For reasons that are far too dull to go into I am not a great fan of the Christmas season but every year I try and trick myself into having at least a hint of seasonal spirit by reading a Christmas themed book or two. So far it has been spectacularly unsuccessful but I am ever the optimist.
Holiday Grind is the 8th book in a cosy series featuring Clare Cosi, manager of one of New York’s oldest coffee houses, the Village Blend. At the start of this installment the staff of the Blend are feeling the effects of the financial recession which has hit the city hard and slowed business down. One of their strategies to deal with this problem is to devise a series of flavoured coffees that remind people of the tastes of Christmas. Regulars and friends are invited to a tasting of the new drinks one evening but Alfred Glockner, one of the city’s charity-collecting Santas and regular coffee drinker, does not arrive. When Clare goes looking for him she discovers his body in an alleyway and while police think he has been the victim of a routine mugging she believes there is something more sinister afoot. With the help of her policeman boyfriend, her gorgeous ex-husband and his mother and the always-willing Village Blend baristas, Clare and the gang solve the crime long before the cops have a chance.
If you can suspend disbelief enough to accept that the New York police suddenly require the extensive assistance of a coffee shop manager to solve even the simplest of crimes (and I do understand that some people can’t do that) then this is a fun read. Although unrealistic on the subject of amateur sleuthing, the book is surprisingly credible in other areas, including the notion that most people have to work for a living and that often that work, especially if it involves retail, is a hard slog and also involves a lot of luck. Both the victim of the murder that sets Clare off on her latest bout of crime solving and Clare herself are at the mercy of fickle commercial markets and this theme is woven into the well-plotted story.
Clare is a likable enough character though she is a teeny bit serious for me, but some of the other regulars are more fun, including her ex-husband Matteo, who at least has a sense of humour along with his womanising ways, and his mother Madame Dubois who is the owner of the Village Blend and happily gets herself involved in all of Clare’s adventures. There’s always a cast of eccentrics and misfits working in the shop too which adds a bit of fun.
On the Christmas front there is snow (which I understand the other half of the planet associates with Christmas), multiple Santas and the fa-la-la-la-lattes to provide the holiday themes and I was actually quite pleased to see the entire book wasn’t about buying twice as many presents as you could afford which a lot of these themed cosies seem to do. With the last one of these that I read (number 6 in the series, Decaffeinated Corpse) I thought the series had lost its spark but I enjoyed this one as much as the earlier ones in the series. If you’re looking for a light, fun read to get you into the holiday spirit you could do much worse than this one, which can easily be read without having any knowledge of the earlier books in the series.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 3/5
Publisher Berkley Prime Crime [this edition 2010, original edition 2009]
Length 279 pages (plus 40 odd pages of coffee trivia and recipes)
Format mass market paperback
Source I bought it
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Other books I’ve reviewed that take place at Christmas time are
- Gail Bowen’s A Colder Kind of Death
- Mary Higgins Clark & Carol Higgins Clark’s The Christmas Thief
- Vicky Delany’s Winter of Secrets
- Ake Edwardson’s Frozen Tracks
- Chris Grabenstein’s Slay Ride
- Kerry Greenwood’s Forbidden Fruit (takes place in Australia where it doesn’t snow at Christmas time)
- Joan Hess’ A Holly Jolly Murder
- Valerie Wolzien’s We Wish You A Merry Murder