Book Review: The Coffee Connection by Paulanne Simmons
By: Lauren Yarger
September 27, 2019: If you are a reader who enjoys sitting back with a cup of coffee and a good mystery, “The Coffee Connection” by Paulanne Simmons (Austin Macauley, April 30, 2019) offers a bonus: a novel about a mystery connected with the history of coffee. What more could you want?
In an upscale Brooklyn Heights coffee shop where memories of 9/11 are fresh, a seemingly random break-in at The Coffee Connection suddenly becomes more complex and everyone is a suspect in this engaging mystery chock full of diverse, well-developed characters, plot twists and lots of java.
Because the burglar knew where a large deposit of cash was hidden, police start investigating the possibility that it was an inside job. Suspects (with chapters titled and from the perspective of some of the characters) are café owner Jack Healy, his never-do-well nephew Jerry who manages the shop on weekends, Israeli-born David Goldman who is the day-time manager who wishes he hadn’t dropped out of law school, and Habib el Kader, Moroccan-born, who has to deal with being in an America that groups him with Arab terrorists despite his love of the country and his long-time desire to own the café.
The list of suspects (and those speculating about who could have committed the break-in) percolates to include regular customers at the café including photojournalist and social-justice radical Arnie Gould, personal trainer Jimmy, aspiring actress Marcy Dawn Rogers, unemployed Graham, four teachers known as the Kaffeeklatsch and Drew Mason, a professor of social history who is writing a book on his passion: “The Almost Complete History of Coffee.”
“The fact is we’re all part of the system,” Mason says. “Every time you drink a cup of coffee, you’re taking your historical place in a long line of oppressive economics that still prevails in countries like Columbia and Brazil.”
Sections of Mason’s coffee prose are interspersed throughout the novel – a technique that pours rich history into the story with which it is juxtaposed, but also, unfortunately, serves as an interruption which decaffeinates the page-turning plot.
We won’t spill the beans here and give away the culprit, but you might not be able to guess very quickly thanks to some surprises blended into the brew by a gifted writer. Simmons also is an expert at dropping background information into the text so that it never sounds like exposition. She steeps solid development into the long list of characters, so we feel like we really know these folks — as though we might regularly enter the shop, order a decaf latte and pull up a chair to ask them what’s new, even if we don’t drink coffee.
Full disclosure: I know Paulanne, who is a theater critic colleague. I received a free copy of the book for review.