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Holiday Grind, A Coffeehouse Mystery for Christmas, by Cleo Coyle. Review.
Holiday Grind, a Coffeehouse Mystery, by Cleo Coyle
Clare Cosi is the owner of the Greenwich Village coffeehouse, Village Blend. Her friend, Alf, a member of the Traveling Santas, always stopped in to the Blend each afternoon for a latte and friendly conversation.
Alas! How Dreary Would Be the World
Everyone in the neighborhood knew --- and loved --- Alfred Glockner. Even without his long white beard and Traveling Santa suit, Alf was a huggable guy. On the slightly paunchy side, he wore his graying hair in a retro sixties ponytail and his salt-and-pepper mustache in a slightly walruslike David Crosby-esque style. His ruddy face was close to jack-o'-lantern round, his vivid hazel-green eyes completely lit it up,and for the past month he'd been using the Blend to take a bathroom break or warm his bones.
Because his daughter had once worked as a barista here, I could see why he felt at home in my coffeehouse; and because he was colllecting for groups that helped the city's homeless and hungry, I was more than happy to supply all the free lattes the man could drink.
. . .
On one of the many days I sat down with Alf on a latte break, he told me the Traveling Santa thing was "a great gig" for him because he was also working the comedy club circuit. Not only did the Santa act pay him a regular salary, it helped him hone his stand-up routine.
Twice a week, he even made time to bring his Santa act to soup kitchens and homeless shelters. "Those places can give a person a bed or a hot meal,"he'd told me, "but what they need even more is laughter --- a leavening of the life force, you know?"
He truly did embody the spirit of Christmas.
. . . If There Were No Santa Claus
Clare is waiting with the baristas and some friends, including Matt, her ex-husband --- who is having a little tiff by telephone with his new wife, model Breanne --- for Alf to arrive at the Taste of Christmas Fa-la-la-la-Latte tasting party. Clare's a little disgusted with the vibe at the party, and hoping Alf will cheer things up for everyone.
She goes walking to where Matt had recently seen Alf a few blocks away.
Clare is walking alone in the falling snow of Greenwich Village. It brings back a happy memory of when she was a little girl. She went outside alone on her red plastic toboggan after others were sleeping.
"But tonight . . . the world was mine again, a blank canvas, fresh and clean, for me to mark as I please."
Clare Discusses Scrooge's Nephew With the Folks at Her Latte-Tasting Party
Actually, it's a Fa-la-la-Latte tasting party. The coin was termed by Alf Glockner, a member of the Traveling Santas. Alf usually stops in each day after his shift to have a latte with Clare. Alf's daughter had been a barista at the Blend for a little while. (Vicki Glockner had filled in for Gardner when he was stuck in the Holland Tunnel, in Roast Mortem.)
Alf used humor as a way to make the world brighter. He spoke with the folks in line at the Blend while he was there, and made them laugh --- even before they'd had their java.
He did some very nice break-dancing in his Santa suit. He also had a little stand-up routine that he tried in the Village. He donated his stand-up at soup kitchens and homeless shelters.
That's it, I thought. I can't take any more. " Santa Claus is not cheesy!" I cried.
Dead silence ensued.
"You're all forgetting what this season is really about!"
Everyone stared. I'd just become Linus in A Charlie Brown Christmas.
"Well?" Esther finally said. "What's it about, boss?"
I threw up my hands. "Giving! Selfless giving! That's what we're celebrating! The Christ Child's birth is a gift of love to a weary world! All these symbols --- the tree, the lights, the carols --- it all comes down to love!"
No one moved as my words reverberated off the restored tin ceiling and echoed through the newly decorated shop. For a full minute, we actually had a silent night.
I shouldn't have been surprised at the flabbergasted expressions around the room. After all, this was the age of irony, when cynicism was the conventional norm, which was why a blasphemous string of curses would have gone over without a batted eyelash. The truly radical act these days was sincerity.
A Random Mugging?
Clare finally does catch up to Alf, but it's too late.
In the first few moments after finding Alf's body, Clare remembers a four-foot plastic Santa that had been in Clare's yard when she was a little girl, before her mom had disappeared from her life. It had a big red light for a nose.
When Clare's daughter, Joy, had been twelve, Joy also loved the kitschy plastic Santa. The red light from its nose helped light up her bedroom at night.
Until one Christmas, some drunken young folks had gone around smashing decorations in neighbors' yards.
Clare could not adequately explain to Joy.
Nobody ever could.
Clare felt that same way now, kneeling in the snow beside Alf's body and sobbing. She barely noticed how cold and wet the denim of her blue jeans was making her knees.
Law enforcement folks think Alf was shot by some random street thug for his stash. But, Clare has noticed some footprints in the snow indicating otherwise. Of course, those will soon be trampled anyway by the officers who are making reports.
Who Killed Santa?
There's also the matter of a "cold case" Clare's boyfriend, Sgt. Mike Quinn, of the NYPD, is working on.
Two young women died of overdoses.
Any connection between those cases and Alf's death?
My Introduction to Dickens
In my Hub entitled, "A Trolley at Christmas" I write about how my dad first introduced me to Scrooge and Dickens when I was six years old.
Mr. Dickens Introduces me to Cleo
Holiday Grind has a quote from Dickens' A Christmas Carol on the frontispiece. I had to buy it, even though I'd never heard of the book or the author.
I'd like to know some of the characters a little better. But, I guess that might be because this was the first I've read of the series.
The story is exciting, suspenseful, sad, a little humorous and full of surprises.
Then, of course, there's the prose --- the cement that holds it all together.
The prose is easy, transparent, smart, insightful --- just plain, no-nonsense, good writing. I forget I'm reading a book. I'm experiencing it all right along with Clare. At one point --- when the firefighters rescued her --- I actually burst out crying.
