Paula Gosling was born Paula Osius in 1939, the daughter of an inventor in Detroit, Michigan. She tried her hand at poetry at Wayne State University and later at a Detroit advertising agency, but wasn't happy. In 1964, she headed to England in search of romance, intrigue and adventure, eventually meeting her husband, Christopher Gosling, whom she married in 1968.
Although divorced after only nine years of marriage, she kept the Gosling surname as she started writing her books. Perhaps she felt she owed him her literary start, because it was loneliness when he was away working that led her to start writing to pass the time. The result was A Running Duck in 1974, which won the CWA's John Creasey Award for the best first novel of the year and was named in 1990 as one of the CWA's Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time.
Many books followed, mostly standalones at first, including one paranormal book penned under the name Ainslie Skinner. Eventually she created her first series, with Detective Chief Inspector Luke Abbot, and another, the Blackwater Bay series, she set near the Great Lakes with Sheriff Matt Gabriel as protagonist. A third series, which she also set in the U.S., was launched in 1985 with Monkey Puzzle, a police procedural centered around homicide Lieutenant Jack Stryker, which won the 1985 CWA Gold Dagger Award.
Money Puzzle takes place primarily around Grantham University in Ohio, when one of the English professors, Aiken Adamson, is murdered and his tongue cut out. The professor was despised by all of his colleagues for collecting and hoarding secrets about them like the human equivalent of a thieving magpie. Hours before his death, all of the department members were with Adamson at a sherry reception, giving each of them opportunity for murder, in addition to the various motives they had—personal and professional rivalries, envy, sexual intrigue and blackmail.
As Detective Stryker digs deeper into the case, he realizes he has secret ties of his own to one of the professors, Kate Trevorne and starts to fall for her, despite the fact her boyfriend and fellow English prof is the prime suspect. Although at first, the murder is considered a crime of passion (the victim was a homosexual), the case soon takes a different turn when the Chairman of the Department is attacked and his ear cut off. Stryker, recovering from pneumonia, is doggedly determined to nail the culprit no matter what it takes, but when Kate is attacked and the murderer attempts to gouge out one of her eyes, the case becomes personal.
Gosling does a good job of portraying the sometimes cut-throat world of academia with its petty squabbles, jockeying for position and inter-departmental feuds. The characters are also relatively well drawn, although some might find a few cliches that date the book, i.e., the sleazy homosexual (complete with mirrors on the ceiling), an alcoholic Vietnam vet and a cop-hating young professor who participated in campus riots in the 70s. The writing carries you along at a suspenseful clip, but it can also show hints of Gosling's poetry background, like this excerpt following a snowfall that is appropriate for the recent winter weather we've been having:
He loved the city like this, hushed and briefly upended in it headlong run to destruction, mantled with a transient beauty that hid all the dirt and slowed all the hate. In two miles he passed only four cars, and the drivers smiled as they edged past one another in the rutted, twinkling streets. The snow made them momentary partners in adversity, witnesses of that fleeting moment in time when nobody had spoiled anything. Yet.
As a side note, Gosling's novel A Running Duck, written in 1974 (also published as Fair Game), was adapted into two separate films, one starring Sylvester Stallone, titled Cobra, and the second starring Cindy Crawford, titled Fair Game. Unfortunately, like a lot of books-to-film, the results were less than Oscar-worthy; the Stallone version was nominated for a Razzie in 1986 for worst screenplay and Metacritic listed the Cindy Crawford flick as one of its five worst movies based on a novel.
Not that Gosling was particularly worried. In a People interview, she noted she had optioned the film to Warner Bros, for a "mid-five-figure" sum and almost forgotten about it when a friend of her son's alerted her to the fact Gosling's name was in the Stallone film' credits. At the time, she said "I haven't really taken it in yet. It's all very exciting."