Book review: The Fellowship of Puzzle Makers, by Samuel Burr

Title: The Fellowship of Puzzle Makers

Author: Samuel Burr

Publisher: Orion/Hachette, 2024; RRP: $32.99

Samuel Burr is a TV producer who has worked on popular factual shows including the BAFTA-nominated Secret Life of 4-Year-Olds. Samuel’s writing was selected for Penguin’s WriteNow scheme and in 2021 he graduated from the Faber Academy. He previously studied at Westminster Film School.

The Fellowship of Puzzlemakers is a story concerning relationships and self-discovery. It has two interconnected threads following two main characters, Pippa and her adopted son Clayton.

The book opens with a prologue;  here the reader is introduced to Pippa, and Clayton makes an appearance as the baby in the hatbox that Pippa has found on the steps of the Fellowship of Puzzlemakers.

Chapter One is the beginning of Clayton’s story – it is Pippa’s funeral some 25 years later. Burr interweaves the stories of Pippa and Clayton chapter by chapter to form a single story exploring the value of connecting with others.

On the bell curve of social normality, Pippa is something of an outlier, a setter of cryptic crosswords, an intellectual, single and alone. Pippa’s story is mostly concerned with her efforts to establish The Fellowship of Puzzlemakers, which she begins as a way of engaging with like-minded people. It soon becomes much more.  

The Fellowship members live in a sort of commune and make a living by creating jigsaws, crosswords, mazes, and other games. Burr has managed to draw on that tradition of English intellectual eccentricity, one of understated ability, and quirky cleverness.

Samuel Burr on his writing routine

writer’s routine podcast

Clayton lives within the Fellowship, which by this stage is more a retirement home than enterprise. He is not a puzzle maker but a chef and de facto carer for the aging Fellowship members. Clayton is  a quiet and reserved young man. Loved and treasured by those around him, but as the first line of Chapter One says, “Clayton Stumper is an enigma”.  He has never questioned his parentage, and Pippa has never told him directly.

He is somewhat reclusive and not particularly adventurous. This changes after Pippa’s funeral.  As part of her legacy to Clayton, Pippa has set him a puzzle that will challenge him and take him out into the world to find himself and his parentage.

Burr’s writing is clear, clean, and uncomplicated. At times I thought it felt too sparse, too direct – telling the reader, especially in the first half – but perhaps this was necessary to establish the context for the second half.

This is an agreeable and pleasing tale with a touch of English eccentricity.

Reviewed by: Frank Thompson

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

Review copy provided by the publisher

1 Comment

  1. ballaratwriters

    This sounds fascinating. I hadn’t heard of it before and have just added a HOld on the ebook at my library! I will have to wait a while to read it, very popular! Cassandra Arnold, Publicity officer

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