Cabot Cove, Maine — the setting for “Murder, She Wrote” — has a higher homicide rate than Manhattan, the critics cry, and the same goes for that little village where Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple pushed her way into so many criminal investigations.
Of course, devotees of hard-boiled cop and detective stories conveniently overlook the fact that few of their series heroes are any more “realistic” than the nosy ladies who populate traditional mysteries — most cops go through their entire careers without ever using their guns and most private investigations involve such thrills as pulling bank statements or dredging up a straying spouse’s receipts from a hot sheets motel.
I’m seeking escape rather than realism when I read mysteries, so I enjoy both the rough stuff and the lighter side of crime solving.
“Holiday Buzz” (Berkley) is the 12th entry in Cleo Coyle’s delightful series about a Greenwich Village coffeehouse manager — Clare Cosi — who has honed her detective abilities through a series of well-plotted and New York City-color-drenched mysteries.
“Cleo Coyle” is the pseudonym for the husband-and-wife writing team of Alice Alfonsi and Marc Cerasini whose love for their adopted home town is on every page of the dozen books.
Setting is one of the major drawing cards in cozies and the lovingly depicted Village Blend coffeehouse and the city around it are presented with great affection and humor.
“A cocoon of comfort on an island of chaos,” is the way the coffeehouse is described near the beginning of “Holiday Buzz” which is set during the Christmas season. Clare is hired to provide the coffee service at a holiday benefit in Bryant Park, where one of her part-time staff is found murdered after the event.
The young woman was Irish, and it turns out she was in the country illegally, so “Holiday Buzz” has lots of turf to explore in addition to Clare’s determination to find out who killed Moirin Fagan.
One of the major strengths of the series is the supporting cast of characters which includes Clare’s ex who is still the coffee buyer for the Village Blend, Clare’s rich mother-in-law, and Clare’s boyfriend, NYPD detective Mike Quinn.
Street smarts often mean more than DNA evidence in the Coyle books which is fine by me — modern police technology and forensics don’t often make for very scintillating reading.
When the hard-boiled fans diss traditional mysteries they often overlook one of the bits of realism that powers so many of the stories by Christie and her followers — the ineptness of cops in too many murder cases.
Much of police work seems to involve finding a viable perp as quickly as possible and then building a case against him or her. The rush to judgement can be very sloppy, as the long-running stage hit “The Exonerated” and the new Ken Burns documentary “The Central Park Five” demonstrate.
Amateur sleuths like Clare Cosi might not be realistic but there is something deeply satisfying about the way they keep working cases until the true murderer is found.