Holiday Grind by Cleo Coyle, the eighth book in the popular Coffeehouse Mystery series, provides coffee-loving readers with a special holiday blend of murder and coffee, flavored with romance and set against the backdrop of Christmas in New York.
The book opens early in the Christmas season with a latte tasting party at the Village Blend coffeehouse. Business has been slow at the landmark Greenwich Village coffeehouse, and manager Clare Cosi is looking for a way to bring in more customers for the holidays.
Clare has invited her staff and friends to the Blend on a snowy night to help her come up with a list of flavored drinks for the holiday menu. Clare’s friend and regular customer Alf Glockner, one of the city’s “Traveling Santas,” has suggested that she tout the new drinks as “Fa la la la lattes.”
As the guests debate the merits of the candy cane latte and other new concoctions, Clare notices that Alf hasn’t shown up for the party. She becomes concerned and goes out to look for him. She soon spots his abandoned Traveling Santa sleigh on an icy West Village street. Looking further, Clare finds Alf lying dead in a nearby alley, with his red Santa suit stained deeper red with blood from a gunshot wound.
The police conclude that Alf was the victim of a random mugging, but for Clare that theory doesn’t add up. As an experienced amateur sleuth — and Alf’s friend — Clare can’t resist doing some investigating on her own.
Once Clare is on the case, she learns that there was more to Alf than his “jolly old elf” persona would suggest. The deeper she looks, the more likely it appears that Alf’s murder was not random but premeditated.
Although the official police investigators discount Clare’s clues and theories, she does receive support and help from her usual crew: boyfriend Mike Quinn, a police detective in New York’s Sixth Precinct, ex-husband and current business partner Matt Allegro, and ex-mother-in-law and Village Blend owner “Madame” Blanche Dreyfus Allegro Dubois. Clare also enlists the help of barista Esther Best.
The holiday season becomes increasingly sinister as Clare’s sleuthing puts her life in danger. She wants to find out who killed Alf, and why, but will she be able to do that without joining Alf as a casualty of Christmas?
Holiday Blend is a very entertaining read. For readers familiar with the series, Clare’s relationships with Mike and Matt take some unexpected turns. And author Cleo Coyle populates the book with a number of colorful new characters to augment the regular coffee-infused cast.
Coyle is also very skillful at evoking the holiday season in New York, from the snowy streets of the Village to a holiday benefit at the New York Pubic Library in midtown. She also takes readers to New York’s “forgotten borough” of Staten Island; the trip includes a memorable ride on the Staten Island ferry.
The books in the Coffeehouse Mystery series always include recipes for coffee drinks, pastries, and other dishes (usually Italian) mentioned in the story. For this holiday installment, Coyle has greatly expanded this feature. In addition to an exceptionally large selection of recipes, Holiday Grind includes a glossary of coffeehouse terms, a guide to coffee roasting levels, tips for making espresso and espresso drinks at home, and a discussion of gourmet coffee syrups.
If you don’t mind a little murder mixed in with your holiday celebrations, pick up a copy of Holiday Grind by Cleo Coyle. And then enjoy it with a “Fa la la la latte” or two.
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