I’m embarrassingly behind on my reading list, but this summer — as you are my witness — I vow not only to finish the two epic tomes I’ve been slogging through since the holidays but the half-dozen “beach reads” I’ve purchased or picked up on a whim, wandered a few chapters into, and then wandered away from.
Not that they weren’t good, necessarily. I just get easily distracted, and sleepy, when I’m reading slow prose and drinking a beer and the sun is like a weighted blanket and …. Wow, sorry, almost nodded off there.
Anyway, among the novels in my queue of unfinished is “The Pint of No Return,” by Ellie Alexander, a digital book I found my way to after discovering a paperback of Alexander’s “Death on Tap” (and thereby an entire subgenre of crime fiction I hadn’t known existed) on the dollar book shelf at my veterinarian’s office, pre-pandemic.
Little had I known the breadth of gentle niche mysteries set at and centered on commercial spots — quilt shops, coffee shops and yes, brewpubs — where amateur sleuths (usually female, occasionally with the help of a cat or dog), solve the case. They’re called “cozy mysteries,” which makes sense.
Alexander’s “Bakeshop Mysteries” plumbed the sweeter side of the genre, with punny names (“Another One Bites the Crust” and “Caught Bread Handed”). She continues that tradition in her Sloane Krause Mystery Series, set in Leavenworth, Wash., a Bavarian-themed tourist town in the Cascades that is sehr ernst about those German “roots.”
Alexander kicks off the series in the 2017 installment “Death on Tap,” after brewer/protagonist Sloane Krause is sent job-hunting when she discovers her husband with the barmaid in their family brewery.
She takes her savvy and beer skills to the competitor, a hip new nano-brewer that “has the brew-world abuzz” with a new recipe, Pucker-Up IPA. Soon enough, a body is discovered in the fermenting tub, and a killer is on the loose.
For the record, one thing I was unable to track down in Leavenworth the many times I visited while living in Yakima in the early 2000s was an IPA. Perhaps things have changed. Perhaps that, too, is part of the fiction?
Also for the record: If you’re a brewer who suspects she might be in a culinary cozy mystery, consider video surveillance for the brewhouse. That’s also where the first body turns up in Joyce Tremel’s “To Brew or Not to Brew,” set in Pittsburgh at the fictional Allegheny Brew House.
The victim, found strangled in the mash tun, suspected someone was out to sabotage the brewery’s upcoming grand opening. Just before his death, he voiced his concerns to his business partner and the book’s protagonist:
“I suppose you don’t think the loose electric breaker, the broken mirror, the scratched bar top and the half dozen other little things aren’t connected. I’m telling you, someone is trying to keep us from opening.”
If you’re a brewer who’s not in a cozy mystery, well, that’s just how startups go.
If you’re a reader and beer fan in search of good word fodder, the brewery scene isn’t exactly fertile ground for deep literary dives. We don’t yet have a “craft beer Bukowski” or “The Tender Bar,” with 12 IPAs on tap.
Maybe that’s because a craft brewery has too much personality to blend into the background setting.
Or maybe everybody’s too busy enjoying their beers to inspire drama.