Plum Tea Crazy – Laura Childs

In a book I read recently, someone’s “rules for writing and life” are cited – one of which was “don’t use more than two similes per page”. Laura Childs probably doesn’t actually exceed that … but her writing made me realize anew that it’s not the quantity of simile but the quality that counts. For example, Robin McKinley uses lots and lots of similes, and they almost invariably elicit a reaction – they make me smile, or put a lump in my throat, or make me laugh out loud, or make me feel that little click that comes when you see exactly what the author wanted you to see. They’re an art. The similes in this book are … not. They’re different, I’ll give them that (except when they’re clichéd), and they’re colorful (there are lots of monkeys, and even some castanets), but …

The writing just grated now and then. The ninth or tenth time the author resorted to Batman-style sound effects – all caps, exclamation points – and one character (included to be obnoxious) did something outrageously obnoxious (even for him), I closed the book and deleted it. I was at 87% – and a good part of what remained was recipes and an excerpt from the next book. A day or so later I went back to it; I hadn’t DNF’d a book yet this year, and I was close enough to finishing that I figured I might as well. But I didn’t enjoy it.


I mean – who stops in the middle of a supposedly frantic moment to describe the scenery? A man falls off a roof; intrepid amateur detective races down the stairs to check it out; the narrative pauses in the middle of her sprint to dwell on the décor in the garden.


Cardinal sin of the cozy: when the main character tells bald-faced lies about what is obviously a hobby (or else there wouldn’t be a series of books) –

“Haley, we don’t [‘chase all over Charleston trying to solve the latest murder’],” Theodosia said. “And we certainly won’t get tangled up in this one.”

Pants on fire.


Another cardinal sin of the cozy: Remarkably slipshod running of a small business.
“’Who’s minding the store?’ Drayton asked.
“Haley flapped a hand. ‘I was. But don’t worry, everything’s cool.'”

No, it’s not cool if you left the shop completely unattended.

BOOM! (Or, as the camera, er, says, “boom, boom, boom”.)

The characters are more caricatures than anything else. Two of them go from antipathy at first sight to practically weeping in each other’s arms, in the pace of a week. The young man is the very picture of a cliched young man. The gallery owner is the Platonic ideal of the gallery owner. The aforementioned obnoxious journalist fits the mold perfectly. There are few surprises.


As usual, there are lots and lots of nits I could pick. Like … “‘Delicious,’ he said. Only it came out dulishush because his mouth was full.” Isn’t that pretty much how “delicious” is pronounced? Seriously. “[dih-lish-uh s]”. Say it a couple of times. Seriously. Oh, and like … why does Our Heroine’s sidekick have such a hard time saying the word “murder” when talking about the murder? And – like … Really? You expect me to swallow (no pun intended) the idea that someone not steeped (pun intended) in a world like this shop might consider a party ruined because you picked a funky tea? And … really? How do you not go directly to the police immediately on receiving a threatening note? (And how could you possibly confuse the smells of cooked onions and cooked potatoes? Have I been doing something wrong?)


In addition to the comic book sound effects – actual examples of which are scattered throughout this review (sorry) – there’s also this:
“Holy Hannah”
“Holy crap”
“Holy cats”
“Holy smokes”
“Holy butter beans”
“Holy buckets”
“Holy sweet potatoes”
“Sweet Fanny Adams”

Holy euphemisms, Batman.

One more Cozy Cardinal Sin: When any character puts on their Captain Obvious hat to remind the audience why a bad cozy mystery is a bad cozy mystery:
“The best thing Theo can do is let her boyfriend, Detective Riley, figure it out. That’s what the City of Charleston pays him for. That’s the smartest thing, the safest thing, to do at this point.”


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

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