It's written in the first-person, from the point of view of Clare Cosi (get it?) who owns and manages The Village Blend, a coffeehouse in Greenwich Village. She refers to it as the Blend.
"Read the Book, Clare . . . I Think You'll See What Alf Saw"
Brother Dom --- a former Franciscan monk who founded the Traveling Santas program --- said as he handed Clare an old copy of A Christmas Carol.
"There's a passage at the end of the first chapter that moved the man to tears, made him understand that it wasn't too late for him to change his perspective. I'm glad he had that reconciliation before he died."
They sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.
Eighth in the Coffeehouse Murder Mystery Series, by Cleo Coyle
I know I'm out of season. This is a Christmas book. I started reading it in February.
When I go to the bookstore to preview cozies, I read the front and back cover. Then I read the review excerpts inside or on the cover, along with the dedication, frontispiece, prologue and those few little things.
Well, I love coffee and coffeehouses, so the series had me hooked on that score. But, which book to begin on?
I saw that little quote from Dickens' A Christmas Carol in between the Acknowledgements and the Prologue.
This is the one. I don't care what time of year it is.
So, pardon me for beginning on the eighth book in the series.
It was early March when I first wrote this review.
They Have Been Affected by the Skepticism of a Skeptical Age
- 'Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus' Article
Virgina wrote to the "New York Sun" to ask if there really was a Santa Claus. Read more about the famous editorial, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," from Francis Pharcellus Church.
I really loved this link on the Barricks Insurance website.
. . . Marley's Ghost Held Up Its Hand . . .
The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley's Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a door-step. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.
I really loved this book.
I loved it so much, I couldn't put it down. Because I couldn't put it down, I finished it in a few days.
Because of finishing it so quickly, I had to say goodbye. I felt sad. I didn't want to say goodbye.
Maybe I'll just read it again. No more surprises, but, still . . .
It stands on its own anyway, for characters, generosity and many other things.
Like Mr. Dickens' works, it honors the child in all of us. There's that talk of childhood Christmas memories. What does Christmas taste like? for the Fa-la-la-la-Lattes.
When Clare is investigating Alf's death, she finds out some slightly tacky things about him --- but that was before he became Santa.
What distinguishes the slightly tacky Alf from the Father Christmas Alf.
(Right jolly old Alf = Elf?)
Mr. Dickens' A Christmas Carol did the trick.
A Generous, Plump Little Gift of a Book
When you read other reviews of this and other Coffeehouse Mysteries, you might see mention of the fact that there are "recipes" at the end.
Well, that's not really doing it justice.
It's a fat little book, just like the right jolly old elf himself.
It's really a little Dickensian treasure trove of good cheer. It reminds me of cooking with a smart, skilled old friend who knows and cares about learning, eating, food, friendship, joy, sadness, and the great journey of life.
Some Secrets from the Author's Italian Grandma
How to Make Espresso Without a Machine;
How to Create Latte and Cappuccino Froth
~~(Without an Espresso Machine Steam Wand;)
Making a Rustic Cappuccino;
Making a Rustic Latte.
List of All Titles in the Coffeehouse Mystery Series
By Alice Alfonsi and Hubby Marc, Writing as Cleo Coyle
On What Grounds
Through the Grinder
Murder Most Frothy
Murder by Mocha
A Brew to a Kill
Vote on Your Favorite Christmas Cookie Recipe
- Mystery Lovers' Kitchen
A lot of mystery authors publish recipes on this website. It's very cool, and delicious!
Alice Shares Her Italian Grandmother's Kitchen
There are seven pages of coffeehouse terms. Under "espresso" I learned that the Italian company La Pavoni manufactured the machine invented by Luigi Bezzera.
In the 1940s, Giovannia Achillea Gaggia made what we know today as the espresso machine.
The next paragraph explains how to use that wonderful, cheap, tacky old stovetop espresso machine, Bialetti's Moka Express pot. (I've been wondering about that for at least --- oh, I don't know --- thirty? --- years. One of my sons even bought me one, and it's been sitting in the cupboard waiting for me to learn how to use it.)
Then, after a page of "Guide to Roasting Terms" there's a six-page guide to "Tips for Being Your Own Barista", which includes:
- How to Make Espresso Without a Machine;
- How to Create Latte and Cappuccino Froth Without an Espresso Machine Steam Wand;
- Making a Rustic Cappuccino;
- Making a Rustic Latte.
And thirty - three more pages, after that.
Apparently the authors are really good, experienced cooks, or chefs, and know their way around a kitchen.
They share it, in a friendly, chatty, generous, knowledgeable way. It's really kind of like a course in Christmas cooking and baking, conducted in their kitchen. You also get to make the wonderfully Christmasy coffee drinks to enjoy along with the baked goods.
Everything is from scratch! --- no prepack or prepared "ingredients" in any of these recipes.
Old Fezziwig Stood Out to Dance with Mrs. Fezziwig.
``A small matter,'' said the Ghost, ``to make these silly folks so full of gratitude.''
``It isn't that,'' said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter, self. ``It isn't that, Spirit. [Mr. Fezziwigg] has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count 'em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.''
Scrooge --- guided by the Ghost of Christmas Past --- sees his young self at the Fezziwiggs' Christmas party. Scrooge's memories of the Fezziwiggs are his only happy ones.
Fezziwigs of Manhattan?
The happiness Alice and Marc give, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.
Coffeehouse Mysteries Website --- A Glorious Celebration of All Life
Cleo Coyle's Internet coffeehouse for readers of her Coffeehouse Mystery novels. Coffee news, recipes, message board, crime file, fun info. Meet the Greenwich Village barista who's also an amateur sleuth.