Review: Brew or Die by Caroline Fardig

Brew or Die by Caroline Fardig is the 4th Java Jive mystery, where Nashville’s perkiest private eye—coffeehouse manager Juliet Langley—goes undercover in the party-planning industry to solve a suspicious death.

In Brew or Die, Caroline Fardig’s 4th Java Jive mystery, Nashvillian Juliet Langley crosses the line from being an enthusiastic, capable amateur sleuth to join the ranks of licensed private investigators. Juliet is the new part-time investigator at her friend Maya Huxley’s agency. Maya is a gal who likes to “do things her own way,” but she and Juliet have history.

But, after teaming up to get to the bottom of a bogus murder charge for a friend of mine, she saw something in me that she thought she could work with. So, she made me her apprentice, trained me, made sure I got my education requirements, and helped me study for the licensure test.

Pete Bennett—Juliet’s boss at her full-time gig, the Java Jive Coffeehouse—is less than enthused. Pete would like his manager, in her spare time, to explore her singer-songwriter talents. What better spot than Music City to make a splash in the local music scene? Pete’s not shy about expressing his doubts about how things will go with Maya.

“She’s not always going to be with you now that you’re a full-fledged PI,” he pointed out. “And need I remind you that you already have a job?”

Coffeehouse manager by day, PI by night, Juliet Langley is the essence of a multi-tasking woman. There’s a guy in her personal rear-view mirror, ex-boyfriend Detective Ryder Hamilton. Their break-up was messy, but detective agencies and the local constabulary often work side by side, so Ryder isn’t exactly out of the picture. Juliet Langley’s realistic, somewhat rueful approach to her personal life makes it difficult for her to draw a bright line between work and pleasure—especially since Stafford, her new beau, is also a Nashville detective. 

When Josie, the fiancée of one of Pete’s baristas, is found dead, conventional wisdom suggests that she overdosed. That’s the excuse the police give when they refuse to investigate.

Pete and I shared a look over Shane’s bowed head.

I said, “It’s true. The overdose rate around here has skyrocketed lately. Stafford has been telling me how much of a problem it’s become.”

Shane lifted his head to glare at me. “Josie didn’t OD.” He never did particularly care for me.

Juliet’s unbridled enthusiasm about undercover work is one of the delights of Brew or Die. Josie worked for Leonidas, the premier wedding agency in Nashville, so it makes sense that Juliet infiltrates the organization so that she can get inside information about Josie’s fate. She’ll be modeling wedding dresses at a bridal fair, and she drags her handsome boss Pete into posing as a groom.

Looks like “Red-haired She-Devil” PI Juliet is getting her groove back! Check out Pete after the makeup mavens have their way with him: “He was the picture of male perfection.” The repartee between Pete and Juliet is familiar and friendly with a breathy whisper of “if only.” More importantly, how’s the sleuthing going? They pretend to mingle.

He made a grand show of offering me his arm, and I took it, smiling and waving at guests as we walked past them, but not slowing down to chat like we should have. We headed out of the ballroom and down the back hallway, which was largely deserted.

I let go of Pete’s arm. “Did you find out anything regarding the case?” Noticing something odd, I peered at his face closely. “And are you wearing guyliner?”

Grimacing, he said, “Yeah, they made me.”

I burst out laughing.

“Shut up, Jules. And focus.”

A laughing Juliet who loses focus occasionally is also a canny sleuth who intuitively sees beyond the obvious. Her on-and-off boyfriend Ryder appreciates it when she cuts loose, like when she snaps, “I’m not telling her shit,” about a nosy mutual acquaintance. He, like us, is thrilled that “delicate Juliet is back,” and yes, that’s irony. 

Whether she’s a slatternly cleaner working undercover at a warehouse, a singer-songwriter manager at a coffee house, or an overly curious mannequin at a bridal showcase, Juliet Langley’s infectious, persistent personality has us rooting for her success, both personally and professionally.


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Janet Webb aka @JanetETennessee has unpredictable opinions on books. Season ticket holder of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. Social media devotee. Stories on royals and politics catch my eye. Ottawa born. Grew up on the books of Helen MacInnes, Mary Stewart, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Anne Perry … I'm always looking for a great new mystery series.

Read all of Janet Webb's articles for Criminal Element!


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