Too Much Coffee?
by Nanci Rathbun, author
I was eighteen years old, working my first full-time job and trying to fit in with a mature group of women from the phone company’s payroll department. (In those days, there was only one “phone company.”) It was a highly regimented environment. We were allowed two fifteen-minute breaks per day, including “travel time” to and from the cafeteria. I looked down the line and saw soft drinks, milk and two gigantic stainless steel urns of coffee – caf and decaf. Each of the women ahead of me in line grabbed a thick ceramic mug and filled it with coffee. Wanting to fit in, I did the same. Then I added cream from what seemed like a gallon-sized icy cold pitcher, took several sugar packets and a teaspoon – with the Bell System logo engraved on the handle – and followed my new co-workers to the table. There, I doctored my cup with two sugars and stirred. Slightly bitter. I added another sugar and tasted again. To my delight, I found it tasty and, a few minutes later, I felt a burst of energy. I’ve been a coffee addict – no, make that aficionada – ever since.
A beta reader of my newest Angelina Bonaparte mystery, Cash Kills, noted that there were too many references to coffee in my books. I checked. In Truth Kills, the first in the series, coffee is mentioned fifty-nine times. It gets eighty mentions in Cash Kills. I’m only fifty pages into Deception Kills, and I counted thirteen uses of the word ‘coffee’ so far. Excessive? Not if you love coffee, and Angie does! So does Bobbie Russell, her cohort in the Cash Kills investigation. And Ted Wukowski, her love interest. And Bart Matthews, the Mafia lawyer who’s helping her find the sources of the hidden wealth of her client’s murdered parents. And … just about every character I wrote. It’s my mindset. I can’t imagine going hours, much less days, without coffee. Coffee drinkers don’t consume it simply for the flavor or the little rush. We associate coffee with places and times, with feelings and occasions.
Angie starts her day with coffee. (Sixty-five percent of coffee is consumed at breakfast.) Bobbie brews it as a hangover remedy for his friend Guy. While being interviewed at the Milwaukee Police Department’s homicide division, Angie observes that “Police issue coffee sits on the burner all day and the pot is almost never cleaned.” I’ve been known to laughingly say that even bad coffee is better than no coffee at all. (I did not plagiarize this from David Lean. It is an original thought occurring independently between us, like calculus, Newton and Leibniz.) How could it be otherwise?
We writers, at least in the US, are known for guzzling coffee as we struggle to get words on the page. I am no exception. I start my day with a caffeine infusion and then change over to decaf, due to a dratted heart rhythm problem. In the afternoon, I’m allowed a second serving of caf and I don’t waste it on soft drinks! It’s java for me. Coffee fuels my writing and, quite honestly, the rhythm of my days. I’m right there with T.S. Eliot, who wrote: “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”We refer to coffee in lots of ways that reflect our state of mind and the culture: morning thunder, mother’s little helper, wakey juice, brew, C8H10N4O2 (the molecular formula for caffeine – probably only used by scientists!) … The list is long, I think because we Americans have a love affair with coffee. I’ve graduated from my youthful days of drinking it like syrup, to appreciating a full-bodied blend, with just a slug of cream.
Check out Nanci’s author page here, and take a look at her first book, Truth Kills.
For a 50-something mom, Angie Bonaparte can sure handle the bad guys. Angie is a believable blend of tough stuff and compassion, and uses both for her clients. But just like organizing all the dishes to a huge Thanksgiving dinner, Nanci Rathbun stirs up tension and keeps us licking our chops for the final sit-down.
With well-placed exposition, and clear introduction of secondary characters, the author sends our protagonist on a seemingly mundane financial inheritance investigation, which soon explodes into an appalling murder and horrific revelations from the Bosnian War.
While the entrée is cooking, meet Bobby, a sweet and brotherly cohort, who shows us just what he’s made of during an exciting chase scene that will quicken your heartbeat. There is Ted, Angie’s delicious “special friend” and Ted’s mom, who is rather intriguing with a story of her own. I hope to learn more about her in the next book. And Spider, a security bodyguard with a heart. There are some Stephanie Plum elements here, but Angie is truer to life and thus able to earn my empathy.
The inheritance issue, murder investigation, transformation of Adriana, and a turn in Angie’s relationship with Ted, are all bound neatly together in an orderly menu. The author does a splendid job of keeping the threads pulled in the same direction, all tumbling toward the finale. A satisfying conclusion to the investigation leads you to think all is well. Ah, but there is that huge family Thanksgiving dinner to attend. And introducing Ted to Angie’s Sicilian-American Papa is not going to be a piece of cake.
Truth Kills, by Nanci Rathbun
An Angelina Bonaparte Mystery
Genre: Mystery, Private Investigator
I want to be Angie. She is confident, daring, smart, resourceful, empathetic, and 50-ish. So it’s okay for her to stumble a little and show us how real she is. Which she does. A romantic interest subplot flows along at a realistic pace, and casual sardonic side remarks will bring out many well-timed chuckles. Secondary characters are not stock but intriguing and entertaining. The attention to investigative details will bring you closer to Angie as you sit alongside her and try to piece together motive, means and opportunity.
It is easy to see how the ‘family’ background provides the impetus for Angie’s actions. A good tense moment near the end provides satisfying justification to the prior build in action. With everything tidied up at the end, I’m hoping book two will have an equally engaging subplot as I sneak along with Angie during her next assignment. This is a solid investigative mystery with a well-defined and pretty darn cool protagonist, clear obstacles, and an enjoyable read the whole way through.
About the Author
Nanci Rathbun is a lifelong reader of mysteries – historical, contemporary, futuristic, paranormal, hard-boiled, cozy … you can find them all on her bookshelves. She brings logic and planning to her writing from a background as an IT project manager, and attention to characters and dialog from her second career as a Congregationalist minister.
Nanci grew up an Army brat, living in Germany, France, and Korea, as well as several states in the U.S. After her dad retired from the service, the family settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There, Nanci raised her daughter and son, while working at AT&T. She never expected to move, but when her second grandchild was on the way, she wanted to be closer. One of her greatest joys is hearing her three granddaughters shout ‘Nana’ when she comes in their front door in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Nanci’s Maltipoo, Teeny, and she now live in Wellington, Colorado. No matter where she makes her home, she will always be a Packers fan.