Honey Roasted is the 19th entry in Cleo Coyle’s long-running Coffeehouse Mystery series, and it’s a good one. For long-term readers of the series and first-time readers alike, it’s great fun to visit the Village Blend coffeehouse in Greenwich Village and see manager and amateur sleuth Clare Cosi get entangled in a cleverly plotted mystery.
The mystery in Honey Roasted, as you might suspect from the title, involves honey and bees. But not to fear, coffee lovers, the book, like the others in the series, also contains a generous helping of coffee talk that will satisfy even the most devoted aficionado of the caffeinated bean.
As the story begins, the Village Blend staff is tasting a new honey-processed coffee that Matt Allegro, the Village Blend’s coffee buyer and Clare’s ex-husband, has obtained in Costa Rica. Clare has micro-roasted several test batches and has now brewed the final batch in a French press. She plans to serve it at a “honey roast” honoring Matt’s mother, Blanche Dreyfus Allegro Dubois, known to all as “Madame.”
The staff unanimously gives the coffee a thumbs-up, with assistant manager and part-time actor Tucker Burton waxing especially ecstatic in his praise:
“‘I got the fruit and floral notes,’ he began. ‘Peach and candied apricot with a hint of rose petals. But as the coffee cools, there is so much more—a luscious honey sweetness. And it’s a clean, bright sweetness, not heavy or syrupy. This coffee is so lively and complex, it’s throwing a dance party on my tongue!’”
But the Village Blend crew has little time to revel in the success of the new coffee, as the tasting is interrupted by a bee invasion. Fortunately, they are able to get the bees under control with the help of the New York Police Department’s beekeeping unit. (If you’ve never heard of it, you’re not alone: most of the book’s characters hadn’t either.) Because the bees carried a scent of lavender, Clare guesses that they originated in the rooftop greenhouse and apiary of Madame’s friend Bea Hastings, a florist who lives several blocks away.
Here’s where the mystery begins. When Clare and Matt can’t reach Bea by phone, they decide to walk over to check on her. They discover Bea’s greenhouse in shambles, with Bea sprawled on her balcony below, seriously injured and unconscious. The police are convinced that Bea’s fall was either a tragic accident or a suicide attempt. Clare doesn’t see it that way. She suspects foul play and vows to get to the bottom of it.
Meanwhile, Clare is feeling ignored by her fiancé, NYPD Detective Mike Quinn, who appears to be pulling away from her as he concentrates on his work. In order to spend more time with him, she persuades him to let her accompany him to a crime scene in the Hole, a notorious neighborhood on the border between Queens and Brooklyn. Mike’s “OD Squad” has found several bodies of men, apparently homeless and clearly overdose victims, that have been dumped there. To Mike, the facts add up to murder.
Although this is Mike’s case and she won’t intentionally interfere, Clare will find herself involved in it one way or another, or her name isn’t Clare Cosi. Her primary focus is on solving the mystery of what happened to Bea Hastings. But if along the way, she were somehow to manage to help Mike and his team solve their case, what loyal reader of the Coffeehouse Mystery series would be surprised?
Although the mystery plot of Honey Roasted benefits from its share of coincidences, I found it to be fast-moving, exciting, and fun. Clare is a clever sleuth indeed, with an envious ability to analyze a situation and draw conclusions that advance an investigation.
The series boasts several additional strengths besides the mystery plots. There’s a good mix of main characters, all of whom are capable and likable in their own unique ways. (Occasionally, maybe they are too capable, but a little suspension of disbelief can go a long way.)
Some readers may enjoy the romantic aspect of the series. Clare and Mike’s relationship has gradually developed from book to book. In Honey Roasted, as their wedding day approaches, there’s tension in the air, giving Clare another problem to solve besides the mysteries. I’m not a big fan of romance fiction, but in this case, the romance is enlivened by the continued presence of Clare’s ex Matt, adding some extra fun to the mix.
One of my favorite aspects of the series is the New York City setting. Coyle always manages to introduce some places that are unusual or new to me, even though I lived most of my life just outside the city. In Honey Roasted, a major scene is set at the Shed arts center and another at the Vessel tourist attraction, both at the recently redeveloped Hudson Yards. (As of this writing, the Vessel is closed indefinitely.) Additional action takes place in the Hole, as mentioned above. This neighborhood is the site of an old Mafia graveyard. It is also home to the New York City Federation of Black Cowboys, one of whom makes an appearance in the book.
And, of course, in the Coffeehouse Mystery series, there is always coffee—espressos and lattes in the Village Blend, mugs of coffee for the cops, and coffee talk between Clare and Matt. Honey Roasted adds a focus on honey. In the course of the story, Clare visits Bea’s apiary several times and joins a honey tasting at a honey farm in rural New Jersey. The book also contains a “guide to honey” appendix which is quite educational.
Finally, like all the books in the series, Honey Roasted features various recipes for dishes, drinks, and desserts mentioned in the story. Many are culinary treats that Clare makes for Mike or to serve in the Village Blend. In this case, most are made with honey. Just a few that appeal to me are the honey cupcakes with honey buttercream frosting, the honey-glazed baby carrots, and the honey-cinnamon latte. Sweet!
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