I’m back once again to Laura Childs’ Tea Shop Mysteries. In this seventh installment, Blood Orange Brewing, a local figure meets a gruesome end at an event Theodosia Browning’s tea shop is catering. [Seriously, every book starts this way. Either nobody in Charleston gets murdered in private, or criminals are dumb enough to wait until they know a woman with investigative instincts and lots of connections is present. The set-up is getting a little old.] In this case the event is a fundraiser to restore a Civil War-era house recently donated to the Historical Society, and the victim is a well-loved politician still involved in many local matters. There are plenty of connections between Duke Wilkes and the throngs of people at the house when he died, but no real leads. When the widow asks Theodosia to investigate she cautiously agrees, despite her other obligations like hosting a wives tea for the backers of a smarmy Congressman.
Bad things first: the first chapter was horribly written. I saw at least four fragments masquerading as sentences. Within the span of a few pages Childs described “heroically tall bouquets” and a character’s “heroic teeth;” I’m not sure how the word applies in either case. It also mentioned that Theodosia looked up at the dying man, as if the murder were copy/pasted from the balcony death in the previous book. Luckily either the writing improved, or my brain switched over fully from editor-reading to content-reading. The only other thing that made me wince was mention of a recent newspaper article credited to staff writer C.S. Lewis. That can’t have been an intentional reference, yet no proofreader picked up on it?
The plot was also a little on the weaker side. Though I don’t expect or want Agatha Christie from this series, it felt like there were too many red herrings or loose ends, I’m not sure which. Haley’s contract for a cookbook is in the works and then never mentioned again, though the thread will likely be picked up in the next book. Two unlikeable characters are left as just that, while a built-up character is killed off later. It’s never quite revealed how both victims learned the information that led to their deaths, or how the killer knew that they knew. On the plus side, Childs was able to work in as usual an unconventional motive that comes out of nowhere. She also finally broke the pattern about who she chooses as the culprit, though I was still able to figure it out through process of elimination.
There are plenty of good things about the series that keep me reading, like the charm of the tea shop and the everlasting ode to historic Charleston. Theodosia really does have a believable working relationship with Inspector Tidwell: several steps behind on some aspects of the case but able to provide important information because of her ear for local gossip and snooping skills. She was suitably timid at first, giving the close call her last investigation ended in. There is also a fantastic part where she and Delaine explore a secret passage in the creepy old house, which felt like something right out of a Nancy Drew book.
I’ll probably take a break from the series before picking up with them again in the new year. There are still six more I haven’t read, and I also want to start over again with her scrapbooking mysteries. At least i can chalk this up as a success for the year of the reread.