Ming Tea Murder Author: Laura Childs Series: A Tea Shop Mystery 16 Publisher: Berkley, May 5, 2015 Format: Hardcover and eBook, 336 pages List Price: $25.95 (print) ISBN: 9780425281642 (print) Review Copy: Provided by the Publisher
It’s scones and scandal for Indigo Tea Shop owner Theodosia Browning in the latest from the New York Times bestselling author of Steeped in Evil…
Normally Theodosia wouldn’t attend a black tie affair for all the tea in China. But she can hardly say no to her hunky, handsome boyfriend, Max, who directs public relations for the Gibbes Museum in Charleston. Max has organized an amazing gala opening for an exhibit of a genuine eighteenth century Chinese teahouse, and the crème de la crème of Charleston society is invited.
In the exotic garden staged in the museum’s rotunda, a Chinese dragon dances to the beat of drums as it weaves through the crowd. The guests are serenaded by a Chinese violin as they sample an assortment of tempting bites. And to give them a memento of the occasion, there’s even a photo booth. But Theodosia makes a grim discovery behind the booth’s curtains: the body of museum donor Edgar Webster.
While Theodosia prefers tea service over the service of justice, this case is difficult to ignore—especially after Max becomes a suspect. Now she must examine the life of the fallen philanthropist and find out who really wanted him to pay up…
Ming Tea Murder is the 16th installment in the Tea Shop Mystery Series penned by Laura Childs. The series follows Theodosia Browning, proprietor of the Indigo Tea Shop located in historic Charleston, South Carolina. The book opens to find Theo attending a posh museum gala to celebrate the Gibbes Museum’s acquisition of an antique Chinese teahouse, with her boyfriend Max, who is the director of public relations for the museum. All is going well until Theo finds wealthy museum donor, Edgar Webster, brutally murdered in the photo booth. Now she must find a cunning killer before Max is arrested for the crime.
The main characters in this series are multidimensional, having evolved considerably over the course of 16 books. Theo is the ideal heroine for a cozy mystery. She is strong and intelligent, with a knack for sleuthing. She relies heavily on her support system of friends and employees, mainly Drayton and Hayley, to keep her beloved tea shop running and help her focus when she is on the trail of a criminal. Drayton is a seventy-something dapper southern gentleman who serves as Theo’s right hand man. He is rarely seen without his signature bowtie, is an expert in all things related to tea, its sourcing and consumption, and is utterly charming in every way. Hayley is the hip young dynamo who runs the tea shop’s kitchen. She’s a brilliant chef and baker, guarding her recipes like a mother hen does her chicks, and adds a touch of whimsy to not only her culinary creations, but to the atmosphere of the tearoom itself. Theo’s inner circle is rounded out by her outrageously over-the-top friend Delaine, owner of an exclusive clothier, and by Max, Theo’s refined and handsome boyfriend, who finds himself at a loss when confronted with being a suspect in Edgar’s murder and must rely heavily on Theo to search for answers.
There are a few characters introduced in this novel to support the mystery. The victim’s widow, Charlotte Webster, is capricious and outspoken when roused, and seems to be getting overly friendly with Harlan Duke, the Texan art dealer who helped bring the teahouse to Charleston, and Roger Greaves, the victim’s slick business partner. Cecily Conrad, a socially climbing shop owner, was overly friendly with the victim prior to his murder, but their affair had turned volatile before his death. Percy Capers and Elliot Kern, the museum’s Asian curator and director, respectively, both play roles in not only the mystery, but in the subplot that revolves around Max’s future with the Gibbes Museum. Other notable characters are Detective Tidwell, with whom Theo has an adversarial but respectful relationship that spans the Tea Shop series, and Delaine’s elderly relative, Aunt Astra, who has an irreverent wit that becomes so comical she is nicknamed Aunty Acid by Delaine and Theo.
This installment of the Tea Shop Mystery series has a complex and satisfying mystery that culminates with a climactic chase scene that gets the reader’s pulse moving right at the end. The Indigo Tea Shop and the town of Charleston are brought to life skillfully and the characters that the author has created blend so seamlessly with their environments and are so well drawn that the reader would not be surprised to walk into a small tea shop and see each of them there. The tea lore interspersed throughout the novels, and the special recipes and tea time tips included in each book, all help to set this series apart from others in the cozy mystery genre, and give the books charm and warmth that make them well loved.