Cooking the Books: Irish Coffee Murder by Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis & Barbara Ross

I love all of Kensington’s holiday-themed novella collections, but this one may be my favorite yet!

The opening story by Leslie Meier gives this collection its name and sets the stage for seasonal shenanigans. Intrepid reporter Lucy Stone is working on what she thinks will be a nice, fluffy St. Patrick’s Day piece about teenage Irish step dancers. Visiting an actual competition, however, makes her start to worry more about the dancers’ mothers than about the girls themselves. The moms have a penchant for getting together over Irish coffees—and perhaps letting the alcohol loosen their tongues and inhibitions. When one of these women turns up dead, her daughter is convinced that it was one of the other dance moms who did her in. Will Lucy be able to discover who’s truly responsible without becoming a target herself?

In Lee Hollis’s contribution, up-and-coming comic Jefferson O’Keefe agrees to return to his hometown of Bar Harbor for a special St. Patrick’s Day performance. Liddy, one of heroine Hayley Powell’s best friends, is especially happy to welcome him back and rekindle their high school romance. Not everyone in town has similarly warm feelings towards him, though. After he drops dead at his own after-party, Hayley must identify and confront a crafty killer who may have used Jefferson’s favorite coffee drink to end his life.

Barbara Ross’s Perked Up closes out the collection with a clever spin on both the historical mystery and the telling of ghostly tales. When a storm takes out the electricity in Busman’s Harbor, Julia Snowden’s family and friends come together over a roaring fire and several rounds of Irish coffee to discuss the origins of a local ghost story. Once the night is over, though, Julia can’t quite shake the tale. With the help of her close friends, she decides to investigate and perhaps solve the centuries-old crime.

All three of these authors are high on my list of favorite cozy writers, and each of the novellas here fits seamlessly into their established series. I love how Lucy Stone continues to champion the underprivileged as she investigates both a murder and a seemingly shady redistricting. Lee Hollis’s mastery of both snappy dialog and humor helps the effervescent pace of the middle novella ratchet along, while Ms. Ross uses her trademark thoughtfulness to have Julia think long and hard about her own future even in the midst of interrogating the past. This collection is a perfect sampler for readers new to any of these authors and an absolute must-own for fans of each.

There were several food and cocktail recipes included, but I really wanted to try what looked like a simple recipe for one of my all-time favorite dishes from Death of an Irish Coffee Drinker.

Kelton’s Corned Beef and Cabbage


3 to 4 pound corned beef brisket with the spice packet

3 tablespoons whole-grain mustard

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

3 cups water

1 bottle of Guinness beer

5-6 garlic cloves, peeled (more, if you love garlic)

1 cabbage, cored and cut into wedges

1 sweet onion, peeled and cut into wedges

6 large carrots, peeled and cut into two-inch pieces

1 ½ pounds small baby new potatoes


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. You will need a large Dutch oven or roasting pan.

Rinse your corned beef brisket in cold water and pat dry. Place in the Dutch oven, fatty side up.

In a bowl, combine the whole-grain mustard, brown sugar, and black pepper and rub the mixture all over the brisket.

Sprinkle the seasoning packet into the Dutch oven and pour the three cups of water and beer into the pan, careful not to pour onto the seasoned brisket. Cover your Dutch oven and bake for 1 ½ hours.

Remove the Dutch oven from the oven and add the rest of the ingredients, starting with the garlic, cabbage, onions, carrots, and potatoes. Spoon juice all over the vegetables. Place back in the oven and roast covered for 1 hour.

Check meat and vegetables to see if fork tender. If not, roast uncovered for 30 more minutes or until fork tender.

Remove your brisket, transfer it to a warm platter, slice it, then arrange the vegetables all around the meat. Serve and enjoy!

I’ve never made corned beef and cabbage myself before, and I always thought it would be rather an arduous process. This recipe went a long way toward debunking that notion for me! This was a super easy recipe, with an end result that was incredibly delicious if perhaps a little sweeter than I ordinarily prefer.

The size of the raw brisket fooled me into adding a little bit more than the recommended amount of vegetables. This was only a mistake insofar as I wound up with quite a bit less meat than vegetables, but that can easily be remedied by getting a slightly bigger brisket next time. If you’re looking for a fool-proof recipe with which to celebrate the upcoming holiday, I highly recommend this—to be followed by a round of Irish coffees, of course.

Next week, we travel west to bake a savory snack while trying to keep a wedding from being derailed by murder. Do join me!

See alsoCooking the Books: Primer and Punishment by Diane Kelly

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