Chamomile Mourning is the sixth book in the Tea Shop Mysteries series featuring Theodosia Browning, who runs a tea shop and sleuthes on the side. Until this point I’ve enjoyed this series and found the details of running a tea shop particularly interesting. The author’s habit of including some of Theo’s best recipes at the back of each book is an added bonus; I probably gained five pounds just reading about the wonderful items they serve in the shop. In this outing, though, the plot got lost in the minutia of day-to-day operations of the store, which in turn bogged down the mystery plot so that entire chapters went by with no advancement of the story.
Theodosia runs her shop in Charleston with the help of her cook Haley and master tea blender Drayton – with lots of kibitzing from other store owners in the Old Charleston area. As the book begins, the trio are hosting a Poet’s Tea at the Historical Society when rain forces them to move their garden party indoors. Theodosia salvages her tea cake from the rain only to have it squished by a dead body falling from the balcony.
Roger Crispin is the victim and among the several suspects in his murder are his wife and mistress. With the prodding of Crispin’s wife, the cops zero in on the mistress, Gracie, who owns the new hat shop on Theodosia’s block. Theodosia believes that Gracie is being railroaded and decides to investigate on her own. As if she didn‘t have enough on her plate, Theo’s boy friend Jory tosses her a curve when he asks her to go to New York and marry him – in that order – because of a promotion from his law firm.
Theo’s wit is keen and she is open and honest in her relationships. I especially enjoy her internal monologues, replete with wicked thoughts about those she meets in the course of her day. But throughout the series, not enough is known about Jory so that I didn’t care if Theodosia went with him or not. What’s worse is that in this latest book, previously well-drawn characters, with the exception of Haley, seemed a bit thin.
A bigger problem, though, is that Childs does not play fair with the reader. Clues are not given as to the villain’s identity throughout the book. Instead, the clue and identity of the murderer is simply presented in a single chapter near the end. I felt cheated and unhappy with the denouement.
I still like this series, but Chamomile Mourning was definitely a letdown from the solid mysteries in the earlier books. I can only hope Childs will regain the balance between tea shop detail and the movement of her mystery plot in future outings.