The Puzzle Master

A Novel

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June 13, 2023 | ISBN 9780593742822

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About the Book

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

A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: The Washington Post, PopSugar, Bookreporter, CrimeReads


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.
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Praise for The Puzzle Master

“Your summer beach read is a lock.”—NPR
 
“The many irresistible elements in Danielle Trussoni’s The Puzzle Master include Mike Brink, a preternaturally brilliant man billed as ‘the most talented puzzleist in the world.’”—The New York Times

“[A] marvel . . . It has been some time since I read a novel I found as compelling as this one . . . ”Mystery Tribune

“This immersive, brilliant book is a labyrinth of ciphers, cryptograms, logic puzzles, word puzzles, and a doozy of a conspiracy. Wouldn’t you like to experience a book so singular?”The Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Danielle Trussoni melds a heady brew of genres—mystery, horror, supernatural, magical realism, ancient history, mysticism and plain old puzzles. . . .”—Oline H. Cogdill, The Sun Sentinel

“Utterly absorbing . . . The ‘master’ of the title isn’t the only master here. The word applies equally to the author of this fabulous novel.”—Justin Cronin, author of The Passage Trilogy

“My kind of thriller.”—Steve Berry, author of The Last Kingdom

The Puzzle Master is a riveting, beautifully layered, fast-paced page-turner. You’ll want to clear your calendar for this one.”—Janelle Brown, author of Pretty Things

“An absolute gem of suspense, with a wholly original and unforgettable protagonist, a propulsive plot with diabolic twists, and pure reading pleasure on every page. I loved it.”—Chris Pavone, author of Two Nights in Lisbon

The Puzzle Master is an ingenious literary thriller that combines everything I want in a book: an absolutely blistering Russian nesting doll of fascinating stories that dismantle some of the most deeply engrained ideas about good, evil, and the origins of humankind. In short: The Puzzle Master = (The Da Vinci Code + The Silent Patient + sprinkle of Stephen King) × gorgeous writing.”—Angie Kim, author of Miracle Creek

“Addictive and effervescent . . . A tantalizing and delightful read that engages both heart and mind.”—Jean Kwok, author of Searching for Sylvie Lee

“I am normally a jaded reader, but I could not put down this book. . . . Highly, highly recommended.”—Douglas Preston, co-author of Bloodless and The Cabinet of Curiosities

“A thrill ride through space and time. This novel is so original that I was happy to be taken wherever it led me!”—Lisa Scottoline, author of What Happened to the Bennetts

“A surefire hit . . . [The Puzzle Master] is an ambitious story, expertly told. . . . A sequel, The Puzzle Box, is in the works, and it can’t come soon enough.”Booklist

“This page-turner incorporates motifs of religion, security, meaningfulness, and loss into a mystical narrative that traverses different centuries focused on the same puzzle quest.”—Library Journal

“Intriguing . . . Several subplots involve horror, mysticism, religious fantasy and, perhaps most importantly, dolls.”Bookreporter

“[Trussoni] is at the top of her game . . . The Kabbalah meets the New York Times crossword in a brainy thriller.”Kirkus Reviews
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Excerpt

The Puzzle Master

December 24, 1909

Paris, France


By the time you read this, I will have caused much sorrow, and for that I beg your forgiveness. As you know, my child, I am a haunted man, and while the toll has been steep, I have at last made peace with my demons. I do not write this as an excuse for what I have done. I know too well that there is no forgiveness for it—not in the eyes of God or man. But rather, I write this account of my discovery out of necessity. It is my last chance to record the incredible events, the terrible and wonderful events, that changed my life and will, if you venture into the mysteries I am about to relate, change yours, as well.

What, you ask, is responsible for such torment? I will tell you, but take heed: Once you know the truth, it is not easily forgotten. It has haunted me every minute of every day. There was no question of ignoring it. I was drawn to its mystery like a moth circling a flame—In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni. And while I am fortunate to have survived to record the truth, even now, as I stand on the edge of the abyss, I cannot help but shrink at the thought of entrusting such a dangerous secret to you.

I have suffered, but it is the suffering of a man who has created his own torture chamber. I believed I could know what shouldn’t be known. I wanted to see things, secret things, and so I lifted the veil between the human and the Divine and stared directly into the eyes of God. That is the nature of the puzzle: to offer pain and pleasure by turns. And while the truth I am about to reveal may shock you, if it offers some small refuge of hope, then this, my last communication, will achieve all it must.



June 9, 2022

Ray Brook, New York


Mike Brink turned down a country road, drove through a dense evergreen forest, and stopped before the high metal gate of the prison. His dog, a one-year-old dachshund called Conundrum—Connie for short—slept on the floor of the truck, camouflaged by shadows. She was so still that when the security guard stepped to Brink’s truck and peered inside, he didn’t see her at all. He merely checked Brink’s driver’s license against a list and waved him toward an imposing brick institution that seemed better suited to a horror movie than the bright June sunshine.

Mike Brink had an appointment with Dr. Thessaly Moses, the head psychologist at the New York State Correctional Facility, an all-women’s minimum-security prison in the hamlet of Ray Brook, New York. She’d called him the week before and asked him to come to the prison to speak with her. One of the prisoners had drawn a perplexing puzzle, and she wanted help making sense of it. Because of his work as a puzzle constructor and his fame after Time magazine christened him the most talented puzzleist in the world, thirty-two-year-old Mike Brink was barraged with puzzles. Most of them he solved in an instant. But from Dr. Moses’s description, this puzzle sounded peculiar, unlike any puzzle he’d seen before. When he asked her to take a photo and email it, she said she couldn’t risk it. Prisoner records were confidential. “I shouldn’t be discussing this with you at all,” she said. “But this is a unique patient, one who’s become rather important to me.” And so, despite his deadlines and the three-hundred-mile drive, Mike Brink agreed to come upstate to see it. Puzzles were his passion, his way of making sense of the world, and this was one he couldn’t resist.

