On a near-freezing night three weeks before Christmas, a young baker’s assistant is murdered in a dark corner of a New York City park. Although the park’s crowded ice skating rink is just steps away, no one witnesses the brutal murder.
So begins Holiday Buzz, the twelfth installment in Cleo Coyle’s best-selling Coffeehouse Mystery series starring coffeehouse manager and amateur sleuth Clare Cosi. Like the earlier books, this one is a treat for coffee (and dessert) enthusiasts and mystery lovers alike.
Earlier in the day, Clare and her staff at the Village Blend coffeehouse have been preparing for the Great New York Cookie Swap, a series of exclusive parties that raise money for charity. Clare is in charge of the beverage service at the events, the first of which is being held that night at the Bryant Park Grill.
The Village Blend has been decorated for the holidays, with fresh green pine boughs and strings of twinkly white lights around the French doors. The baristas are trying on festive holiday hats to wear at the party and talking about their Secret Santa gift exchange.
Although the landmark coffeehouse in Greenwich Village has long provided an oasis of calm during the hectic holidays, Clare knows that each year the “battle for holiday buzz” is fierce. This year, she has added Christmas cookies to the Blend’s menu to attract more customers.
Clare has supplemented the regular Village Blend staff by bringing in Moirin Fagan, known as “M,” a young Irish baker’s assistant on part-time loan to Clare from her pastry chef friend Janelle Babcock. The rest of Clare’s staff liked M immediately. They have even included her in the Secret Santa tradition.
The Cookie Swap party is a success. Everyone enjoys Clare’s caramel swirl lattes along with pastries and desserts from some of New York City’s top bakers, including Janelle.
After the party ends, Clare walks across the park. As snow begins to fall, a passing couple tell Clare that a drunk woman is passed out on the carousel. Clare sees the woman, but she’s not drunk. She’s dead. To Clare’s horror, the woman is Moirin.
The detectives who investigate the crime scene include Clare’s friend, Lori Soles, and Lori’s new temporary partner, Detective Fletcher Endicott. Since Endicott is senior to Lori, he’s the lead detective. He considers himself a DNA expert and has little patience for interviewing witnesses. At Lori’s urging, though, he lets Clare recount some incidents from the party that she thinks may be relevant.
As Clare gives her statement to the detectives — which characteristically includes her theories about the evidence — the reader revisits the party with her in a series of flashbacks.
The party crowd was full of celebrities, including Ross Puckett, captain of the New York Raiders hockey team, pop singer Penny Piper, and the “Double D’s,” stars of TV’s True Housewives of Long Island, Danni Rayburn and Delores Deluca. There could be reason to suspect any of them in connection with the murder.
Clare also saw Moirin talking to a young man dressed in black, who she assumes was her mysterious boyfriend Dave. And at one point during the party Clare saw M outside in the park, but at the time she didn’t give it much thought.
The police think that M was killed by a serial attacker whose crimes have been dubbed the “Christmas Stalkings.” But Clare is convinced that M’s murder was not random. She believes M was killed by someone who wanted her dead for a specific reason.
Clare realizes she knows very little about M. But she is determined to find out why someone would have a motive to kill her. If she can learn more about M’s life, she hopes she can discover the motive, find the killer, and get justice for her young assistant.
Clare’s unrelenting quest for the truth about M’s death takes her on a series of adventures throughout New York City and its environs. The story is fast-paced and entertaining.
The action is centered in Manhattan, of course. Many scenes — most of which are infused with coffee, expresso, or lattes — are set in the Village Blend and Clare’s duplex apartment above it. Meanwhile, the two Cookie Swap parties that Clare attends are in midtown, the first at the Bryant Park Grill on West 40th Street and the second at “the most famous toy store in the world” on Fifth Avenue. But Clare gets out of Manhattan too, as her investigation leads her to spots in Brooklyn and Long Island. There’s even an exciting car chase.
Clare’s creative schemes to gather evidence are often amusing. They are usually also risky, sometimes dangerous. At one point her not-quite fiancé, NYPD detective Mike Quinn, calls her most recent investigative foray “reckless and wrong.” But he’s always there for her, and their relationship seems to be deepening over time.
Cleo Coyle has created a cast of very likable characters to populate the Coffeehouse Mystery series. Most of them have prominent roles in Holiday Buzz. In addition to Mike Quinn and Janelle Babcock, readers are treated to appearances by Clare’s dashing ex-husband Matteo, her aristocratic but adventurous ex-mother-in-law “Madame,” and her loyal baristas Tucker Burton, Esther Best, and Dante Silva.
It’s always a pleasure to hang out with these folks. Especially over a good cup of coffee. Maybe a French pressed cup of the Village Blend’s Ethiopian Sidamo, like the one Clare serves to Madame and Detective Emmanuel Franco along with a plate of Janelle Babcock’s lemon sugar cookies.
Franco observes that the cookies are “a little girly,” but he manages to eat them all the same. If you’d like to try them too, the recipe is included among the “Recipes & Tips from the Village Blend” at the end of the book.
The recipe section is a trademark feature of the Coffeehouse Mystery books. The recipes in Holiday Buzz include drinks, desserts, and even a couple of dinner entrees from the story. They all look good, but I think I’ll start with an Easy Candy Cane Latte with Homemade Peppermint Syrup. And like Matt, I’ll be sure to add a shot or two of peppermint schnapps. Definitely good for a holiday buzz!
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