The Puzzle Master by Danielle Trussoni

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Random House, Random House

Date of publication: June 13th, 2023

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Fiction, Mystery Thriller, Horror, Science Fiction, Adult, Suspense, Fantasy

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

Reality and the supernatural collide when an expert puzzle maker is thrust into an ancient mystery—one with explosive consequences for the fate of humanity—in this suspenseful thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of Angelology

“This novel has it all and more. In the nimble, talented hands of Trussoni the pages fly.”—#1 New York Times bestselling author David Baldacci

All the world is a puzzle, and Mike Brink—a celebrated and ingenious puzzle constructor—understands its patterns like no one else. Once a promising Midwestern football star, Brink was transformed by a traumatic brain injury that caused a rare medical condition: acquired savant syndrome. The injury left him with a mental superpower—he can solve puzzles in ways ordinary people can’t. But it also left him deeply isolated, unable to fully connect with other people.

Everything changes after Brink meets Jess Price, a woman serving thirty years in prison for murder who hasn’t spoken a word since her arrest five years before. When Price draws a perplexing puzzle, her psychiatrist believes it will explain her crime and calls Brink to solve it. What begins as a desire to crack an alluring cipher quickly morphs into an obsession with Price herself. She soon reveals that there is something more urgent, and more dangerous, behind her silence, thrusting Brink into a hunt for the truth.

The quest takes Brink through a series of interlocking enigmas, but the heart of the mystery is the God Puzzle, a cryptic ancient prayer circle created by the thirteenth-century Jewish mystic Abraham Abulafia. As Brink navigates a maze of clues, and his emotional entanglement with Price becomes more intense, he realizes that there are powerful forces at work that he cannot escape.

Ranging from an upstate New York women’s prison to nineteenth-century Prague to the secret rooms of the Pierpont Morgan Library, The Puzzle Master is a tantalizing, addictive thriller in which humankind, technology, and the future of the universe itself are at stake.

First Line:

By the time you read this, I will have caused much sorrow, and for that I beg your forgiveness.

The Puzzle Master by Danielle Trussoni

Important things you need to know about the book:

Pace: The Puzzle Master is a fast-paced book. The main storyline occurs within a week of Mike going to the prison to meet Jess. I liked that it wasn’t so fast that I had to reread the previous chapter. The author did slow down during certain parts of the book so I could digest what happened in the last chapter. There is some lag during the book sections that centers on the doll maker and his trip to Prague. But it wasn’t enough to distract me from the book or my enjoyment.

Trigger/Content Warning: There are trigger warnings in The Puzzle Master. Some of these are graphic, and most are on page. If any of these trigger you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  • Suicide (on and off page)—The suicide is not described (very vague), but the suicide note is the first thing you read in the book. There is also an on-page suicide towards the end of the book.
  • Mental Illness (on page)—Jess, who is in prison, is being treated for several mental illnesses.
  • Violence (on page)—There is graphic violence throughout the book.
  • Gun Violence (on page)—Mike is shot at and threatened with a gun throughout the book.
  • Animal Cruelty (on page)—Mike’s service dog, Conundrum (Connie), is put in the trunk of a car and left there. When she is let out, she is almost dead. The person then sets her free and drives away.
  • Body Horror (on page)—During the chapters set in Prague, the Jewish rabbi, and his son were severely injured after the ritual went wrong. That’s all I can say without spoilers.
  • Murder (on and off page)—There are several murders committed throughout the book.
  • Attempted murder (on page)—There is an attempted murder towards the middle of the book.
  • Grief (on and off page)—A man grieves over the death of his beloved daughter. His grief and what he did set the course for this book.
  • Child death (on page)—A semi-graphic child death is discussed in the book.

Sexual Content: I was pretty surprised at this, but there is sexual content in The Puzzle Master.

Language: There is foul language used in The Puzzle Master.

Setting: The Puzzle Master is set in a couple of different places. In the present day, it is set in upstate New York and New York City. In the past, it is set in Prague.

Representation: There is Indian representation (Mike’s mentor is from India, but the author doesn’t say what part). There is Jewish representation (Gaston befriends a Jewish scholar and his family). There is a god who is both male and female.

Tropes: Cursed Items, Humans Can Be Evil, Traumatic Past

Age Range to read The Puzzle Master: 21 and over

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

When Mike was in high school, he was a promising football player. But a traumatic brain injury resulting from a brutal hit ended that but opened an unwelcome and unwanted door. The brain injury somehow made Mike a savant–acquired savant syndrome. He could see patterns and puzzles in everything. Not only that, but he developed an eidetic memory. Mike made the most of what he was gifted, using it to solve and create puzzles. So, he is intrigued when a psychiatrist contacts him at a prison. He is even more intrigued after meeting Jess Price, who is in jail for killing her boyfriend. His interest is even more when Jess uses a puzzle to communicate with him. Determined to solve the crime and prove her innocence, Mike soon becomes obsessed with Jess and her case. But there is more to this case than Mike expected, and his poking around puts a target on his back. Will Mike be able to prove Jess’s innocence and set her free? Or will what he learned kill him?

Main Characters

Mike Brink: I liked Mike. I couldn’t imagine living with what happened to him after the brain injury. I felt terrible that he felt that he couldn’t connect with people. In a way, I think that is why he became so focused and obsessed with Jess. He felt an immediate connection with her, and that might have been the first connection he had in years. I hated how he was treated later in the book and what Jameson Sedge tried to force him to do.

Jess Price: She was an enigma. I was on the fence with her until Mike got a hold of her diary entries and met Jameson. I will only get a little into her character because a huge twist happens towards the end (and it involves what Gaston described in his journal).

Jameson Sedge: I felt dirty after reading his character. He had a finger in everything, including monitoring Jess at the prison. He also had a loyal hitman who would do whatever Jameson told him. Again, I am not going much into his character because of spoilers. But he got what he deserved at the end of the book.

Secondary characters: The secondary characters were fantastic in The Puzzle Master. I liked that they added extra depth to the storyline and, in some cases, helped explain what was happening. There were some characters that I liked and others that I wanted to boot from a plane.

My review:

The Puzzle Master was a well-written, well-researched book that kept me glued to the pages. I am not interested in puzzles (of any kind), but I was fascinated by what the author wrote in the book. She used actual anagrams and puzzles throughout the book (including The God Puzzle). When asked to describe this book, I told my husband it was like The DaVinci Code but with puzzles and anagrams.

The Puzzle Master has two storylines. One centers around Mike, Jess, and The God Puzzle. The other storyline centers around Gaston LaMoriette and what happened to him before, during, and after Prague.

The storyline centered on Mike, Jess, and The God Puzzle was well-written and well-researched (as I said in the first paragraph). This storyline has a huge twist that is directly tied to Gaston’s storyline.

The storyline centered on Gaston had some surprises in it. I can’t explain what surprises are because of spoilers. After the author revealed that tidbit of information, a lightbulb went on in my head. And when she tied it to Mike and Jess’s storyline, it became apparent.

The mystery angle of The Puzzle Master was excellent. I was truly kept in the dark about everything until the end of the book. The author had a couple of huge twists that took me by surprise.

The end of The Puzzle Master was almost anti-climactic. The author did wrap up most storylines in a way that I liked. But, there was a huge twist that was surprising and scary at the end of the book. The author set up book two perfectly with that. I also liked the afterward. It explained a lot about what was happening in the book.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Random House, Random House, NetGalley, and Danielle Trussoni for allowing me to read and review this ARC of The Puzzle Master. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

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