Author: Cleo Coyle
With the holiday season, Greenwich Village, funky district of New York City where you can get the best brews from Clare’s Coffeehouse, is preparing to deck the halls with traveling Santas. Among these Salvation Army volunteers dressed in cheery Santa suits is one of Clare’s friends, Alfred Glockner, part-time comic, failed restaurateur, and ex-alcoholic with an unfortunate marriage. As Clare and gang are preparing for Tucker’s holiday play and discovering delectable holiday coffee blends, Glockner is making his rounds through the new falling snow on the icy streets of New York to a back alley – a strange place for Santa indeed. When Glockner is gunned down in cold blood and the new, unorthodox police investigator shrugs the murder off as random gang violence, it’s up to Clare to discover what led her secretive friend to the snowy alley where he met his end.
Along for the ride, of course, is ex-husband Matt who, when not hanging out with his new socialite, fashion-icon wife or perusing the holiday lingerie catalogs, is helping Clare with a little yuletide breaking and entering. Clare’s new barista and gothy sidekick is also down for some investigation between preparing for her finals and having a continued fling with her rapper boyfriend. Only Mike Quinn, Clare’s supposedly devoted boyfriend, is down for the count as this holiday mystery progresses through seasonal cheer into murder and tasty mochas.
The eighth novel in the long running Coffeehouse Series, Holiday Grind was my chosen go-to during the Christmas season (yes, yes, I read slowly). One of the few Coffeehouse Mysteries available in hardcover, the novel only takes half the page space, giving readers over 100 pages of some delectable holiday treats to try and seasonal blends.
Reading this particular offering during the Christmas season exemplified the cozy aura, especially as the snows fall within New York, making a big bustling city into an almost It’s a Wonderful Life type place. City dwellers and those in love with the Christmas traditions of tinsel lined shops and local lattes will immediately sink into the rich atmosphere and the vibrancy of description and evocation of everything we love best and remember most about holidays. This novel even did something truly unusual for me – it made me like snow.
The story itself is somewhat weaker, concentrating more on the holiday atmosphere than on providing a cohesive investigation that actively led to the would-be killer. Not to say that the mystery still isn’t strong, especially when compared to other cozies, but readers will remember Holiday Grind more for its seasonal fun that the threads that weave together into a killer and a motive. Especially since, towards the conclusion, the answer dawns epiphany style and leaves readers feeling out of the loop and a little unsure just what happened and why.
The police presence here is also growing steadily more unrealistic as Clare gets hassled and harassed by a police chief, stretching and then breaking believability. This presentation of the law force in general has been gaining throughout the series, trying to introduce tension for Clare and her investigation, but creating some smirk worthy scenes instead.
Holiday Grind brings some trouble in paradise as Clare confronts a depressing Christmas when Mike pulls back. Hearing rumors from Matt and becoming suspicious of a strange red-head that is stalking her, Clare soon begins to wonder if her relationship with Detective Quinn may be on thin ice. The realistic depiction of Clare, Joy, Madame, Matt, Mike, and others remains strong and reuniting with these characters is one of the most rewarding elements of this novel and indeed the entire series.
Whether you’re ready to curl inside as this extra-long winter progresses, or you want to remember the warm glow of the holidays, or you just enjoy reuniting with favorite characters to further explore their worlds, both personal and sleuth-wise, then Holiday Grind will prove a treat; I continue to enjoy this series and eagerly anticipate starting on Roast Mortem. Recommended.
- Frances Carden