Thursday, October 1, 2015

Death Before Decaf (A Java Jive Mystery #1), by Caroline Fardig

Random House/Alibi, ISBN 9780804181303, November 2015

Juliet Langley has come back to Nashville after losing her fiancé and business partner, her best waitress, and ultimately her café when the fiancé skips town with the waitress and every penny in the company's accounts. Now, days short of her thirtieth birthday, she's starting over, taking over as the manager of Java Jive, a café owned by old friend Pete Bennett.

The existing staff isn't thrilled to meet her, especially Dave Hill, the head cook. Dave's been acting manager in the café Pete inherited from his father George a few months ago. Pete's been dividing his time between Java Jive and the recording studio where he's a sound engineer. Juliet's appalled to see how standards have slipped since George's death, and she has two arguments with Dave that first day. She takes a break after the second one, and returns to find Dave has left at the end of his shift.

That night, at closing time, she's doing the last of the clean-up by herself, and finds Dave's body in the dumpster.

Police Detective Cromwell suggests those two arguments make Juliet a great suspect. Hunky stranger Scott Davis is asking lots of questions, and what he says about his background doesn't add up. Pete's girlfriend Cecilia dislikes her, and the feeling is mutual. Pete's grandmother Gertie is a bright spot, but the adolescent angst of much of the mostly college-age staff is not. Sleazy reporter Don Wolfe wants a juicy interview, and is willing to use his lurid imagination when Juliet doesn't cooperate. Convinced she's going to get charged with murder if she doesn't find the killer herself, or at least come up with good alternate suspects, Juliet starts asking questions of her own. A new picture begins to emerge of the seemingly hostile and indifferent Dave, and Juliet meets some interesting--and scary--new people.

It becomes clearer and clearer that hunky Scott isn't who he says he is, but he also acts like he really cares about her increasingly dubious safety. Meanwhile, Pete is also too interested in her safety and welfare for girlfriend Cecilia's taste.

But even after some really scary experiences, Juliet keeps going, and gets into a situation where only her brains and her guts will keep her alive long enough to matter.

This book is funny, without making fun of the really dangerous stuff that's going on around Java Jive. Pete is a keeper, Gertie is a treasure, and "Scott" may not be gone for good. These are likable characters trying to do the right thing, and being very entertaining while they do it.

A great light read. Recommended.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.