Author: Cleo Coyle
Christmas is coming to New York and with it holiday cookies, skating parties, and a dash of holiday homicide. With the bustle of the impending Yuletide and the stress of co-hosting numerous functions for New York’s elite (plus providing some delectable pastry treats!) Claire is sharing a part-time employee, Moirin Fagen, with friend and pastry chef Janelle. Moirin is lovably Irish, an immigrant with a closed past and enigmatic present who nevertheless makes everyone laugh and allows her charm to cover her unknown nature. When the cheer and festivities end one night and Moirin is missing, everyone chalks it up a flaky new part-timer – until Claire falls over the bludgeoned body covered by the darkness of a desolate carousel.
Pulled in by the trauma of the discovery and the ineptness of the new investigator, nicknamed Mr. DNA for his sideline career as a dramatic detective novelist and his propensity to see unlikely solutions in a fake “scientific” way, Claire soon becomes fully involved in the investigation. Only, the killer hasn’t finished yet. As Claire digs deeper, following her now long-distance boyfriend’s assumptions, the personal motive for murder evolves into something far more complicated and dark – something with a past to hide and layers of blackmail and conniving.
As the story continues, we pick up where A Brew to a Kill left off as Claire attempts to determine if her relationship with NYPD Detective Michael Quinn can survive the distance and his growing desire for serious commitment (the dissonance of unwanted wedding bells). Meanwhile, ex-husband Matt continues to be an ever complicated part of her life and a continual trial/temptation in a time of emotional upset sans Quinn. The cozy atmosphere, supported with dual warmth by comfort food (and smooth coffee drinks) and the Christmas spirit of snowy days, warm clothes, and gifts remains buoyed, as ever, yet the series is definitely taking a more serious track. With relationship upheaval and soul-searching on the part of Claire, whose original experiences with Matt have left her unable to engage in a trusting relationship, Holiday Buzz has the unsteady feeling of impending loss and depression. The cozy girders that underpin the characters’ very lives are at risk and with this teetering sensation comes a gloomier take on the cozy mystery genre in general. This is good for character development and long-time plotline progression, albeit far less ambient and feel-good for the actual novel itself.
Of course, murder most foul is, by all senses, a less than cozy thing and yet the intensity of amateur detective work and the heady feeling of finding and integrating cleverly crafted puzzle pieces is oddly lighthearted and joyful. It’s the weirdness of the entire cozy mystery genre and it more or less works (subtract some logic here and there and provide a “willing to believe” sense.) Yet here, in Holiday Buzz, Coyle’s already solid plotline is denser than ever. Usually, this is good, but sometimes the complicated layers of Moirin’s backstory, trauma, and seemingly contradictory actions seem too much or at least not explained sufficiently in the conclusion. Readers leave a little confused. We found the killer, but the story, with all its layers and multiple actors, is both a bit extraordinary and fractured. “Whatever,” readers say as we shake our heads trying to figure it out. We’ll accept it and go along for the ride, yet feelings of unease and flipped back pages (who is this, what happened?) characterize this holiday cozy.
In the conclusion, the grimness of the personal strife within Holiday Buzz plus the poorly unraveled complexity of an ambitiously crafted plot makes this Christmas cozy a tad on the depressing side. Still, the Christmas festivities tied in with the coffee cravings keeps the story mostly on the cheery side and readers, attached to both characters and mystery, remain interested throughout. It may not be my favorite of Coyle’s offerings, but it is necessary for character progression and (hopefully) a resolution of Claire’s long-running trust issues. Its growing pains and readers ultimately feel that we are moving towards something bigger for the characters themselves.
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