Sunday, December 13, 2009

Death By Darjeeling

Death By Darjeeling
Author: Laura Childs
Berkley, 2001
242 pages

From coffee to tea . . . Death By Darjeeling is the first in a series featuring the cozy Indigo Tea Shop in Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston's history and colorful charm make it an interesting setting for any type of literature, but it seems especially well-suited to mysteries and crime novels. Main character Theodosia Browning spent years in the advertising industry, but as she approached middle age, she began to question what she really wanted out of life. An opportunity arose to buy the tea shop, and she used her skills learned in advertising and got lucky with a hiring decision (her employee Drayton is one of ten tea masters in the USA) to make the business thrive.

Indigo Tea Shop is a happening place, but one evening during a festival, a man drops over dead while drinking tea. Turns out this man is a rather shady real estate developer who has lots of enemies. It just so happens that one of his last business dealings was an attempt to buy the historic building where Indigo Tea Shop rents space.  Rumors run rampant that the man was poisoned, and suddenly business at the tea shop turns south.

Theodosia and her staff (including perpetual student Haley and recently widowed Bethany, in addition to Drayton the tea master) join together to solve the mystery and to take back the tea shop's reputation. Who killed the shady real estate developer? Was it the abundantly passionate environmentalist? The absent wife? The chairman of the historical society? The equally shady business partner? Actually, I correctly guessed the murderer about halfway through the book, long before most of the clues were in. I'd like to think that I'm just smart (ha ha) because it's really not that obvious until the very end when the truth is revealed. It was probably a lucky guess.

The book was published in the spring of 2001, and since then, there have been several other books in this series. Before I read Death By Darjeeling, I honestly didn't think I would care to read more of these . . . but once again (as with the other cozy mysteries I've read lately), I'm curious as to how the characters will evolve. I actually like Theodosia. She seems like someone I'd want to be friends with. And I adore the others who work in the tea shop - especially Drayton. Another character I'd like to read more about is Aunt Libby, Theodosia's bird-loving, country-living aunt. It will be interesting to see if Theodosia starts getting along better with Tidwell (the cop) or if her relationship with Jory (the lawyer) goes anywhere. OK, so maybe I like soap operas.

As for downsides, this seems to be one of the first books by this author. At times it's just a little slow. It seems as if she wants to introduce all the characters at once, and there are lots of characters, so it's a little confusing to keep them straight. "Theo" drives a Jeep, but in one scene it's called a Cherokee, and in another it's described like a Wrangler (with a canvas top), so I wonder if maybe that was an editing error.

About tea . . . it's obvious that the author has researched and perhaps even sampled different types of tea. The Author's Notes even state that she travels to China often, where she's sure to encounter great tea. But unlike the other "foodie" mysteries I've read lately, I don't really feel like I learned anything new about tea or tea making from Death By Darjeeling. I could be wrong here but I don't recall any reference in the book to the recipe that appears at the end of the book? I would have preferred the recipe for the cranberry scones or the lemony things. But that's just me. :-)

I'm a little burned out on cozy mysteries right now (although I really do like them, and I've recently received a ton of them from Paperback Swap so you'll definitely be seeing more reviews in the future). My next book is going to be . . . from a different genre. I've selected it, and I can tell you that it's 498 pages long. Therefore, it may take me a little longer to read than these books I've been reading lately.