frenchpressedA Bitter Brew for Joy

Author: Cleo Coyle

When Joy’s steamy affair with her illustrious boss, the famed chef Tommy Keitel, turns deadly it’s up to Clare to spring Joy from prison and solve the mystery before it’s too late in more ways than one. Along for the ride is Detective Mike Quinn, who just might have more designs on Clare than she knows. Add into the mix an explosive and secretive Matt, and you have a brewing kettle of confrontation, bitter grounds, and a mega hit of eye-opening tension as the Keitel killings reveal a deadly thread. Meanwhile, Mike’s dangerous life interweaves with Clare’s personal safety, and Madame is feeling a second youth as she seeks new lovers.

French Pressed brings the odor, texture, and gourmet atmosphere of a foodie series to life as never before. With each book the coffee becomes stronger (haha); Cleo Coyle isn’t afraid to throw in some coffee talk, history, and elegant descriptions that had me bolting out of my chair and charging to my over-used Keurig. In this particular installment, Keitel’s bon vivant French restaurant with the buttery yellow walls and elaborately carved gargoyles allows readers to experience all aspects of fine dining without ever dimming the coffee wattage. I must give a nod to the husband and wife duo author team (otherwise known as Cleo Coyle) for the mention of exemplary cheeses and their pairings with coffee. It was more than adequate to keep me perpetually starving throughout the novel.

The rich atmosphere is paired with a murder to die for – or murders I should say. Joy, previously a vivid but sidelined character, is in full teenage rebellious mode, until everything goes wrong and she begs Clare for help. It’s a possible bonding along the fracture lines that have appeared in the mother/daughter relationship over the last five novels, and this invests the readers in the solution of the murder from a personal as well as an intellectual level. Joy’s despair at losing a friend and lover keeps the crime close to home, and enforces believability that Clare would, indeed, investigate these murders, risking her own life at many points.

The language is lush and inviting, as usual, and the humdrum reality of life takes a side step to this chilly, winter tale of deception and murder. French Pressed is an enjoyable read that will captivate readers with its vibrant descriptions and alive characters. It’s not, however, my personal favorite in the Coffee House Series although for atmosphere (and sheer coziness) it’s certainly up there. As far as the plot is concerned, however, the investigation takes a surprising amount of “back burner” space as the author increases the dynamics of Clare’s romantic life. Don’t get me wrong – this needed to happen and Clare needed to move on – but the timing seems somewhat off, despite Clare’s emotional vulnerability. Mostly, this is a pacing issue since the book length (which, really, could grow easily by another 100 pages and be quite perfect) remains the usual, meaning that the investigation doesn’t get as much page space as we would want. The conclusion gets too easily handed to Clare on two separate mysteries, mostly because she just so happens to be in the right place at the right time. The confronted killers also make easy and quick confessions with very little hounding on Clare’s part, effectively tying up loose ends. We don’t get to witness Joy’s reunion with her mother, leaving readers feeling emotionally abandoned. What does Joy think of what her mother has done for her? Is this a new step in their relationship? I can add that having already started on the next in the series, Expresso Shot, this particular big priority plot item remains completely ignored.

Still, French Pressed is a must, and it does keep the cozy cranking and lets us come along for the ride with a cast of endearing characters who have become family to us. It may not be the best in the series, and from a literary viewpoint it does have some plot holes, but the reading experience is unforgettable and the increased foodie atmosphere evocative and much appreciated. Recommended.

–          Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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