Friday, December 11, 2009

On What Grounds

On What Grounds
Author: Cleo Coyle
Berkley, 2003
275 pages

I love coffee! And espresso! And lattés and cappuccinos! So when I heard about this series of books called the Coffeehouse mysteries, I was definitely interested. On What Grounds is the first, and it's centered around the Village Blend, a coffee "institution" in New York's Greenwich Village. Clare Cosi has just become the manager again after a ten-year (or so) hiatus in which she lived the suburban life in New Jersey while single-handedly raising her daughter. Clare's ex-husband, coffee broker Matt, is the son of the Village Blend's owner and hasn't exactly been around much these last few years.

As the story opens, Clare has just spent her last night in New Jersey and is moving into the furnished apartment above the coffee shop. She arrives mid-morning at what should be the height of the morning rush, only to find the shop locked and dark. When she goes inside, the place is a mess. But worst of all, her assistant manager - graceful dancer Anabelle - is lying in a messy heap at the bottom of a stairwell.

Clare doesn't think this was an accident, so she and Matt (who just arrived back in town!) put aside their differences and join as partners in the investigation (and as reluctant roommates in the apartment upstairs - this is only temporary, of course) to try to determine what really happened. Even as Anabelle lies comatose in the hospital, it seems as if everyone is out to get the Village Blend: The former manager was fired for stealing an antique Village Blend sign, but his lousy management practices nearly caused the place to go broke and he apparently forgot to renew the coffee shop's insurance policies. So if Anabelle's golddigging stepmother sues, she'll probably end up owning the coffee shop. Unless a rival coffee magnate gets it first and turns it into one of those franchise coffee places. But then again, didn't Anabelle recently break up with her boyfriend?

The tales takes several twists and turns to its unexpected conclusion. Along the way we meet several characters who will no doubt be instrumental in future books, such as Detective Quinn (the 'sexy-in-an-aloof-Columbo-like-way' policeman), Joy (Clare and Matt's daughter, a culinary student), Mario (Joy's fiery Italian chef boyfriend, who reminds Clare of a young Matt), and of course, the Village Blend's owner, a cultured older woman called - simply - Madame. The interaction between Clare and Matt is at times quite funny. Obviously, Madame wants them back together.

BONUS!!! --> There's lots of info about coffee finely woven into Clare's narrative. Along with a little Coffee 101 (e.g., Arabica vs. Rustica, grinding beans, coffee vs. espresso), there are tips for storing coffee beans (NEVER in the freezer or refrigerator! Always in an airtight container!) and brewing coffee (if it's still sitting in the pot after fifteen minutes, you might as well throw it out). I think I may have even learned how to make espresso in the old-fashioned screw-top espresso pot that Sandy got me for Christmas last year (Clare Cosi says the water has to heat up slowly, on low. I previously tried heating it on medium-high and it exploded - sort of.) I'll try it Clare's way soon. If it works, the knowledge gained will be worth way more than the price of this book!

I wonder what my friend Bj would think of this series? Personally, I liked it, and I can't wait to read more.