Thursday, August 11, 2011

Murder by Mocha by Cleo Coyle

At times, it seems so many of today's thrillers glory in violence, the grittiness, the gore of death. And, I do read some thrillers. But, my true passion is for the traditional mystery. This is only my opinion, but I think the best mysteries acknowledge violent death, but, instead of glorying in the violence, they make readers aware of the tragic loss of a life. How many thrillers treat death as a true tragedy? In thrillers, the bodies pile up, and the dead never seem to be acknowledged. But, in the hands of a gifted mystery writer, a Louise Penny, or a Cleo Coyle, each individual death is seen as a loss. Penny, one of my favorite authors, has been handsomely rewarded, and awarded, for her mysteries of humanity. Maybe Cleo Coyle hasn't been as recognized because her mysteries center around a coffeehouse, and they include humor and romance. But, Cleo Coyle's latest book, the tenth in the Coffeehouse Mystery series, Murder by Mocha, acknowledges every death as a tragedy, as a loss of humanity.

Clare Cosi's former mother-in-law, Madame Blanche Dreyfus Allegro Dubois, is her boss and friend. Clare is the manager and head barista at Village Blend, a landmark coffeehouse in Greenwich Village. But, Clare's a little concerned about the latest business deal Madame has put together. The Village Blend supplies the coffee beans, Voss Chocolate supplies the chocolate, and together with some mysterious herbs, they're combined to form Mocha Magic Coffee, an herbal aphrodisiac that's about to be released at a trade fair by a secretive businesswoman known as Aphrodite. But, Madame and an old friend, Alice Bower, one of Aphrodite's assistants, call on Clare for help with the police even before the trade fair starts. Clare dates Mike Quinn, a NYPD detective, so she knows some police officers, and is able to handle a few problems at a hotel, but it's only the start of problems connected with Aphrodite and Mocha Magic Coffee. Clare is a very observant witness, important to the police when they have to crash the launch party for the new product. It's a launch party that launches a series of murders, not just a coffee/chocolate aphrodisiac. And, it launches Clare Cosi into another mystery, one that involves secrets from Madame's past. This time, it's a mystery, and a business, that could destroy Village Blend, and people Clare has grown to love.

Murder by Mocha isn't all heavy drama. There's humor and light drama, some of it surrounding tryouts for a new play, Return to Munchkin Land. There's family reunions, when Clare's ex-husband returns with their daughter, Joy. There's love and romance for three generations of women. The story includes all the interesting characters that hang out at Village Blend. And, of course, there are the wonderful chocolate recipes to die for at the end of the book, and all the discussion of coffee and chocolate. There's even one of my favorite elements in a mystery, a cold case.

But, most of all, Cleo Coyle writes mysteries with heart. I mentioned that the best mysteries acknowledge the loss of life. One paragraph in this book made me realize that. It was the moment when Clare realizes the first victim had been waiting for "the man she loved," to come home. She was counting down the time. And, Clare knew if he returned, it would be for her funeral. And, when Clare had tears, a police officer said to her, "Sorry, Cosi. When bad guys win, I know it's hard to take. But that's the world we live in. Answers never come easy, and you can't expect miracles."

Traditional mysteries? They acknowledge the hurt, the loss. And, then they attempt to make the world right again, to find answers. Gifted authors, such as Cleo Coyle, and good mysteries, such as Murder by Mocha, try to find answers to the tragedies of violent death.

If you're intrigued by the review of Murder by Mocha, or you're a fan of Cleo Coyle's books, stop back this evening for the kickoff of this week's giveaway. I'm running a contest for personally inscribed copies of Murder by Mocha and Cleo's Roast Mortem. Complete details tonight!

Cleo Coyle's website is

Murder by Mocha by Cleo Coyle. Berkley Prime Crime. ©2011. ISBN 9780425241431 (hardcover), 384p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The author sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.


Anonymous said...

Nice review Lesa. I agree with you that all too often the mysteries we read do not acknowledge the effects of death of a loved one on those they leave behind, be the death "on stage" or off, gory or not.

I'm reading Tess Gerritsen's newest book in the Rizzoli and Isles series, THE SILENT ONE, and I find Tess very much acknowledging the individual deaths and how they affected those left behind. In this case, we have the advantage of 19 years to look back over to get that "20/20 hindsight" to assist us as well.

I'm pretty sure that it will be just those visions that solve this crime.

It's good to know that humanity is still out there, acknowledging loss of individuals and the effects on the living.

bermudaonion said...

I agree - all of these gory books and movies kind of numb is to the reality of the loss of life and how it affects people. I really enjoy mysteries like this too.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Sandie. I'm glad you agree with me. And, you're right. It is good to see that humanity,isn't it? I'll look forward to your review of THE SILENT ONE.

