3 – Plot/Story is interesting and believable
On What Grounds is the first novel in the popular Coffeehouse Mystery series by Cleo Coyle. In it, we meet Clare Cosi, former manager of one of the most historic coffeehouses in New York City, “The Village Blend.” Cosi had moved away from New York City with her husband and young daughter, in order to find a quieter, calmer life in the New Jersey suburbs. But after divorcing her husband and seeing her daughter off to college, Cosi is convinced by the owner of The Village Blend to come back and take over management of the store, with added benefits – such as building up equity toward becoming the eventual owner. All seems to be going well for Cosi at this middle point of her life, but everything changes when she gets to New York City and, upon reentering The Village Blend for the first time, finds her assistant manager at the bottom of the Blend’s basement stairs, unconscious and surrounded by suspicious evidence of foul play.
3 – Characters very well-developed.
This first book in the series introduces us to an interesting and eclectic set of characters, some of whom are likely to return in future books. Clare Cosi, being the main character, is the most developed of the cast. She is relatively well-rounded and developed, with interesting flashbacks and histories (and romantic inclinations) provided, particularly for a mystery novel (which I find tend to be lacking in character development). In addition, her mother-in-law and owner of The Village Blend, “Madame,” is great fun, though not a prominent figure. Cosi’s ex-husband, Matt, has memorable traits, and we also learn about the victim – Annabelle – through interviews with her teachers, dance colleagues, roommate, etc., all of whom add some depth and complexity to the story by virtue of their being there (none are wonderfully developed, but they do add the necessary “ah, who had the better motive, indeed?” moments). Finally, the detective assigned to Annabelle’s case, Lt. Quinn, brings with him some flirtatiousness, rivaling Matt, somewhat, for Cosi’s attention – their love triangle is entertaining. What I appreciate most is that Cosi makes even the minor characters have character, but I am left hoping that future books continue to develop the main characters who manage to stick around for any length of time.
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.
What I most enjoyed about On What Grounds was probably Coyle’s language and style. It is perfectly fitting for a Contemporary Adult mystery novel, but it is also tightly crafted, fluid, well-constructed, and simply interesting overall. Coyle infuses various elements, too, which are not typical of the genre (discussed below), and she manages to incorporate these elements, which are really of equal importance to the plot, seamlessly into the narrative. This mystery is a page-turner not just because of its classic “whodunit?” pacing, but because the balance of all of the competing themes and elements is spot-on.
Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.
It seems clear to me that Cleo Coyle has some background in literature, even if simply as a voracious reader. There are certain styles she uses, references she makes, and quotes that are dropped which fit in too neatly with the given situations to have been cribbed or looked-up simply for effect. Although I am not typically a reader of mysteries/murder mysteries, any which go to lengths to reach beyond their “genre boundary” (yes, that’s partially me exposing my bias, but it’s also true that genre writers often write within their conventions because they quite thoroughly understand their audience’s expectations) and add unique perspective, especially literary, to their works get a nod of recognition and gratitude from me. It is not just this added element, though, but also the inclusion of such passionate exploration and explanation of coffee, coffeehouses, related products and processes, recipes, etc. which make this book so much fun to read, especially for a coffee addict like me. If you love a good mystery with a diversity of characters, a relatively well-designed plot, and some added features, and if you happen to be a coffee-lover, well, this book (and series) is probably for you.
Suggested Reading For:
Age Level: HS+
Interest: Mystery, Coffee, Fiction, Contemporary.
“Though coffee may seem a small thing, it is a ritual that reflects the daily standards we set for ourselves throughout our lives” (31).
“Darkness can’t hide. Not forever. Not even in the vastness of space” (174).
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