Author: Cleo Coyle
Going viral is the latest trend for the Blend – unfortunately, this sudden fame is tied to a swipe-to-meet app, a gun toting customer with an axe to grind, and an audience with the itch to press record. As the Internet eats up the video of romance gone bad, Clare worries about the PR for her coffeehouse while also starting to look more closely at the phone dating culture that is surrounding her. Clare has little to like about this new dating app, since everyone from her philandering ex to Madame are swiping right with little thought for the truth behind those seductive faces on the phone. Add in the drama of a streamed showdown, a newfound body, and another murdered customer, and Clare is all too ready to ditch the idea of app romance, business deals notwithstanding. Unfortunately for her, the dating app (Cinder, which is totally not a take on Tinder) has decided to restore the Blend’s good name and their own. So, whoever has a hate-on for Cinder’s CEO will most likely keep returning to the scene, and in a weird mélange of high tech horror, expensive exercise culture swankiness, and the seedy underbelly of hook-up culture, Clare must confront a vendetta with a long history, a patient killer, and schemes within schemes.
Shot in the Dark keeps up the high pace of the Coffeehouse mysteries; the showdown between the app-wolf and his prey occurs early, and before long readers realize that Cinder has more trouble in store for the peaceful Blend. As the click and play culture escalates around Clare, she senses that something even more sinister than slighted exes is tracing the rise and fall of Cinder. Something, or someone. Queue the first body – a Cinder developer gone rouge, found floating in the river with, of course, the first clue of many. It may be chance that links Clare to the body (although by book 17, it’s a given that Clare will be in the right place and at the right time to stumble onto the corpse), but once she’s onto the scent, she can’t stop. The wreckage steadily accruing behind the scenes at Cinder is trickling into the coffeehouse and while the victims are hardly blameless, Clare suspects that someone higher up is making down-and-out lovers into permanent fall guys and gals. As the mystery gets more complicated, we transition from vicious profit play to something more deeply personal, something built and nursed slowly over time, and just now loosed on Cinder and whoever happens to be standing in the way.
In Shot in the Dark, Cleo Coyle has something to say about the online dating game, and the Internet in general, as well as a riveting and fast mystery to unwind. Frankly, the judgment gets a little annoying as Clare bemoans the fact that so many people choose the convenience of meeting through an app over the more organic running-into-your-soul-mate-out-in-the-world option. Easy for you to say, Clare. The judgments aren’t entirely inaccurate, speaking as an aging millennial, but there is more than a touch of the fuddy-duddy here and little acknowledgement that hook-up apps and more serious dating apps are two totally different things. But ok, we can get past the slam at culture and move on.
And move on we do – rapidly. This time we have two bodies, one early, one appearing later in the story to up the stakes and spice up the intrigue. There are lot of moving parts in Shot in the Dark, but unlike the previous book in the series, they all stay concentrated on building just the one mystery, allowing the plot to be multi-layered without overwhelming readers. It’s a good build, a burn peppered with enough hints to point toward the big bad, without ever giving away the entire background until the final confrontation. It works. It invites and it steadily outdoes the escalating lines of suspicion as Clare gets deeper into infiltrating an empire with a one-track focus.
Meanwhile, the dating game also has some play in the story of Joy and Franco, which gets a serious gut punch that helps tie two seemingly different mysteries into one. This interplay also allows readers the first chance to watch Joy grow up a little more. After her affair, books earlier, with the married chef, I doubt I could ever like the flighty and pampered Joy, but here we are starting to see a woman as averse to the petulant teenager.
Matt also gets a lot of page space here, with Quinn having steadily moved into the shadows in the last few books. It’s an interesting choice, but one that is not altogether unpleasant. Like Clare, we like the flirtatious, danger seeking Matt. We just don’t trust him. At all.
In the end, Shot in the Dark is another winner in a long running cozy mystery series that seamlessly combines cozy with hardcore sleuthing, gritty stories of vengeful villains with empathetic characters (and their long running romance sagas), and the cosmopolitan twirl of high-end New York living with the daily grind. As always, we’ll end the story in the manner of finishing off the best coffee: satisfied and wanting more.
– Frances Carden
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