One More Cup of Coffee*
In 1964, the first Tim Hortons opened in Hamilton, Ontario. Since then, it’s become a Canadian institution. The company has grown, too, and now has outlets in the US and other countries, too. Its success is partially due to solid management, marketing, and business plans. But it also filled a very important social niche. Coffee shops have served an important purpose for a long time, even before there were large chains.
For one thing, coffee shops are good meeting places, especially for people who choose not to drink alcohol. In that sense, they complement bars and pubs as meetup places. They’re also convenient and generally aren’t overly expensive. Coffee shops also sometimes offer open mic nights, comedy improv, poetry slams, and other cultural events. I’ve even had author readings/signings at a couple of them. But mostly, they’re important nodes in the social network. They’ve been a fixture for a long time, so it’s no surprise they show up in crime fiction.
In Agatha Christie’s Third Girl, Hercule Poirot gets a strange visit from a young woman named Norma Restarick. First, she says something about perhaps having committed a murder. Then, she abruptly tells Poirot that he’s too old to help her, and she leaves. With the help of his friend, detective novelist Ariadne Oliver, Poirot finds out where the girl lives and who her family is and tries to track her down. The two find out where Norma lives, but it seems that she’s gone missing. At one point, Mrs. Oliver happens to be in a coffee shop when she sees Norma with a young man. When the couple finishes, Mrs. Oliver follows Norma to try to find out where she goes – and gets into real danger. You’re absolutely right, fans of The ABC Murders.
Robin Blake’s Cragg and Fidelis mysteries take place in 1740s Lancashire, where Titus Cragg is the local coroner, and Luke Fidelis is a doctor. They don’t have access to modern technology such as fingerprinting and now, DNA testing. But both of them are good at what they do, so they rely on what they see and hear, victims’ symptoms, and other things. They have different schedules, but they meet to compare notes, and sometimes, to visit crime scenes together. They share an occasional glass of wine, but neither is a heavy drinker. So, they often meet at a local coffee shop. They find that they learn a lot when they’re there, too, since people tend to meet at those places, and when people meet, they often gossip.
In Mike Martin’s The Walker on the Cape, we meet RCMP Sergeant Winston Windflower who’s recently moved from northern Alberta to Grand Bank, Newfoundland. In the series, Windflower and his team sometimes have to work long hours to solve cases. At times they travel, so a stop at Tim’s along the way can be very welcome. They sometimes meet up with colleagues from other places, too. After business is conducted, it’s only natural to head for Tim’s for a coffee and something to eat.
Fans of Robert Rotenberg’s Toronto-based Ari Greene series will know that several of the characters in this series are lawyers. Whether they’re Crown prosecutors or they defend clients, lawyers are expected to put in the hours, especially if they’re trying for a promotion. But no-one can work with no break at all. So, the various lawyers often stop into the local coffee shop to fuel up. Places like that are also very useful for meeting clients, opposing counsel, and families. Plenty of plea deals and other arrangements are made that way.
Coffee shops can also be good places for PIs to meet prospective clients. Donna Malane’s My Brother’s Keeper, for instance, begins at a coffee shop/café, where Diane Rowe meets her newest client, Karen Mackie. Karen has recently been released from prison, where she served seven years for the murder of her son Falcon and the attempted murder of her daughter Sunny. Karen claims that she’s turned her life around and now wants to see Sunny again. The only problem is, she doesn’t know where her ex-husband, Justin, has taken Sunny. She wants Diane to find the girl so that they can be reunited. At first, Diane demurs, saying that it’s very possible that Sunny just doesn’t want to be found. But Karen insists, and Diane agrees. She’s a missing person expert, not a ‘regular’ PI, but she’s good at finding people. It turns out, though, there are a lot more layers to this case that a young girl who doesn’t want to be found.
Fans of cozy crime fiction will know that there are several series that take place in or feature coffee shops. Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse series features manager and master coffee roaster Clare Costi who works in Greenwhich Village’s The Village Blend. She soon learns that coffee shops are not the peaceful, pleasant places one may think they are…
There are many, many other examples, too, of novels and series that feature coffee shops and coffeehouses. They’re natural meeting places, and they tap into people’s love of coffee as well as the wish to be social. Little wonder they’re so popular.
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Bob Dylan.