Death by Vanilla Latte –– Alex Erickson

Here it is again – the sign of something I think is either a really good or a really bad book: I made 140 highlights and comments on this book.

Hint: I didn’t love it.

There were so many cozy mystery tropes done less than well… Like shops with punny names: Ted and Bettfast for a bed & breakfast run by Ted and Betty. Phantastic Candies for a candy shop run by a guy named Phan. Et cetera. Such things really do exist. There’s a shop around the last page of the corner from me called “Lucky Ewe”. But not every single shop has to be punny. And it all just points up the fact that the name of the shop owned by the heroine of the story, “Death by Coffee” is hardly original or clever.

Which leads me to the next trope: said heroine does indeed own a shop, and has employees (plural). I’ve said it before – I have never seen a small business-type shop like this which was able to support even one full-time employee. My mother and aunt owned a craft supply shop for a while when I was a kid, and they certainly could never have hired anyone. I briefly worked for two independently owned bookshops, and in one was paid in books, in the other less than minimum wage, and in neither could I ever expect more than a few hours a week. As I’m sure I’ve also said before – I get why cozy heroines have to be self-employed (because otherwise they’d be fired). But it’s always so wildly improbable.

Third: quirky and unreliable employees (upon whom shop owner relies entirely while she’s off playing Nancy Drew). There’s a line between “quirky” and “weird”. “Weird” can be really annoying. (So can quirky, honestly.)

Trope the Fourth: “I mean, how many people could die near me before it started to become a fatal pattern doomed to repeat over and over again until I packed my bags and left?” First off, that’s a terrible sentence – and it’s representative. Secondly: You know that it’s implausible that a book shop owner will encounter corpses on a regular basis. That doesn’t mean that you ought to have her comment on how implausible it is – unless you can find a more original way to do so.

Fifth Trope: Obviously, a book seller and coffee-vendor has absolutely no business going anywhere near a murder – but she does, of course (or there would be no book. Books.) And then she spends a great deal of time fretting about this and making excuses for it. “I was going to be a good girl this time. I swear I heard someone snicker on my left shoulder”. This alternates with a deluded smug cockiness over how magnificent an investigator she is. “… My special brand of investigative genius” indeed. ” My usual method of investigation was to walk up to someone and bluntly ask them whatever I wanted to know.” Yup. Poirot’s got nothing on you, honey.

I have absolutely zero patience for a civilian who is specifically told to butt out by the authorities, and who comes up with wildly creative justifications to ignore the orders. Even better, everyone around her waits with bated breath for her investigation to turn things up, even when she claims to be trying to obey the law and butt out. Well – she can’t let her fans down, can she? And – and – her father! Yes, he father wants to see her solve a mystery! Yes, that’s another great excuse. She can’t let him down!

And I have even less patience (we’re in the negatives now) for someone who not only ignores direct orders from the police, but actively breaks into a crime scene and touches everything. If there were any justice in the world, or at least the book, crime scene investigators would go back for a second look, find her hair and fingerprints and epithelial all over the place, and get her locked up. Things like “What harm could a few minutes of poking around really do?” just make me growl softly, under my breath. (The fact that the door to the room of the crime scene was left unlocked comes under the next paragraph’s umbrella.)

I had issues with the storytelling. An author signing is advertised the day it’s happening, and not before. Someone at the B&B claims it was much too busy for them to have noticed what was going on the night of the murder – but from the sound of it two customers would make for a busy night in this place – how could there be such a hectic rush that night that the desk person couldn’t give an answer? How could it be that “The door to [the murder victim’s] room was unlocked”? “I screamed as I tripped, falling hard on the floor” – how can you trip over a single sheet of paper on the floor, and how do you not control yourself when you’re supposed to be being stealthy?

It didn’t take long for me to start making snarky comments on the Kindle. The main character, a first-person narrator, was whingeing from the very beginning. She had a sleepless night. “My life always seemed to revolve around someone dying, and my having to deal with it. This kind of thing didn’t happen to normal people, so why me?” “Of course, when was the last time something happened just like I wanted?” Stop whining. “But darn it, it wasn’t my fault!” Whatever. And again “Why did this kind of thing always happen to me?” *slap* Nobody likes a whiny narrator, stop it.

The writing … it was coherent, but sometimes I wished it wasn’t. The narrator’s crush is nauseating – “He had that creamer-rich coffee skin tone that made me want to lap him right up.” The hard copy of the book should be packaged with air-sickness bags. In the same queasy-making vein, the whole chipped mug thing was absurd. It was supposed to be a sweet moment for the main character and her father – but all I could think was that anyone who purposely chips her coffee mugs is a moron. Not only is a chipped mug uncomfortable to drink from if it’s damaged in an awkward place, but it makes it a lot more likely you’ll find yourself holding a former mug one day, with hot coffee all down your front. And it’s unsanitary. (Well, that’s what I was always taught.)

There was the … coincidence? that the murder involves a guy being stabbed with a pen … and then a little while later the narrator has to snatch a pen away from a cat “Before he could stab himself in the roof of the mouth”. No comment about the connection there is made. And honestly, I got tired of the narrator’s father kissing her on the forehead or the top of her head. I’m not sure how you can write something that repetitive without it being noticed by someone. And why on earth is the fact that someone is exactly three minutes late cause for deep terror? A dog barks up a storm; someone talks a million miles a minute; someone’s mouth was running nonstop; lots of people babble (another annoying repetition); someone “elect[s]” an article of clothing (for what office?)…

One more incredibly obnoxious cozy trope this indulged in to the hilt: surrounding the main character with morons. (To make her look smarter without actually making her smart, I suppose?) Here, a friend of the narrator tries (unsuccessfully) to hide a new romance – but it was so obvious that it took her explaining that she was trying to keep it on the down-low for me to know that. Most unbearable, though, was “Rita”, a fan of the narrator’s father who makes Kathy Bates’s character in “Misery” look sane and tranquil. It was actually hard to read the last scene she was in.

I gave this book two stars initially, but I’m looking at the sheer number of times I actually swore at the book, its characters, and/or its author in my notes, and … yeah. One star is more reasonable. I wouldn’t read anything else from this series at gunpoint.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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