by Terry Ambrose
Who doesn’t love a good cup of joe? Perhaps not everyone, but those who don’t love coffee, probably do like tea. Either way, this batch of authors have something tasty brewing up just for you. Coffee and tea house mysteries could be called the mysteries of the new millennium.
According to legend, the first cup of tea was brewed in 2737 B.C. In would be nearly another 4,000 years before someone brewed the first cup of coffee. Centuries later, along came the tea houses and coffee shops. With the world’s writers hopped up on caffeine is it any wonder that writers discovered the art of murder could be combined with the world’s favorite beverages?
In 2001, Laura Childs’ debut Tea Shop Mystery, Death By Darjeeling, became the first commercial success for a mystery in which a tea shop took center stage in a murder mystery. Childs, who had been in marketing for twenty-five years, said, “When I saw hundreds of tea shops springing up like errant mushrooms all over the country, I knew there was an enormous audience there. And everyone seemed to have a craving to learn more about the genteel art of tea.”
Childs, now a New York Times bestselling author, has written fifteen Tea Shop Mysteries. With titles like Steeped in Evil, reviews with comments such as that from the St. Paul, MN Pioneer Press, which said, “Murder suits [Laura Childs] to a Tea,” is there any doubt that this is a fun series?
It may have taken mankind forty centuries to invent the first cup of coffee, but it didn’t take New York Times bestselling author Cleo Coyle long to brew up her own popular blend. On What Grounds, the first Coffeehouse Mystery, was published in 2003 and became an overnight success. in the US alone, there are more than 150 million fans for each beverage. Some of those fans have very quirky stories such as the one related by Coyle.
“One [barista] told us about what he called the ‘Holy Muffin’ incident,” said Coyle. “A well-dressed businesswoman asked if there were ‘a lot of blueberries’ in the shop’s blueberry muffins. The barista politely assured her there were and put one down in front of her. She picked up the muffin and stuck her finger into it a few times to make sure. ‘Looks okay,’ she said. But as the barista moved to bag it, she shouted: ‘Don’t give me that muffin. It has holes in it!’
The Holy Muffin incident may not be grounds for murder, but it does show that coffeehouses, too, have their share of odd happenings. There are now fourteen titles in Coyle’s Coffeehouse Mystery series, which features Clare Cosi, a divorced, single mom in her forties who is a Greenwich Village coffeehouse manager by day and a relentless snoop by night. Coyle says of her protagonist, “If someone close to Clare is involved in a crime, she’s going to solve it—because in this town, she’s wired.” The series includes a new release right before Christmas, Once Upon a Grind (watch for a review here in KRL in December).
If Java Chunk Ice Cream or Cappuccino Chip Muffins make your mouth water, check out Emma Blackcliff’s Espresso Magic. In Blackcliff’s Gypsy Sleuths series, a pair of modern-day Spanish gypsy sleuths don’t read tea leaves, they read coffee beans. As with other coffee and tea-based mysteries, recipes are included.
Fear not, tea lovers. You’ve also got the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency on your side. Not necessarily a tea-shop mystery by definition, Alexander McCall Smith’s series is immensely popular around the world. His characters love a good cup of tea—and the world loves McCall Smith’s protagonist Mma Precious Ramotswe and her able band of assistants. This series proved so popular it even made it to the silver screen.
The Maggy Thorsen Mysteries, on the scene since 2005, are another coffee shop series that will have mystery lovers grinding through the pages. Author Sandra Balzo has written eight mysteries in this series with the last, Murder on the Orient Espresso, being published in 2013. Small towns, big crimes is how Balzo bills her mysteries, which follow the co-owner of a Wisconsin coffee house as she sets out to figure out whodunnit.
The last entries in this caffeine extravaganza are not technically coffeehouse mysteries. They do, however, have the beverage as an integral part of the story. First is An Order of Coffee and Tears from Brian Spangler in which the patrons in a diner linger over coffee and their tears.
Cappuccino anyone? Anisa Claire West normally writes foodie mysteries, but for Cappuccino Twist she turned to expresso and mocha-infused treats. Oh, and don’t forget an “enchanting Spanish suitor with eyes as deep and forbidden as black coffee at midnight.” There will be no beans spilled here, which means to get those recipes—or learn more about that suitor—check out Cappuccino Twist.
What’s not to love about coffeehouse or tea shop mysteries? Many of them include recipes to help adventurous readers experiment with new drink recipes. From New York Times bestsellers to writers exploring their muse, this genre offers something for everyone. Have you read any of these series? Did you enjoy them? Do you know of other coffeehouse or tea shop mysteries that were missed? Or, has this post whetted your appetite to try something new?
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.
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