I like to read theme mysteries — set in bookshops, for example, or featuring caterers, or scrapbooking mysteries — but it’s occurred to me more than once that it might be hard to write one of these that would appeal to people (like, ahem, me) who aren’t knitters or sudoku puzzlers … or coffee drinkers.
I did used to like coffee and loved my Thursday morning grad student coffee klatsch at Steep-&-Brew on Madison, Wisconsin’s State Street. But, I gave it up because the caffeine was doing bad things to me, and I haven’t had a cup in years. Still like the smell, though!
Anyway, I decided to test myself on this question by replying to a query from a publicist for an ARC of A Cup of Jo, which the author sent as in e-galley format. Only a few days later, I saw an opportunity on Crazy Book Tours blog to sign up for an ARC of Roast Mortem which gave me a double-latte to read. Heh.
Roast Mortem features Clare Cosi in her ninth Coffeehouse Mystery, this one involving arson and firefighters as well as java. Clare manages the Village Blend coffee shop, but in this story she’s visiting a friend at another coffeehouse when a bomb explodes — although no one seems to want to believe Clare’s insistence that it’s a bomb, at least at first. Then a few other coffeehouses go up in flames, and it seems a serial arsonist is at work. Clare gets to know the firefighters who responded to the fire, learns a few lessons about the tools they use, and helps with a charity fundraiser for families of fallen firefighters, all while trying to get information about the fires.
Coyle provides a number of possible arsonists, and Clare is expert at theorizing why any one of them might have started the fires. The thing I liked best about this book is that everyone takes Clare seriously, from cop/boyfriend Mike Quinn to the fire department arson investigator, and rather than telling her to keep out of it (I’ve complained about this cozy theme before!), people actually ask for her opinions and sometimes even urge her to get more information. I know that’s unlikely in the real world, but given a choice I’d rather read about competent women whose contributions are recognized.
Coyle does provide a great deal of information about coffee grinding and brewing and drinking — for example, Clare gives a demonstration on how to use an espresso machine to a group of firefighters — and it was more than I care to know, but it didn’t detract from the story even for a coffee non-drinker like me. For the caffeinated, the book also has brewing tips, along with some of Clare’s recipes.
A Cup of Jo is the sixth Maggy Thorsen mystery by Sandra Balzo, and it’s much lighter fare. This is immediately evident in the opening scenes, when a giant inflatable coffee cup, used to promote the opening of a new store, contains the event planner’s body. That, of course, would be the eponymous Jo.
Maggy is co-owner of a shop called Uncommon Grounds, and her connection to mystery solving is her boyfriend, Jake Pavlik, Brookhills County, Wisconsin’s sheriff. (Guess I’ve got a thing about Wisconsin coffeehouses.) Maggy’s world is also populated by a semi-medicated bipolar business partner, Sarah; a sheepdog named Frank; a group of senior citizens (“Twiddies”) who track her every move using Twitter because something interesting always happens when she’s around; an employee who keeps ordering things for the store without asking, but they’re always great things; and plenty of other lively characters.
Maggy herself is the liveliest character, though:
…maybe, after things resolved themselves, I could write a book about what to do if your husband cheats and then your lover does the same. I’d call it The Idiot’s Guide to Being an Idiot.
You’ll get no lengthy lessons on espresso making here; instead, the coffee shop is just a convenient place for people to come in and out with information, and questions, that help Maggy’s detecting. I especially liked the humor surrounding Maggy’s uncanny knack at finding dead bodies, which diffuses the “why is anyone friends with Jessica Fletcher, seeing that everyone she knows gets killed” problem that plagues many amateur sleuth series.
So, the results of my experiment (n=2): yes, you can enjoy theme mysteries that are centered on something you don’t really like. You can even like multiple series on the same theme. These two series are quite different from each other, and I liked them both for different reasons — Clare’s creative detection and Maggy’s humor — and none of them to do with caffeine.
Buy the books: