A Tribute to Jigsaw Puzzles (We Go Way Back)

 

Preliminary sketch by R.W. Alley for THE CASE OF THE HAT BURGLAR, a Jigsaw Jones mystery.

My name is James Preller and I have a problem.

It goes something like this:

My wife Lisa yawns, says, “I’m going up to bed.”

I stand by the large dining room table. It’s almost 10:30. There’s a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle spread out before me, halfway done. The edges, the easy parts, in place. There’s still about 500 loose pieces that all look, at a glance, the same. That’s the thing about puzzles: glancing won’t get it done. You’ve got to scrutinize. 

Lisa goes up, I remain. Just be a minute, I say. Time passes. At around 2:30, bleary and blurry and buzzing, I drag myself away.

Something happens when we break out the puzzles. I get a little obsessive. Okay, a lot obsessive.

Help me.

Quick flashback: I am a shy kid in an afternoon kindergarten class with Miss Croke in Wantagh, Long Island. She seems nice. Tall with glasses. The other kids strike me as boisterous and messy and problematic, especially one girl named Kathy who keeps threatening to hug me.

The way I cope is to stick to myself and do jigsaw puzzles. One after another after another. I have clear memories of this. Miss Croke coming along, sweetly asking if I’d like to, you know, do anything else besides puzzles? No, I’m good, I assured her. I was not unhappy, just quiet and reserved and, okay, a little freaked out.

(Like most shy kids, once I’m back home I won’t shut up — even after it’s forcefully suggested.)

Later, in 1997, I started writing a mystery series for young readers. At first, I didn’t have the name of the main character. I used Otis as a placeholder. Then Theodore. I decided he loves puzzles. That made sense to me, a detective would enjoy assembling the clues, piecing them together to create a full picture of the truth.

My editor, Helen Perelman, pulled a line from that first book, The Case of Hermie the Missing Hamster, tweaked it, and used it as a tagline: “Jigsaw puzzles are like mysteries — you’ve got to look at all the pieces to solve the case.”

Excerpt from THE CASE OF HERMIE THE MISSING HAMSTER.

So here I am, along with everybody else in May, 2020, hunkering down to COVID-19, quiet and reserved and still a little freaked. Once again busting out the jigsaw puzzles. In fact, I recently texted my friend, Corina, wondering if she was interested in a puzzle swap. Corina’s also an enthusiast, though I don’t sense it’s an affliction with her. She likes the Ravensburger puzzles whereas I have a preference for difficult nature scenes. We left a few boxes on our front stoops and made the masked exchange.

Looking back on all that, I suppose it wasn’t an accident I named him Jigsaw. 

There are 14 Jigsaw Jones titles currently available from Macmillan. (You should buy them all.) And in each one, there’s a moment when Jigsaw withdraws to spend time alone, deep in thought, working on a new jigsaw puzzle, thinking about the case.

Oh, almost forgot: I read aloud the entire book, The Case of Hermie the Missing Hamster, on my Youtube channel. It’s a series of five videos. Feel free to share them with young readers, that’s why I made them.

     

     

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