Tea, mystery and romance novels; a heady combination. The Blackmail Blend* from Livia Day is a delightful offering, small and artful like the high tea her heroine serves.
Tabitha Darling runs a café frequented by hipsters, while her Scottish friend Stewart works in the building upstairs as a journalist when he’s not writing romance novels. He’s not impressed when he discovers she’s taken a booking from a rival, the revered author of Regency romances Beatrice Wilde, for a book launch and high tea.
The reputation of Tabitha’s business is on the line when Beatrice collapses from a reaction to a food allergen. Tabitha knows she kept all traces of Beatrice’s allergies from the food she served, so someone must have poisoned her deliberately. Stewart drags her into investigating, and it doesn’t take long to discover there’s no shortage of suspects.
But how will she cope with Stewart’s new girlfriend? Just because she’s with her long time crush now, a policeman, does that mean she won’t be jealous? Can either of them look at the evidence about Beatrice or her workshop participants impartially? Will they discover the culprit before another attempt is made on the life of the odious Beatrice?
The Blackmail Blend is under 100 pages, and is a lovely read. It’s light and tight, with well-drawn characters and a decent mystery for its size. Tabitha is smart and witty with a hint of commitment phobia to keep her interesting. Her flat mate and best friend, Xanthippe, is satisfyingly outrageous, and Xanthippe’s brother is Tabitha’s policeman boyfriend who hovers in the background to let her bounce ideas around and distract her from other things – particularly the journalist/writer. Stewart is Scottish, which is a ninety percent approval guarantee in my opinion, so when you add smart, charming and being a romance writer, my only question is, Why is Tabitha with the policeman?
Though I haven’t read the the preceding story in the Café La Femme series, A Trifle Dead, there was still a sense of shared history between the characters, and necessary backstory was explained without noticeable exposition. The crime – attempted murder – comes into Tabitha’s life naturally without her seeking it. A major scare in her previous case put her off amateur detective work, so she’s not keen to go down that road again.
The copy I read included the text of a speech presented by Livia Day at CrimeSceneWA in November 2014, titled Obsessive Amateur Detectives (and the Authors Who Love Them). It’s an interesting piece giving some insight into the creation of Tabitha and her sleuthing tendencies, as well as Day’s own comments on other famous crime novel protagonists. It’s probably particularly enlightening for readers like me who only read an occasional crime novel.
The Blackmail Blend is set between A Trifle Dead and Drowned Vanilla. It has encouraged me to read the longer novels. After I’d written most of this review, I went looking for them and discovered that Livia Day is the crime-novelist alter ego of fantasy writer Tansy Rayner Roberts. No surprise, then, that the writing is so good.
It was also then I came upon the term “Sassy Crime”, coined by Angela Slatter.** It’s a perfect way to describe this series, not in terms of brashness, but more of an outspoken, confident woman who’s smart and isn’t about to sit in a corner and let other people get away with anything.
I intend to enjoy the further exploits of Tabitha Darling.
*I was provided with an e-copy of this book for review by the publishers.
Links: Livia Day’s website
A Trifle Dead Twelfth Planet Press
**A.K.A Livia Day Angela Slatter interviews Tansy Rayner Roberts