Cruising right along the mystery shelves at the St. Agnes library I couldn’t resist pulling out Blood Orange Brewing by Laura Childs. Not a single Agatha Christie to be found but Childs’ book had a tempting title, was set in historic Charleston, stars the owner of a fancy little tea shop and looked like the American equivalent of a British cozy.
Well, yes and no. Maybe you have to be in the British Isles for a real cozy. This book features a slightly in-bred society of nice, sort of bland people who are extremely dedicated to home-baked scones, afternoon tea, historic preservation, antique linens and energetic snooping. They have names like Drayton, Haley, Pookie, Corky and Theodosia. Theo is the tea lady and the incorrigible snoop.
Many blends of tea are lovingly chronicled. Many scones and other delectables are produced and consumed in the tea shop. The recipes are included in the back of the book. Old Charleston Victorian houses have spooky hidden passages and old Charleston blue blood families have spooky hidden business operations. A well-respected member of the community dies rather theatrically at a fundraising tea. The widow enlists Theodosia to poke around and find out who offed her husband. The local sheriff tells Theodosia to butt out. Theo does not butt out.
The Civil War is part of the action; a smart, friendly mutt becomes a hostage; exotic animals turn up in the wrong places; another murder complicates things and the tea cakes and crepes just keep on rolling. Childs’ writing style is not unobtrusively fluent but it’s readable. Blood Orange Brewing is a sweet murder mystery with low stakes—my biggest safety concern throughout was for a dog. You can’t really guess the plot resolution—a platter of red herrings is served up along with tea.
In truth, I started Swamplandia!, got massively depressed reading it after about an hour or so and switched to lighter fare. Now that I’ve had my sugar hit, I’ll probably revisit Swamplandia! in the morning.
Blood Orange Brewing (A Tea Shop Mystery) Laura Childs | BerkleyPrime Crime 2006