Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Questions and Answers with Cleo Coyle - Part 1

*Editor's Note: Welcome today and Friday to Cleo Coyle, whose Coffeehouse Mysteries are an enormous hit with lovers of Cozy Murder Mysteries. Cleo Coyle, by the way, is Alice Alfonsi who collaborates with her husband, Marc Cerasini. So, read and enjoy these answers from a respected veteran in the murder mystery field.


Now for the Q&A - Part 1:

Question: You write Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse Mysteries and Alice Kimberly’s Haunted Bookshop Mysteries series. Can you tell us a little about both?

CLEO/ALICE: Cleo Coyle is my writing ID for the Coffeehouse Mysteries, a series of light amateur sleuth novels that I began writing in collaboration with my husband in 2002. The first book, On What Grounds, was published by Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime in 2003 and (so far, anyway) the titles have been national bestsellers.

Cleo’s mysteries focus on the misadventures of single-mom, barista, and coffeehouse manager Clare Cosi, a woman who routinely finds herself mixed up in murder. One fan called it Murder She Wrote meets Starbucks—that’s a fair description and a nice one, actually, since I happen to love Murder She Wrote!

There are now nine books in Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse series: On What Grounds, Through the Grinder, Latte Trouble, Murder Most Frothy, Decaffeinated Corpse, French Pressed, Espresso Shot, Holiday Grind, and coming next year, the brand new Coffeehouse Mystery: Roast Mortem. (If the titles make you smile, that’s good; they should. The titles represent the humorous tone of the tales inside. BTW: Did you know the pun was once considered the highest form of humor? William Shakespeare loved them. Not bad company, frankly.)

If you start with book one (On What Grounds) and read the series in order, you’ll see that Clare Cosi moves along on a sort of amateur sleuth learning curve. Your average barista, after all, isn’t going to be ready for a starring role on CSI right out of the starting gate, you know? So during the first novel, an NYPD detective named Mike Quinn becomes one of Clare’s regular coffeehouse customers—not too big a stretch given that cops often down coffee by the gallon during their tours. The more Clare learns from Mike Quinn about detection and crime solving, the better she gets at practicing it.

My second alias is Alice Kimberly. Alice writes the Haunted Bookshop Mysteries (also for Berkley Prime Crime). The amateur sleuth in her series is Penelope Thornton-McClure or “Pen” for short. Pen owns the Rhode Island bookshop of the series title and in the first novel she discovers that her bookshop is haunted by the spirit of a big city private detective named Jack Shepard, who was gunned down on the premises while investigating a murder.

Jack’s ghost is now stuck within the fieldstone walls of Pen’s shop—and, brother, is he bored with his small town afterlife. But then bodies start dropping around Penelope, and Jack livens up. (After all, murder was his business in life.) Jack’s hard-boiled attitude often tries Pen’s patience, but the ghost has a lot more experience with solving homicides than she does. And Pen soon finds the ghost to be an invaluable crime-solving partner, even though he and his license did expire back in 1949.

The Alice Kimberly Haunted Bookshop series was launched in 2004 and there are five titles published thus far: The Ghost and Mrs. McClure; The Ghost and the Dead Deb; The Ghost and the Dead Man’s Library; The Ghost and the Femme Fatale; The Ghost and the Haunted Mansion; and a brand new one coming next year (2010), with more signed up beyond it.

Question: The Coffeehouse Mysteries have a very New York vibe; I find that a very attractive part of the novels. You’re not a native New Yorker; is that a help or hindrance to writing the series?

CLEO/ALICE: Good question. Yes, not being a native New Yorker is a help in writing the series because I can see New York the way Clare Cosi does—with a newcomer’s eyes. This city changes people. It has certain changed me over the years. I have paid attention to those changes and layered these ideas into the series. If you want to know “how” New York changes a person, just pay attention as you read. It's in there.

Question: You live in New York now… does the city help come up with plots?

CLEO/ALICE: Another good question. Yes, it absolutely does. And not just plots. Many of the settings, ideas, and elements in the Coffeehouse Mysteries were triggered by real events that occurred here in the Big Apple. Subway and rooftop suicides; a dancer stalked and murdered; a businessman plotting to kill his partner while making it look like a random crime; a detective charming a confession out of a suspect over a cup of diner coffee; the phenomenon of (illegal) underground restaurants; a killer wielding a chef’s knife taken from a restaurant’s kitchen; a drunken businessman unknowingly racking up tens of thousands of dollars in gentleman's club charges...all of these incidents occurred in New York City in recent years and have inspired fictional counterparts in my Coffeehouse Mysteries. Next year’s title, Roast Mortem, was also developed out of true New York City criminal incidents. More to come soon about that one!

That's all for the moment, but join us back here Friday, November 6th for Part 2 of our Q&A with Cleo Coyle/Alice Kimberley


  1. I really recommend Cleo's a reader as well as a friend! They're the kind of books that you can jump right into and get immediately caught up in. Great puzzles for the mystery lovers, and Cleo's great sense of humor really sets apart the series. Highly recommended!

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. I have only read one, so far, but I'm planning a huge murder mystery 'glom' over the holidays, and I think Cleo's books will be a part of it!

  3. I'm planning to be back for part 2. I've heard of the Coffee House mysteries and they sound great. THanks for the introduction.

  4. Great interview - I'm a big fan of the Haunted Bookshop series and Pen is one of my favorite female-sleuths.

    I'm glad to hear that there will be more books in this series!

  5. I will have to read the first book in the Haunted Bookshop series... I do like to start at the beginning. Though I'm not a fan of the 'hardboiled' school of detective fiction (the ghost is an old PI who died in the 1940s) it sounds like a really fun set-up.

  6. I love the Coffee house mysteries. What a great post! I just discovered your blog and am now following.