Brewed Awakening, the title of the 18th book in Cleo Coyle’s popular Coffeehouse Mystery series, is an apt pun for the situation in which coffeehouse manager Clare Cosi finds herself in the first chapter.
Two months after Mike Quinn’s marriage proposal to her in the Village Blend, which is recounted in the prologue, Clare has a very rude awakening early in the morning on a park bench in New York City’s Washington Square Park. She is completely disoriented. She has no purse, wallet, money, keys, or ID. She doesn’t recognize any of the clothes she’s wearing or the blood-stained glove she finds in a coat pocket.
The first indication that Clare’s disorientation extends beyond forgetting how she ended up in the park overnight occurs when she asks a passing NYU student for the time. Clare has no idea what the “odd device” is that he pulls from his pocket. Seeing other people staring at or talking into similar devices, she wonders whether it’s some sort of bizarre performance art.
Clare begins to panic, but then she remembers that there is one place in the Village where she would always be welcome: the Village Blend coffeehouse where she worked before moving out of the city “mere months ago.” She decides to walk there to get some decent coffee, thinking, “In my experience, there weren’t many problems a good cup of coffee couldn’t help solve.”
On her way to the Village Blend, she notices a newspaper headline about a missing hotel heiress named Annette Brewster. Something in the story seems vaguely familiar, but the feeling soon passes.
Clare’s disorientation deepens at the Village Blend. Baristas Esther Best and Dante Silva are overjoyed to see her, but she doesn’t know who they are. Her ex-husband Matt Allegro and his mother, the Village Blend’s owner “Madame” Blanche Dreyfus Allegro Dubois, are also thrilled to see her. She recognizes them but thinks they both look different, and they’re talking nonsense. Overcome with confusion, Clare faints.
Clare wakes up in the hospital. She doesn’t recognize Mike Quinn or her grown-up daughter Joy or Joy’s fiancé Sgt. Emmanuel Franco. Quinn arranges for her to be put under the care of a prominent psychiatrist who specializes in memory-loss cases. But Clare is not pleased with her treatment, and her family and friends object to the psychiatrist’s plan to move her to his upstate clinic where visitors will be prohibited.
Madame suggests a bold plan to remove Clare from the psychiatrist’s control and help her recover her memory on her own. Since the police think Clare may be an important witness to Annette Brewster’s abduction, Madame and the others want to help her recall anything she might know about that event, meanwhile shielding her from the NYPD so she isn’t mistakenly implicated in the crime.
Because this is a Coffeehouse Mystery book, it won’t surprise series readers that Clare begins to take an active role in investigating the case—despite the fact that she says she has no memory of her previous sleuthing sideline. As she gets deeper and deeper into the investigation, bits and pieces of her memory begin to return, aided, as so much in life is, by good coffee.
The premise of this book, which is built around Clare’s traumatic amnesia, is a marked departure from the typical narratives in the series. The amnesia plot allows Coyle to revisit many aspects of Clare’s life in an organic way, as she gradually remembers events and people through conversations or sensory stimuli. It’s a clever device, which makes the book a good introduction to the series for new readers. As someone who has read the entire series, I enjoyed it a bit less than some of the other books, in part because it didn’t advance the current arcs of the characters all that much.
One of my favorite features of the Coffeehouse Mystery books is their often detailed descriptions of New York landmarks and locales. The action in Brewed Awakening takes Clare from Greenwich Village to midtown Manhattan and from Queens to the Hamptons. Because she has lost about 15 years’ worth of memories, she is surprised by some of the changes in the city, especially in the Village and in Queens, so her reflections on those changes enhance the descriptions of those places.
For coffee lovers like myself, the book is also enriched by references to coffee and coffee-making. Early in the book, Esther brews “a steeping pot of a beautiful single-origin coffee from El Salvador with notes of brown sugar, ripe strawberry, and raisins. Matt had sourced it from a fourth-generation family-owned finca called La Providencia.” Later on, a memory is triggered when Clare tastes a coffee cake made with home-roasted “fruity East African bean[s], sold by a cooperative under the name Ladha Nzuri (‘Good Taste’ in Swahili).”
Part of the fun in Brewed Awakening is the dynamic of Clare’s relationships with her ex-husband Matt and her fiancé (unbeknownst to her) Mike. Coffee plays a part in those relationships, of course. Clare is surprised to see that Matt uses an electric pour-over machine, which leads to a philosophical discussion of brewing methods. She is equally surprised that Mike knows how to use a French press. When she says she assumed he was a convenience-store coffee kind of guy, they talk about cops drinking coffee out of the classic New York blue and white Anthora paper cups.
Like all the previous books in the series, Brewed Awakening includes an appendix full of delicious recipes for desserts, drinks, and more that are mentioned in the story. Two dishes credited to Matt appeal to me—cacao e Matteo pasta and Matt’s coffee beef stew. As a dessert person, I think I’d love all of the desserts in the book, but my first choices might be Clare’s chocolate chip coffee cake or the sinful-sounding Village Blend goobers cookies. Buon appetito!
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