Zettler, Steve 1947–

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Zettler, Steve 1947–

(Nero Blanc, a joint pseudonym)


Born December 21, 1947, in Bucks County, PA; married Cordelia Frances Biddle, August 13, 1988. Education: Attended Clemson University.


Home and office—Philadelphia, PA. Agent—Alice Martell, 545 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022. E-mail—[email protected]


Photographer, actor, and author. Has appeared on stage in more than twenty-five productions, including A Soldier's Play, and has appeared on many daytime and prime-time television shows, including Columbo, Falcon Crest, Divorce Court, and One Life to Live. Military service: United States Marine Corps; served in Vietnam.


The Second Man (thriller novel), Dutton/Onyx (New York, NY), 1996.

Double Identity (thriller novel), Dutton/Onyx (New York, NY), 1997.

Ronin (thriller novel), Hachette Livre (Paris, France), 1998.

Contributor of short stories to Hemispheres.


The Crossword Murder, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 1999.

Two Down: A Crossword Murder Mystery, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2000.

The Crossword Connection, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2001.

A Crossword to Die For, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2002.

A Crossworder's Holiday (short stories), Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2002.

Corpus de Crossword, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2003.

A Crossworder's Gift, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2003.

Wrapped Up in Crosswords, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2004.

Anatomy of a Crossword, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2004.

Another Word for Murder, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2005.

A Crossworder's Delight, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2005.

Death on the Diagonal, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2006.


Husband-and-wife writing team Steve Zettler and Cordelia Frances Biddle are authors of the "Crossword Mystery" series of novels, which they publish together under the pseudonym Nero Blanc. The books offer mystery stories directly linked to crossword puzzles and clues found in the puzzle solutions. Copies of the puzzles are included in the books, allowing astute readers the chance to solve them and gather clues along with the protagonists, crossword editor Annabella (Belle) Graham and Greek-American private investigator and ex-cop Rosco Polycrates.

The authors, stage and television actors by trade, met while working on the stage in New York. Writing together, Biddle related in an interview with Cathy Sova on the Mystery Reader Web site, seemed the next logical progression. "As we both segued into writing careers, the lure of becoming coauthors was one that we found impossible to resist," she told Sova.

In addition to their joint work as Nero Blanc, both Zettler and Biddle have written works under their own names. Biddle wrote the historical drama Beneath the Wind and coauthored Murder at San Simeon with newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst. She is also the coauthor of the nonfiction book Caring for Your Cherished Possessions, written with Mary Kearney Levenstein.

Zettler has three international thrillers to his solo credits: The Second Man, Double Identity, and Ronin. In Double Identity burned-out cop and ex-Secret Service agent Joe Bradlee is recruited as the decoy double of Billy Barton, and secreted away to Paris as part of the witness protection program. Joe meets Andie on a plane flight, and they have a passionate fling, until Joe's roving eye alights on his Paris contact, Danielle. Andie decides to extract a little well-deserved revenge, just as undesirables find out Joe's address—and they come looking for Billy, finding Joe instead. The book contains "enough hard edged-tension for hard-core thriller fans," commented Maria Simson in Publishers Weekly.

Maintaining their individual writing projects is important to the couple, as Zettler explained to Sova: "We each have our own voice, and once we finish with our coauthoring, we seem inspired to jump into our own work with a new vengeance." In The Crossword Murder, the first Nero Blanc book, Thomas C. Briephs, the crossword puzzle editor for the Newcastle, Massachusetts, Herald, has been found dead in his bed, apparently the victim of heart failure. Though the police rule his death to be from natural causes, Briephs's mother insists the fifty-one-year-old man was in perfect health. She hires investigator Rosco Polycrates to look into the situation. For background information on crossword puzzles, Polycrates goes to Annabella Graham, crossword editor at the Herald's rival newspaper, the Evening Crier. Not only does Belle provide him with plenty of crossword information, she also joins him on the case. The wealthy, unmarried Briephs's sexual antics made him an easy target for blackmail, and for the previous year he had been submitting to demands for regular cash payments. It was after a meeting with his blackmailer that he was found dead. When some of Briephs's final crosswords are published, Belle surmises that they contain clues to his murder. An attack on Briephs's secretary, JaneAlice, and the theft of three of Briephs's unpublished puzzles complicates matters.

A Kirkus Reviews critic noted that Blanc gives readers "a likable if a bit too passive detective" in the book. The Crossword Murder "is an inventive, unique novel," commented Harriet Klausner on Bookbrowser.com. Blanc presents "likable protagonists who are strong enough to carry the series forward," added a reviewer in Publishers Weekly.

When banker Tom Pepper's wife, Genie, and her soap-opera actress friend, Jamaica Nevisson, disappear while at sea in Two Down: A Crossword Murder Mystery, the reliable Rosco Polycrates is called in to investigate. Fishermen recover Genie's rented, fire-charred sailboat, and Pepper believes that negligence by the boat rental agent led to his wife's presumed death. Belle begins to receive crossword puzzles that, when solved, contain what she thinks are clues to the women's disappearance. Then Rosco discovers the missing women's inflatable life raft on a lonely beach; it is gashed beyond repair. As they search for clues in the case, Rosco and Belle find romance sparking between them, which makes Rosco even more concerned when Belle receives new crosswords containing not-so-subtle threats. "Readers who enjoy a different type of who-done-it" will enjoy this latest novel by Blanc, Klausner commented in her Bookbrowswer.com review.

Belle and Rosco's wedding day is quickly approaching in The Crossword Connection, but the murder of a homeless man in Newcastle delays their nuptials. Suspicions arise that the murder might be part of a plan to close down a homeless shelter so that developers can exploit the location for profit. Socialite Sara Crane Briephs enlists Rosco's aid to find a puppy recently adopted by the murdered man, and after a second murder Rosco disappears, apparently the victim of a kidnapping. Once again, ominous, threatening crossword puzzles arrive in Belle's hands, puzzles she thinks are coming from Rosco's kidnapper. An increasingly desperate Belle turns to Al Lever, Rosco's former partner on the police force, to find the missing detective. "Blanc builds the suspense slowly and surely," remarked a Publishers Weekly reviewer.

Belle goes Hollywood in Anatomy of a Crossword, after agreeing to put together puzzles for a television movie based on one of her cases. When she arrives on the set, murders occur—first the movie's writer, then other important crew members. The solution to the murders demands that Belle solve a series of devious crosswords—and, as in the previous books in the series, they are included in the book to test readers' skills. Ilene Cooper declared in Booklist that Anatomy of a Crossword is appropriate for "both amateur sleuths and crossword-puzzle aficionados."

In A Crossworder's Delight readers find the husband-and-wife team at it again, this time at the historic Paul Revere Inn, where Belle is charged with helping decorate the building for Christmas. There she finds an old crossword puzzle/cookbook with unknown origins. At the same time, a signed copy of a famous Longfellow poem is missing from the inn's parlor wall. Rosco and an eager twelve-year-old assistant are on the case of tracking it down. Like Blanc's other novels, readers enjoyed this story's mysterious plot and clever way of delivering the storyline. The novel delivers "some dessert treats and crossword puzzles," reported one Kirkus Reviews contributor.

The following year, Blanc published Death on the Diagonal, which finds heroine Belle investigating a fire at the Collins family stables. While the fire is at first blamed on the barn manager, Belle and Rosco soon discover that there is more to the mystery. Death on the Diagonal includes six crossword puzzles woven within the story, as well. Critics responded positively to Blanc's latest, finding it another story that keeps readers on their toes. The novel is an "outstanding mystery" with a "vivid plot," observed a contributor to California Bookwatch.

The authors once told CA: "If you want to test your marriage—sit down and write a little fiction together. We're happy to say, that after six books—all is well!!"



Booklist, July, 2004, Ilene Cooper, review of Anatomy of a Crossword, p. 1823.

California Bookwatch, February, 2007, review of Death on the Diagonal.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 1999, review of The Crossword Murder, p. 1173; June 15, 2002, review of A Crossword to Die For, p. 839; September 1, 2002, review of A Crossworder's Holiday, p. 1266; May 15, 2005, review of Another Word for Murder, p. 564; August 15, 2005, review of A Crossworder's Delight, p. 882.

Library Journal, October 1, 2003, Rex Klett, review of A Crossworder's Gift, p. 121.

Publishers Weekly, November 24, 1997, Maria Simson, review of Double Identity, p. 71; July 12, 1999, review of The Crossword Murder, p. 79; June 12, 2000, review of Two Down: A Crossword Murder Mystery, p. 56; June 11, 2001, review of The Crossword Connection, p. 64; June 3, 2002, review of A Crossword to Die For, p. 69; June 2, 2003, review of Corpus de Crossword, p. 37; September 8, 2003, review of A Crossworder's Gift, p. 60; June 28, 2004, review of Anatomy of a Crossword, p. 35.

Weekly Standard, December 23, 2002, Jon L. Breen, review of A Crossworder's Holiday, p. 37.


Bookbrowser.com, http://www.bookbrowser.com/ (September 1, 2004), Harriet Klausner, reviews of Two Down and The Crossword Murder.

Mystery Reader,http://www.themysteryreader.com/ (September 1, 2004), Cathy Sova, "Meet Nero Blanc."

Nero Blanc Home Page,http://www.crosswordmysteries.com (September 22, 2007).

Suite 101,http://www.suite101.com/ (September 1, 2004), Janet Kay Blaylock, review of The Crossword Murder.

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