The prison was ominous, with steeples and dark, narrow windows. When he’d read up on its history, he found that it was built in 1903 as a sanatorium for the treatment of tuberculosis. The clean air, high altitude, and endless forests had been an integral part of the cure. The institution’s one claim to fame was its appearance in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. Plath had visited her boyfriend while he was recovering from tuberculosis at the facility and then repurposed the sanatorium in her fiction. Now the facility housed hundreds of female inmates. From the parking lot he saw a yard enclosed by a chain-link fence topped with razor wire and, beyond, a modern cinder-block addition, its severity a startling contrast to the Gothic excesses of the original building. Surrounding it all stretched an endless sea of thick evergreen forest, a natural barrier between the prisoners and the rest of the world. He imagined that such isolation was intentional: Even if a prisoner made it over the fence, even if she got free of its twists of razor wire, she would find herself in the middle of nowhere.

Brink parked in the shade, filled a plastic bowl with water for Connie, scratched her behind her long, soft ears, and plugged a portable fan into the truck’s cigarette lighter, cracking the window so she’d be comfortable. Normally he wouldn’t leave her alone, but he wouldn’t be gone long, and the mountain air was cool, nothing like the heavy wet heat of Manhattan. “Be right back,” he said, and headed to the prison.

At the main entrance, he paused at the security station, dropped his messenger bag into a plastic bin, showed his driver’s license and vaccination card to a guard, and walked through a metal detector. He’d been given prior approval to bring his bag—which held his laptop, his phone, and a notebook and pen—and was relieved that the guards didn’t try to take it.

A woman in a loose navy-blue dress stood waiting. She was tall and thin with dark-brown eyes, dark skin, and hair cut in a bob. She introduced herself as Dr. Thessaly Moses, the head psychologist.

He didn’t need to introduce himself. Clearly, she’d googled him. Still, she stared at him a bit too long, and he knew she was surprised by his appearance. He was six foot one and athletic, lean and strong and (as he’d been told) handsome, not at all what people expected of (as his mom sometimes teased) “a puzzle geek.” He wore his favorite red Converse All Stars, black Levi’s, and a sports jacket over a T-shirt that read somebody do something.

Aside from photos, a Mike Brink Google search would have brought up a video clip of his remote Zoom-in appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, recorded during the 2020 pandemic lockdown. He’d taken Colbert on a tour of his puzzle library and opened one of his Japanese puzzle boxes, which inspired a joke about sushi. There would be a Wikipedia page that linked to the New York Times Games page, where he was a regular constructor; a list of the puzzle competitions he’d won; and a link to a Vanity Fair profile that gave his entire life story: the normal Midwestern childhood, the tragic accident that had altered his brain, and the miraculous gift that had appeared in its wake.

“Thank you for coming so quickly,” she said. “I would’ve driven down to the city, but I couldn’t leave my patients.”

“You’ve definitely made me curious,” he said. “From your description, it seems pretty unusual.”

“I don’t understand it at all, to be perfectly honest with you,” she said. “But if anyone can shed light on this, it’s you.”

Her faith in his abilities worried him. As his fame as a puzzle solver grew, people often assumed Mike Brink possessed a superhuman gift. Not just an ability to recite fifteen thousand pi places, or the talent to create a vicious crossword, but the power to read the future. But he didn’t have superpowers, and he couldn’t do the impossible. He was a regular guy with a singular gift—“an island of genius,” as his doctor called it. The best he could do was give it a try.

“You have it with you?” he asked, noticing a folder under her arm.

“If you come this way, we can talk in private,” Dr. Moses said, gesturing for Brink to follow her through a hallway.

Although he knew the prison had been created in a different mold than modern facilities, part of him had expected cement-block cells and barred windows, all the images he’d seen in movies. Instead, Dr. Moses led the way through a calm, almost pleasant space, institutional—the windows were reinforced—but human. There were potted trees near the metal detectors, art on the walls, and carpeting in the hallway. The bones of the tuberculosis sanatorium had been adapted to contemporary incarceration in the way that an old church might be adapted to a Zen meditation center: The symbols and decor had changed, but the essential structure remained the same.

She ushered him into her bright, stylish office, closing the door after him. He stood in a meticulously organized space: an immaculate desk, color-coded binders on a shelf, a Mac desktop, all perfectly uninteresting until his eye fell upon a Rubik’s Cube sitting on the windowsill. It was a newer model, the cubies in plastic as opposed to stickers, a mix of blue, green, yellow, orange, red, and white. The cubies were scrambled in a way that showed regular unsuccessful attempts to solve it, weeks, perhaps months, of twists and turns as someone—Thessaly Moses, he assumed—strained to put the six color fields into alignment. He drummed his fingers against his thigh, nervous energy shooting through him. Just seeing the cube in that state of disorder filled him with an overwhelming need to put it right.

About the Author

Danielle Trussoni
Danielle Trussoni is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels The Ancestor, Angelology, and Angelopolis, all New York Times Notable Books, and the memoirs The Fortress and Falling Through the Earth, named one of the ten best books of the year by The New York Times Book Review. She writes the monthly horror column for the New York Times Book Review. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and winner of the Michener-Copernicus Society of America Fellowship, her work has been translated into more than thirty languages. More by Danielle Trussoni
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