For New York coffee shop manager Clare Cosi, coffee can be a dangerous business. In A Brew to a Kill, it turns deadly.
Clare’s Village Blend coffeehouse has long been a Greenwich Village landmark, a haven for the area’s artists, musicians, poets, and students. But the coffee business has become more and more competitive.
Clare has decided to expand the Village Blend’s customer base by taking its gourmet coffee on the road. She’s invested in a coffee and muffin truck, christened the Muffin Muse. Clare’s business partner (and ex-husband) Matteo Allegro thinks the investment is too risky, and he may be right.
Kaylie Crimini, the owner of a rival truck, the Kupcake Kart, seems intent on disrupting Clare’s business. After two weeks of Kaylie parking her truck directly in front of the Village Blend, Clare decides she’s had enough. She confronts the “Kupcake Kween,” with help from her “goth poet” barista, Esther Best.
Clare and Esther succeed in getting Kaylie to move her truck, but a few minutes later, Clare’s friend and new business associate Lilly Beth Tanga is run down as she tries to cross the street. The hit-and-run looks intentional, and Clare is convinced that Kaylie is behind it.
Clare won’t rest until she proves who hit Lilly Beth and gets justice for her friend. Although the NYPD is investigating the crime, Clare does her own sleuthing. As she tells the lead detective on the hit-and-run case, “asking questions about police cases has become an occupational hobby.” She’s good at it too. Her skills as an amateur detective rival her expertise at pulling espressos.
But along the way, Clare’s investigation takes more twists and turns than the narrow streets of Greenwich Village. The NYPD is convinced that Clare herself is in danger. There are gunshots at an outdoor party. Another hit-and-run at a food truck catered wedding. And to top it all off, Matt and Clare find themselves mixed up in Brazilian drug smuggling and end up in federal custody.
I rank this eleventh book in Cleo Coyle’s popular Coffeehouse Mystery series as one of the best so far. The mystery keeps the reader guessing, and the action is fast-moving. There is also a generous serving of humor to go along with the coffee.
Character development is one of the series’ strengths. In A Brew to a Kill, most of the likable series characters play significant roles. Esther shows that she is much more than a barista, and Dante Silva’s artistic talent is also highlighted. NYPD Sergeant Emmanuel Franco is assigned as Clare’s bodyguard and displays his less than stellar barista skills when he goes undercover at the Village Blend. Matteo Allegro and Lieutenant Mike Quinn, Clare’s boyfriend, have more opportunity than usual to interact as they share the duplex above the Village Blend with Clare.
Another enjoyable feature of the series is its fond and familiar description of different locations and landmarks throughout New York City. This time around, Clare’s investigation takes her to some of the more colorful neighborhoods in the city, including Chinatown in Lower Manhattan, the South Street Seaport, Red Hook in Brooklyn, and “Little Manila” in Woodside, Queens. Not to mention, of course, Greenwich Village itself.
Coffee devotees will appreciate the coffee-infused atmosphere of the story. A Brew to a Kill, like the other Coffeehouse Mysteries, displays an easy familiarity with the world of coffee. There are fewer how-to discussions about preparing coffee or espresso in this book than in some of the others. But coffee permeates the story. And Matt’s purchase of Brazilian coffee provides an opportunity for readers to learn about the Cup of Excellence coffee competition.
As always, the book contains an appendix filled with recipes for desserts and other dishes that figure in the story. Both Mike and Matt love Clare’s “‘Melt and Mix’ Double-Chocolate Espresso-Glazed Loaf Cake,” arguing over who should get the last piece. Try it and see if you agree that it’s worth fighting for. Or try making some of the dishes that Matt prepares for Clare, like his “Carnitas’ Fond Spaghetti Sauce” or his “Easy Mexican-Style Black Beans.” I haven’t had a chance to try them yet, but they sound delicious. Let me know what you think—both about the recipes and about the book.
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