Lesa said...

I hadn't thought about that, Kathy. You do start to just gloss over the deaths because of all the movies and books that do that. I hope you enjoy this one.

Liz V. said...

Haven't read all of Cleo's books but you're spot on. The death of Santa in Holiday Grind seems a good example of John Donne's maxim and Clare's compassion.

Lesa said...

Thanks, Liz. And, I wish I could have actually quoted the paragraph and Clare's awareness of this woman's death, but I didn't want to spoil the first murder by letting people know who was killed. What a beautiful way of saying it, "John Donne's maxim and Clare's compassion."

Janet said...

I love this series for the compassion and for the strong bonds between the characters. You come to care about the victim and for those affected by involvement. The new one is close to the top of my TBR (and may jump up a place or two.)

Dru said...

Great review Lesa.

That's what I like about traditional mysteries, they touch your heart and you feel for the characters.

Looking forward to reading this one.

Lesa said...

Yes, Janet, those are all the reasons to love this series. And, reasons to jump this book higher on your TBR pile.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Dru. I hope you get a chance to read Murder by Mocha soon.

Lori Cimino said...

I completely agree with you. I used to read more gritty hard edged mysteries. And then one day I realized that while I loved the mystery elements; the darker parts were depressing and I wasn't having any fun. It wasn't entertaining me, sometimes it actually stressed me out. So I stopped reading mysteries. And then a friend reminded me about "cozies" when she recommended a book with a local location. It was fun again. I still had the "who dunnit" and why w/o all of the grime on my soul.
Cleo has long been my very favorite at this genre. I discovered her about 3 books in. So it was like opening a treasure chest to discover 3 pieces of gold.

And like you, that scene you described; that was so moving. My heart felt it and I wanted to give Clare a comforting hug.
Thanks for letting me read about and talk about my favorite things in this world....a very well written cherished book.

NoraA said...

A very enjoyable review. I love Cleo's books and read any series that has her name as author. Cleo Coyle is incapable of writing anything that doesn't entertain and hold together, giving the reader a 3-D view of the story. I always find myself envisioning the story so deeply that it feels like I'm right there watching it unfold.

You can catch my review of the book at

Lesa said...

You've described it beautifully, Lori, "without leaving grime on the soul." I like that. I think a couple of my recent books left me with a slimy feeling. Cleo's books don't do that to you. And, good traditional mysteries make you feel as if there is good and resolution in the world. I'd rather feel that way.

Lesa said...

Thank you, NoraA. I'm getting ready to leave the house to run errands. I need to check out your review when I come back.

I like what you said about Cleo's books entertaining and holding together. True.

And, thank you for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

As I was reading the comments above, I remembered another book that really got to me emotionally. It was billed as a thriller and the author has won awards from ITW. The book centered around two people who had a great love for each other and had to find each other again through all that happened in the book. At the end I found myself giving the book a hug because I really wanted to hug those characters.

What book, you ask? LOVE YOU MORE by Lisa Gardner. Probably not one you would pick up Lisa, but one certainly worth reading. So categorization can help, but it can also hinder when you find those really well-written books across the invisible lines between sub-genres.

Karen C said...

I have mentioned before that I am just starting to read mysteries again and I'm not sure I ever read a cozy mystery; but they sound interesting. Do the Coffeehouse Mystery books stand alone or would I need to start at the beginning?

Nicely done review. Thanks.

Cleo Coyle said...

Lesa - I can't resist responding to some of these intriguing comments. I hope you don't mind!

Karen C – Hey, there. You can pick up any of the books in my Coffeehouse Mystery series, and (hopefully) not be lost. There are ten books now with more under contract. Choose which plotline appeals to you and dive in. Many readers say that starting from the beginning is the most fun because of the character growth and long-term story arcs, but I’ve had many readers tell me that they began with (book #7) Espresso Shot or (book #8)Holiday Grind and then started over with Book #1 On What Grounds (in its 15th printing now and, miraculously, still going strong). If you're someone who wants a faster, darker plot then begin with book #2 Through the Grinder. One more thing, and I hate to say it, but... Although my books will give you twists, turns, action, and pathos, if you are a reader who simply cannot *stand* humor in her mysteries, then these are not the droids you're looking for. Move along. :)

If you do give them a try, I hope you enjoy them. (My web site's About the Coffeehouse Mysteries page will give you more info, too.)

~ Cleo Coffeehouse
Cleo Coyle on Twitter

Karen C said...

Thanks, Cleo, for the information about your books - I'll be checking them out!!

ibeanniebe said...

