In Dead Cold Brew, the sixteenth book in Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse Mysteries series, Clare Cosi is confronted by a mystery that mixes jewel theft, murder, and coffee — and which has its roots in a sixty-year old tragedy.
Clare has returned to New York City from Washington, D.C. (the setting of the previous book in the series, Dead to the Last Drop). She is again managing the historic Village Blend coffeehouse in Greenwich Village and living upstairs from the shop.
As Clare prepares to open the Village Blend on a rainy Monday morning, she receives a phone call. “Madame” Blanche Dubois, her employer and ex-mother-in-law, expresses worry about her son Matteo, Clare’s ex-husband and current business partner. She also mentions that there’s some disturbing news in the morning newspapers.
But when Matt arrives, the news he shares with Clare sounds good. The Village Blend has been invited to a competition to create a signature coffee for a new luxury cruise ship. Clare is taken aback, though, when Matt tells her that the new ship is called the Andrea Doria. She remembers the original Andrea Doria, an Italian luxury liner that collided with another ship and sank in 1956.
Matt had been approached about the coffee competition by Victor Fontana, a playboy investor who is building the ship. Fontana is one of the customers for their high-end coffee, Billionaire Blend. Matt suggests that an affordable version of Billionaire Blend would be the perfect coffee for the ship. Clare wants to do research to find out what kind of coffee was served on the original Andrea Doria. So Matt offers to take her to see his godfather, jeweler Gustavo Campana, who survived the shipwreck.
Meanwhile, Clare learns the disturbing news to which Madame referred. Four NYPD cops have been shot in the past three days. As series readers know, Clare’s boyfriend is NYPD Detective Lieutenant Mike Quinn, so this news is personal. When Quinn and Detective “Sully” Sullivan come in to the Village Blend for coffee, Clare questions them about the shootings.
Sully leaves to take a phone call. A minute later he is shot. As SWAT teams and paramedics arrive, Clare sees a hooded figure with a rifle running across a nearby rooftop. She tells the police that the gunman looks like the comic-book superhero Panther Man. As Sully’s friend, Clare is eager to help catch the gunman. And not surprisingly, as an amateur detective herself, she won’t just leave the job to the police.
In the meantime, Clare and Matt visit Gustavo Campana. Over coffee, Gustavo tells them about the original Andrea Doria. Although his wife and daughter survived with him, his young apprentice Silvio drowned. Gus shows them a picture of his late wife. She’s wearing a beautiful necklace featuring a huge blue diamond surrounded by smaller, darker stones. Gus confirms that the blue diamond is the famous lost diamond “Occhio del Gatto.” He calls the smaller stones “coffee diamonds.”
Gus’s description of the Andrea Doria’s superb service “notte e giorno” (night and day) inspires Clare. She decides to create “Danish blend” coffee for the competition from a mix of dark and light beans. She says it will provide “beautiful smoothness with well-rounded body at any brewed strength.” When Madame samples the coffee a week or so later, she loves it. The Village Blend’s chances in the Andrea Doria coffee competition look promising.
Clare’s love life looks promising too, as Mike Quinn finally proposes. He gives Clare an engagement ring that features a blue stone and coffee diamonds like those in the picture of Gus’s wife that Clare admired.
But readers of the Coffeehouse Mystery series will not be surprised to learn that Clare and Mike can’t just live happily ever after once they’re engaged. Someone is still targeting cops, and Clare finds herself continuing to be drawn into the action. Meanwhile, Gustavo Campana and his family become the center of an even bigger mystery. It may be connected to the Andrea Doria. It may also be connected to the police shootings. And it affects Matt and Clare directly.
Dead Cold Brew is a fast-paced mystery story that offers the pleasure of seeing Clare Cosi use her amateur sleuthing skills to solve an intriguing and complicated mystery. The story takes Clare throughout New York City, with stops at such interesting venues as the fabled 21 Club, the Diamond District, the fascinating Track 61 railroad platform below the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, Extra Place in the East Village, and the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
She also spends much of her time in the Village Blend, among the family members, friends, and employees who are familiar to series readers. And Clare’s love life with Mike continues to heat up.
Coffee is never far from Clare’s thoughts, or from her lips. She enjoys talking about it as well as drinking it. At one point she discusses cold brew coffee (which Gus Campana drank regularly). Clare says that when it’s made right, “it passes the lips like a wake-up kiss: cool, smooth, sweet, and beautiful.” And she gives coffee advice. She doesn’t like single-serve coffee machines, because the beans are old by the time the coffee is made. By contrast, she does like Gus’s Alfonso Bialetti stovetop espresso pot, which she uses to prepare some of the single-origin coffee that Matt has given to Gus.
One of the delights of the Coffeehouse Mystery series is the Recipes section at the end of each book. Like its predecessors, Dead Cold Brew provides readers with a trove of inviting recipes for food and beverages that Clare Cosi and her friends enjoy.
Because Clare’s Italian grandmother taught her to cook, many of the meals that Clare makes feature Italian dishes. Dead Cold Brew contains recipes for several of these, including baked ziti, fettucine alfredo, and “skinny” pumpkin alfredo.
Most appealing to me are the numerous desserts and other baked goods that Clare serves at the Village Blend or in her own kitchen. Dead Cold Brew doesn’t disappoint here either. I’m especially intrigued by the “Blueberry Mate Bait,” a blueberry buckle cake that barista Nancy Kelly made (and Esther Best renamed from “Boy Bait” to make it sound less sexist). Others I want to try are Clare’s Perfect Pumpkin Bread with Brown Sugar and Maple Syrup, and The Village Blend’s Chocolate-Espresso “Globs.”
There aren’t as many drink recipes this time around. But the Recipes section does include detailed instructions for making the Mason-Jar Cold Brew Coffee favored by Gustavo Campana. Don’t worry, though: despite the book’s title, it won’t be a “dead” cold brew!