Thursday, 18 March 2010

Coffeehouse Mysteries

I’ve already written something about the Coffeehouse Mysteries by Cleo Coyle (actually, that’s a pen name of a writing couple). I had found my way through four of the novels then, but it was only yesterday I actually finished the last of the seven novels currently in my possession.

Now, I’m not really into coffee myself (a bit of Wiener Melange every now and then or a cappuccino, perhaps), but I’m definitely into mystery stories and thrillers. I started reading them long before I actually hit my teens and, despite my flings with horror, science fiction and fantasy, I’ve always stayed faithful to them. There’s nothing better for me than an empty sofa (which I have again, now), a few hours to spent and a good mystery novel. Add some tea to the mix (or a nice, cool glass of lemonade in the summer) and I’m in heaven.

There’s a place for both in my heart, the mystery novel with its slow start and usually low body count and the thriller with its ‘head over heels’-start and lot’s of gruesome murders. And among the mysteries, the Coffeehouse Mysteries definitely have made it to the top of my ever-changing list with a head start.

I bought “On what grounds” on a whim. It was suggested to me by amazon one day and it actually was one of those ‘a look inside’ books – those books you can read partially (the first few pages) online. I read the first few pages and decided I could spent the few Euros the book would cost me. So I ordered it and started reading. The story of Clare Cosi, mother of one adult daughter and ex-wife of the son of her current employer, who stumbles upon a body in the basement of her coffeehouse, was interesting and I found myself thinking ‘just one more chapter’. Naturally, I was back checking amazon for the other books of the series afterwards.

[Sorry, no picture for this one.] While the first volume had set the tone for the series and brought in all recurring characters, the second one had to live up to it. “Through the grinder” definitely pulled it off. Clare was back and the other people I had started to know and care for had tagged along. The second novel was just as full of suspense as the first. I was wondering about who did it from page one, basically, and racing from page to page with Clare, trying to find the solution. Again, the authors managed to lead me down a meandering path, showing me all the possible solutions, keeping the real one close by, but giving me so many options, I was surprised with the ‘whodunit’ in the end.

I went on for the next story immediately, opening “Latte Troubles” and hoping it, too, would be great. I was not disappointed at all. The tone of the two previous novels was still there, that balance between mundane problems of managing a coffeehouse in Greenwich Village, the slowly evolving romantic tension between Clare and Mike Quinn, a detective she’d met in the first novel, and, of course, the murder, this time at a fashion show. Again I was led back and forth between many possible reasons for the murder, as Clare tried to save one of her employees from a murder charge. I knew then I was going to read the whole series.

With “Murder most frothy” the series left Manhattan behind for a change. In the Hamptons Clare once more encountered crime and other troubles that come with being a single woman and the mother of a grown daughter. The new setting was a pleasing change and provided me with a new insight into the average New Yorker’s ideas of good living (spending the summer away from the city). The crime proved interesting and mysterious enough and so I enjoyed myself immensely while reading.

It wasn’t the quality of the next novel, “Decaffeinated Corpse”, which stopped me in my tracks, it was my own life. And as the heap of books and other stuff on my sofa grew, the last three novels got buried under all of it. So it was only the day before yesterday, when I finally cleared up the heap, that I got my hands on them again. “Decaffeinated Corpse” provided a lot of new insight into the world of coffee. It also provided a difficult murder situation and a change in Clare’s own situation (Mike Quinn now being in the middle of his divorce – his wife has found a ‘better’ husband – and Matt, Clare’s ex-husband, getting closer and closer to another woman).

“French Pressed”, the next novel of the series was set only one month after the horrible swan dive of a dictator’s son (see “Decaffeinated Corpse”). This time, crime struck very close to Clare when her own daughter was arrested for murdering her just ex-boyfriend. There were a lot of leads, but all of them led to a dead end, so I was really worrying about who had done it when I read the novel yesterday. The fever “Decaffeinated Corpse” had stirred again wasn’t lessening at all.

The next chapter of Clare Cosi’s life, the wedding of her ex-husband Matt Allegro and the snarky editor of an important fashion magazine, Breanne Summoure (who has featured in other stories before), provided a lot of personal changes. In “Espresso Shot” Matt finally moved out of the duplex he’s been sharing with Clare whenever he wasn’t somewhere on the globe, trading coffee. Mike will probably soon enough move in. And the murders that happened throughout the story made it more and more complex with each. Why did a young exotic dancer, posing as Breanne, get shot in the middle of a street in Greenwich Village? Did the upcoming editor at Breanne’s magazine (dubbed “Breanne 2.0” by her co-workers) really die of an overdose of her illegal drugs? Was someone really trying to overrun Breanne on her way to the fitness studio? And if someone wants to kill Breanne, what for? Those stories really made for a great mystery that only is solved at the end of the last chapter. It also made Breanne a much more lovable woman than she ever was in the books before.

I went through the last three novels within one and a half day. That probably should tell you something about how addictive they are. I found the style very fluent and easy to read. This way I could cover long distances of the story (a lot of pages) very quickly.

The characters are very believable and Clare has never been portrayed as a weak woman. She’s been bringing up her daughter mostly alone (before and after the divorce, as Matt was rarely at home for long times even when they were still married) and she has been managing a coffeehouse for a long time. Yet, as someone without a gun or experience with hand-to-hand combat is no superhero for sure, there are situations in which she needs the help of Matt or Mike. It’s usually a situation, though, in which most men would need help as well.

It’s no exaggeration to say that I learned a lot about coffee, too, while reading the novels. Clare basically breathes coffee, she loves it and knows all about it. And as the story is set in a surrounding with a lot of coffee (the coffeehouse “Village Blend” in Greenwich Village), there’s a lot of information about coffee told in passing. It’s not wrong to say that I, as someone who doesn’t drink a lot of coffee, easily have tripled my knowledge about coffee and its proper preparation while reading “On what grounds”. I have gained a lot more knowledge (and there’s quite some interesting recipes in the back of every book) about it throughout all seven novels I have read so far. Currently I wait for the next paperback (as I won’t buy hardcover editions unless I really, really feel I have to, not because of the money, but because of the space on the shelves).

I can only recommend the Coffeehouse Mysteries to everyone who wants to read a good mystery novel and maybe learn a bit about coffee on the go.

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