Wow! Well said. I now think you put the finger on what books I enjoy reading in this genre and the ones I don't like so much. It must be the writters ability to put the compasion in the story for the victims. Cleo Coyle does do that as do several other writers I follow through from first book to most recent when I discover them.

Nanc said...

What a well thought review for one of my favorite series. I left mysteries behind me when Nancy Drew still wore bobby socks...because I love getting lost in a book...not being terrified by it. Three years ago a dear friend introduced me to cozies and I was hooked! Being a reader who has a need to start from the beginning I made my first series the Coffee House mysteries by Cleo Coyle. I was hooked from the very first paragraph and her unique way of starting off with the murderer...I agree that this world has made us more immune to emotional suffering and am encouraged to find a series that doesn't allow that to happen. In this latest book I believe we readers can even find some compassion for the criminal, can't we? I enjoy the gritty urban edge to this series that also allows us entry into the personal lives of some wonderful people. Proving that if we live in NYC or a small burg in the midwest we all have hearts that can be broken and dreams that can come true.
Ms. Coyle proves her skills as a writer in her other series The Ghost and Mrs. McClure...just a tickler to those awaiting book #11 :-)

Lesa said...


Last week, my editor at Library Journal asked a few librarians to tell us the best popular books we'd read this year. Some of us, including me, said no book stood out as one to tell everyone to read. But, I listed my favorites in various genres, and Lisa Gardner's Love You More was the thriller I picked. You're right about that. That's why, although I was tempted to say ALL thrillers, I really couldn't generalize like that because there are thrillers that show the compassion as well.

Lesa said...

Thank you, everyone, for the comments about the review. When I sat down to write it, it forced me to put into words WHY I prefer traditional mysteries, because just one paragraph in this book stood out, saying to me, THAT'S why you read mysteries.

Cleo Coyle said...

Me again. :)

Sandie – I hear what you’re arguing. There are indeed many thrillers out there that do not present brutal violence (especially violence against women and children) in a gratuitous way, which isn’t to say a very large audience doesn’t exist for this approach. It does.

As most of my readers know, I write these mysteries in collaboration with my husband; and we’ve co-written a number of other projects, as well, one of which was the very first piece of fiction based on the Emmy-Award Winning Television series 24.

The homicide sprees were legend in that TV show, but Marc and I saw Jack Bauer (as the show’s creator did) as a dimensional human being, not a killing machine. Life and death always weighed heavily on the series’ characters, which we explored in our book.

Whether the protagonist is compassionate and dimensional or not, however, most thrillers (even ones by the gifted women you named) are going to take the reader into much darker, more violent territory than a traditional mystery; and that’s something you have to acknowledge. Not every reader wants to be taken into an autopsy room, witness graphic violence against children; hear screaming of torture victims. (Is it me, or are thrillers getting downright pervy lately?)

Traditional mystery readers might not be the majority of the mass market list, but they are significant enough to keep the Con Ed bills paid in our house. (And if you want to talk scary, you should open up a New York electric bill sometime. :))

Marc and I may very well venture beyond the traditional mystery in the future, but we’ll always respect the sub-genre; and we’ll continue to write it as long as our very kind readers want us to.

~ Cleo Coffeehouse
Cleo Coyle on Twitter

Cleo Coyle said...

“Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind…” ~ John Donne

Lesa – Thank you kindly for such a poignant and beautifully written review. You’re always in tune with what Marc and I are attempting to explore and express. Thanks also to those of you who have been such supportive readers over the years. I hope you don’t mind a few shout-outs to the people who were kind enough to stop by today…

Bermudaonion – Nice to hear that.

Liz V. – Tip o’ the hat to you for mentioning Donne. The (above) quote is spot-on for our series, our protag’s motivation, and the overriding theme of Holiday Grind.

Janet – Lots of good reads out there; if this is in your TBR stack, too, I’m honored.

Dru – I hope you enjoy it!

Lori – Like Lesa, I have to applaud that excellent phrase “all of the grime on my soul” - cheers to you for the very kind words.

NoraA – Lovely and well-done review. “3-D view of the story," another fine phrase!

Ibeanniebe – Compassion is the word of the day — and, in my books, always will be. :)

Nanc – Thank you, and I’m impressed that you picked up on the empathy for our criminals. If you plot partly from behind the eyes of the killer (as Marc and I try to), and attempt to construct a strong enough motive for murder, you can’t help but see the killer’s side. I think readers often do feel for the killers in our books; which means, by the climax, we’re often working to balance sympathies for a satisfying ending.

Thanks again, Lesa; and to those of you considering giving my Coffeehouse (or Haunted Bookshop) Mysteries a look-see, I hope you like the characters you meet—and the journeys you take.

Read with joy,
~ Cleo Coffeehouse
Cleo Coyle on Twitter

Lesa said...

