By Cleo Coyle

Berkley Prime Crime, December, 2012 ($7.99)

ISBN-13: 978-0-425-25535-3

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

It's the holiday season, and business at the Village Blend coffeehouse is brisk. Clare Cosi, the manager of the business owned by her ex-mother-in-law, is up to her ears in fancy coffee drinks, festive cookies, and all things delicious. Business is so brisk she's hired an extra barista, Moirin Fagan, a lovely Irish lass. Moirin, known as "M," works for Clare's friend Janelle as a baker's assistant. M is a delight to work with, even if a bit mouthy. The other staffers, the lanky and lovely Tucker, zaftig and gorgeous Esther, Vicky and Gardner, enjoy the colorful Irish phrases she teaches them, and she has a natural talent for dealing with customers.

Clare and her staff are in charge of the beverage service at the Great New York Cookie Swap. It's a major charity fund-raiser, as well as a great showcase for local businesses. Clare is worried about the news of a major winter storm approaching the city, both because it may prevent wealthy party-goers from showing up and because her sweetheart, Detective Lieutenant Mike Quinn is flying up from D.C.. Their relationship became long-distance five months ago, when Mike took a temporary appointment with the U.S. Attorney's anti-drug task force, and she's really missing him, but she doesn't want him flying in such bad weather.

Soon, Clare has something more to worry about. Leaving the party, she stumbles across a body. The young woman is no stranger to Clare, and she prays that the killer will be found quickly so that justice will be served. To her dismay, the lead detective is a bone-headed fellow who decides on the spot that the woman is another victim of a serial killer whose crimes have been labeled "The Christmas Stalkings." She has evidence that proves he is wrong, but he is unimpressed and unshakable.

Clare is no stranger to crime-solving, and she digs in to find out who did it and why. She tangles with an obnoxious hockey star, enlists the aid of her ex-husband and his flashy and well-connected wife to pull off an undercover sting that is both hilarious and horrifying, and discovers a heart-breaking secret about someone she cares for. At the same time, she is worried sick about Mike, who has disappeared from the radar, literally and figuratively.

The story flips back and forth in time, which I found a bit disconcerting, but otherwise this is a solid addition to an entertaining series. Clare's New York is vibrant and exciting. The plot is tight, the suspense reaches a high pitch as Clare gets closer to a dangerous secret, and, as always the characters are three-dimensional and realistic. This is the twelfth Coffeehouse Mystery. I look forward to the further adventures of Clare Cosi and her band of merry baristas.

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