Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Coffeehouse Mystery Series: A Review

If there are two things Americans can't live without, it's coffee and murder. This combination is one of several things that make the Coffeehouse Mystery series by Cleo Coyle so enjoyable. While Cleo Coyle also writes the Haunted Bookshop series under the pen name Alice Kimberly, in reality, both Coyle and Kimberly are the husband and wife team of Alice Alfonsi and Marc Cerasini.

The first book in the Coffeehouse Mystery series, On What Grounds, introduces us to Claire Cosi, the manager of the historic Village Blend coffee house in Greenwich Village and her ex-husband Matteo (Matt) Allegro, an international coffee trader and the Village Blend's coffee buyer. They are an interesting pair, more like Maddie and David from Moonlighting than Nick and Nora Charles.

The Village Blend turns out to be more than a great coffeehouse; it's also a magnet for murder, but at least you can get a good Tall Vanilla Latte before you get put in a body bag. Claire and Matt solve the crime while still slinging double espressos and debating the state of their relationship, all with the help of their slightly eccentric staff and New York homicide detective Mike Quinn.

The plotlines in the Coffeehouse Mystery series tend to follow the standard cozy mystery format, complete with the classic locked-room murder (in the first book) and limited, understated violence. But like most successful series' (Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books come immediately to mind), the Coffeehouse Mystery novels are mainly character-driven. We care about the characters, and are as interested in their interaction while solving the crime as in the solution itself.

There are currently nine titles in the series: On What Grounds, Through the Grinder, Latte Trouble, Murder Most Frothy, Decaffeinated Corpse, French Pressed, Espresso Shot, Holiday Grind, and Roast Mortem. By this point many of these types of mysteries become predictable and repetitive; fortunately this one has not.

The novels are quick reads, and you also get a fun, yet informative, education on all things coffee. The back of the books even contain recipes of some of the deserts and coffee drinks made during the course of the story. By the end of the first book you'll know far more than your local Starbucks barista, and will have a greater appreciation of the greatest drink the world has ever produced.

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