Always my pleasure, Cleo, to read your books, and to give you a place to talk about them. Thank you!

Nancy said...

Lesa, thank you for the review which I totally agree with.
Lori, thank you my friend, for giving me a heads-up about this column.
Now I must say that Cleo has mentioned violence against women and children in thrillers and it is these books that I avoid, most especially the ones that graphically depict violence and torture. Too gruesome and depressing!
I have enjoyed the Coffee House mysteries from the beginning. I have the next one on my wish list.

Catherine Lane said...

I agree with Lesa's critique. Cleo does cover these story lines in a good way. My Daughter and I are avid readers and follow many authors and several genre; my husband reads less and not as varied as my daughter and I. We all read Cleo's books and anxiously wait for the next to be published, as well as, recommend them to everyone we meet who reads. Part of what makes these books so great is the elements of humor and love. Well rounded characters include these values. I haven't read Murder by Mocha yet so I can't comment on it just yet, but I'm sure it will be as good as the rest of the series. We collect Cleo's books and don't expect us to give them up. Get your own copy so she can keep writing this wonderful series. (We will lend a copy just to get others hooked). Another author my daughter and I read is Shirley Rousseau Murphy -- the Joe Grey Mysteries. These books also include humor and love. How can anyone not like these elements included in stories?

kathy d. said...

I read Holiday Grind around last year's holiday season just when I needed a book like that. It lightened the reading load and provided a few days of pleasant entertainment. It was just what I needed.

I read some thrillers but am very selective because I can't stand gratuitous violence or forensics or torture of women and children, and men, too, and abuse of animals.

I read a book by Tess Gerritsen about a women who had been tortured when she was younger and the perpetrator stalked her 20 years later, kidnapped her and did it again. One felt her fear. Part of the book was in his words. I couldn't take out the garbage for 3 nights. That was my last book by that author.

I do think thrillers have gotten much more gory and gruesome. I don't know who likes to read that nor why publishers want it.

I often wonder if all of that is a substitute for good writing, character development, a fun puzzle.

I love Donna Leon's series about a police detective in Venice. There are not descriptions of torture or violence. The characters are wonderful, with good stories.

Crimes are awful, as are all murders, but I've never had to skip anything. The brutality is inferred, not elaborated on in graphic detail. No gratuitous violence at all.

Those books are very well liked and read by people all over the world.

I'm on a Rex Stout/Nero Wolfe binge. There isn't much violence on the pages. And yet they are classics. Stories, dialogue, wit -- great.

Sue Grafton's books are good mysteries, yet barely any violence on the pages.

And, of course, the Cleo Coyle series.

I don't get it. One can read thrilling books, suspense galore, great stories without all the graphic violence. Why the current increase in this? I keep pondering this.

Victoria Hamilton said...

As a new(ish) author of traditional mysteries, I would say reading certain authors' novels is like a master class on mystery writing. Among them are Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, Roberta Isleib, and Cleo Coyle. Some traditional mysteries don't feel grounded in reality, to me, but these authors have a good handle on what it is to be human, and swept up in something so awful as a murder.

Lesa said...

Thanks, everyone. The review, and Cleo's comments, certainly led to a good conversation. And, I also had some conversations start via email. So, thank you very much!

Samantha Hunter said...

Agreed -- I love mystery (I read several series, have read mystery since before I read romance) and I even have written a self-pubbed mystery, but one of my favorite things about it from both a reading and writing standpoint is the focus away from graphic sex or violence, and on things like the characters lives and the solving of the murder.

I think the core function of the mystery IS to make death matter -- it has to matter or what's the point of solving the murder, right? And we have to care about the victim, or we wouldn't care about the process of solving the murder, I think. But we also have to be wrapped up in the protagonist, and one of the best parts of mystery is getting to know the protag over several books. Claire is one of my favorites :)


kathy d. said...

I have to like the protagonist. I don't like reading mysteries where the protagonist is an awful person, does or thinks terrible things or is totally sympathetic.

I spend a lot of time with these people and have to like them, which is why I like V.I. Warshawski, Kinsey Millhone, Sharon McCone and many more, male characters, too.

Lesa said...

I agree, Sam. The death has to matter. However, I haven't always liked the victim. Sometimes, I want the crime to be solved because I like the suspect. Even so, the death still matters in a mystery.

Lesa said...


If I don't like the protagonist, I eventually quit reading the story. I read 100 pages one time before realizing I really didn't like the protagonist, or any of the other characters, so I quit. Why did I even care what happened to them?

kathy d. said...

Exactly, Lesa.

If I don't like the protagonist, why do I care what happens to them? One wants to journey along with the detective (or crime solver, may not be a detective) and feel the journey is worth going along, and that one cares.