Murder A La Mode (Coffee & Cream Café Mysteries, #1) by Lena Gregory
Wow! What a great start to this new cozy mystery series!
Murder A La Mode is the first book in veteran author Lena Gregory's new cozy series, the Coffee & Cream Café Mysteries, and I couldn't ask for a more delightful debut. With an appealingly likable main character, two hunky potential love interests, and a "ride or die" best friend-sidekick, I was quickly immersed in this intriguing tale of jealousy, murder, and deadly long-hidden secrets.
The main character, Danika Delaney, had followed her dreams of college and a career in advertising to the City, but a tough job market had relegated her to waiting tables to make ends meet. So, when she lost her apartment sublet and a cheating boyfriend one after the other, she returned to her hometown of Watchogue on Long Island to take over her Uncle Jimmie's ice cream shop. But while her family is overjoyed she's come home, not everyone in the small town is glad she's back. Her first day working at Jimmie's is marred by a confrontation with her high school sweetheart's soon-to-be ex-wife, who accuses Dani of coming home to steal Luca back. Rumors spread like wildfire about what Heather said, and when she's found murdered in the ice cream shop's basement the very next day, all eyes turn to Dani, including the cops.
Danika Delaney is extremely likable and sympathetic, and I was behind her from the start. She's a worthy underdog and grows over the course of the story, discovering the truth of what happened between Luca and Heather on that long-ago prom night and finally realizing her own contribution to her heartbreak. She's a wonderful amateur sleuth, and her old friend, Gwen, is the perfect companion in her investigation. Dani even makes the transition from child to adult in the eyes of her strong-willed and intimidating mother.
There are two tantalizing love interests to complicate matters: Luca, Dani's high school sweetheart, and Detective Jake Barlow, the lead investigator on the murder case. While I liked both of these potential romantic partners for Danika, I leaned toward Team Jake early on. I look forward to future adventures, not only for more mystery but to see how these relationships pan out.
The Long Island town of Watchogue is Danika's charming hometown, and I got a good feel for its personality and townspeople. It's a perfect setting for a cozy mystery series. Close enough for the residents to head to the City for major things, there's still a little of everything in town: a busy Main Street business district, rural spaces, beaches, and a super-efficient small-town pipeline for gossip. There's even the old clique for high school with its mean girls and guys still holding sway over their peers.
The mystery is well-plotted, and the action and investigation move quickly. I liked that the police investigation was kept separate and pretty much out of sight for most of the book. Detective Barlow holds his card close to the vest with not too much unrealistic "quid pro quo," as Dani called it, or sharing of confidential information. As Dani seeks answers from the central members of the victim's old friends group, she uncovers several good suspects and plausible motives for the murder. I wasn't sure of "who done it" until the obvious reveal occurred, and I was highly satisfied with that.
I recommend MURDER A LA MODE to cozy mystery readers looking for a charming new series, especially those who enjoy a culinary theme in their reading.
I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours.