. As a result, the pieces form a checkerboard of sorts, with half of the times having the tabs arranged vertically, the other half horizontally. The vertical pieces are typically thinner than the horizontal pieces, simplifying the puzzle.
Corners always have exactly 4 pieces coming together, and the edge between two adjoining pieces is reasonably smooth, allowing confirmation of a fit by running your finger over the edge.
The image on the puzzle itself was pretty good: sharp and well staged. It's a mixture of colors and textures, giving a good foothold to start working despite the lack of a reference picture. On the down side, a few areas were nearly solid black, complicating solving in a non-amusing way and making it difficult to make out details. Oddly, the similarly sized area of nearly solid white didn't bother us. Some areas have a difficult to connect pattern, which we found slowed us down and forced some brute force searching, but wasn't too bad.
The mystery was simply awful. The writing was serviceable, but nothing more. The mystery fails on the terms of mysteries in other media. When you read a mystery novel or watch a mystery show, the general expectation is that by paying close attention, you should be able to solve the mystery just before the protagonist does. The solution should ideally be well enough supported to justify an arrest, or at least a search warrant. Here the mystery fails completely.
First, if you're going to do this sort of mystery, you can't make mistakes! The short story twice emphasizes a detail that is not present in the photograph. This would be clever if it was intentional, but it's not part of the mystery and is clearly a mistake. (Spoiler 1)
More seriously is the solution. We wracked out brains trying to figure out what damning piece of evidence was in the scene, or how to link several pieces of evidence together. We quickly figured out what generally was happening, but it was unsupported guesswork, certainly nothing that would justify a search warrant. Thinking ourselves defeated, we checked the solution and found... that we had basically "solved" the case. The protagonist didn't have enough evidence for a search warrant, just some unsupported guesswork.
Finally, once you know the solution, it becomes clear that a bunch of incredibly strange details that seem central to the case will never be explained, that the antagonist was just engaging in inexplicable behavior. (Spoiler 2)
Oh, and what sort of independent coffee shop has table service and sells almond flavored whole coffee beans?
There are spoilers for the mystery below!
1. The protagonist very specifically folds coffee bags over twice and staples them. At least one bag in the scene has been folded only once and none of them have staple holes. While a discrepancy on a single bag is a clue, the bag in question is not the relevant one. ↩︎
2.Ignoring a few details I'm willing to let slide for genre purposes, these seem like serious issues: ↩︎