Wisconsin coffee shop owner Maggy Thorsen proves that she can solve murders even when she’s outside her home venue.
It’s not clear at first why Maggy’s business partner, Sarah Kingston, wants to leave Brookhills to travel to the frigid northern reaches of Wisconsin and attend a writers workshop at Payne Lodge, the remote family home of Lita Payne, part owner of the Brookhills Observer. The workshop promises to be an emotional disaster since its host, acid-tongued Observer editor Kate McNamara, insists that the attendees center their writing on their most traumatic personal experiences. Soon enough, it’s a literal disaster as well. A storm cuts off power to the house, depriving everyone of light and heat. And when the inevitable bodies start to crop up, there’s no way to call the police since the isolated lodge is, of course, out of cellphone range. Here’s where shopkeeper-cozy veteran Maggy shows her adaptability, shifting seamlessly into old-dark-house mode. Far from the comforts of her suburban home base, she becomes a wary hunter, alert to the dangers that surround her, protective of her fellow storm-soaked refugees, and, most important of all, able to pierce the veil of deception that temporarily shields the culprits. It isn’t easy to unravel the tangled motives that drive this cascade of crimes, but Maggy proves herself up to the challenge.
In Balzo’s entertaining 15th Maggy Thorsen mystery (after The Big Steep), Maggy, co-owner of the Uncommon Grounds coffeehouse in Brookhills, Wis., must deal with complicated and ultimately dangerous liaisons involving her friends and family. Primary among these is the one between Maggy’s distant cousin Jacques Oui, owner of Brookhills’s upscale market, and coffeehouse barista Amy Caprese. The two seem on the verge of marriage until Paulette Badeux arrives in town from Paris, claiming to be Jacques’s long-lost wife.
Within days, Jacques’s market is set on fire. The charred remains of two bodies are found in the smoldering rubble, their identities uncertain. Later, Maggy, whose snarky business partner, Sarah Kingston, refers to her as the corpse-stumbler, does indeed come upon a third body. Are the deaths related? Do they share a motive? Suspects and potential motives abound. One of this series’ many strengths is the anxiety-free rapport between Maggy and her beau, Sheriff Jake Pavlik. He respects Maggy’s investigative skills and even encourages her participation. Vividly drawn characters and dialogue crackling with wit propel the fair-play plot. Readers will hope Maggy has a long run. Agent: Nancy Yost, Nancy Yost Literary. (Dec.)
A reunion between long-parted spouses goes horribly wrong.
When her barista, Amy Caprese, announces that she has an appointment with a psychologist, Wisconsin coffeehouse owner Maggy Thorsen senses trouble. Not only does Amy whip up a tasty latte, but her constant good humor helps keep Maggie and her business partner, Sarah Kingston, on an even keel. Could a romance with Maggy's cousin Jacque [sic] Oui, the irascible owner of Schultz’s Market, be enough to send even sunny Amy running for the nearest therapist? Amy knows about Jacque’s previous wife, the late Naomi Verdeaux. But when an even earlier spouse named Paulette Badeaux surfaces, Amy freaks, especially since the first Madame Oui claims that her divorce from Jacque was never made legal. Paulette camps out in Jacque’s apartment above Schultz’s while Jacque moves in temporarily with Maggy and her fiance, Sheriff Jake Pavlik. That night, Schultz’s burns to the ground, leaving behind two charred bodies: one male and one female. Maggy awakes to find Jacque missing. Did the temperamental grocer perish in a midnight assignation with his ex? Did Paulette’s plans for a romantic reunion get too hot to handle?
The body count rises quickly as Balzo’s quirky cozy turns darker than a freshly brewed espresso.
Coffeehouse owner and amateur sleuth Maggy Thorsen’s newest adventure takes her on a wild trip. Her barista, Amy Caprese, has a French boyfriend, Jacque Oui, an older man who owns a failing supermarket. He also has two ex-wives, one dead and one, Paulette, who suddenly shows up in sleepy Brookhills, Wisconsin. Then it turns out Paulette may still be married to Jacque, a revelation that sends Amy off to her therapist. Shady entrepreneur Jamie Bright wants to buy Jacque’s store, but Jacque is determined to keep it. When a mysterious fire starts in the store and two bodies are discovered in the ruins, Maggy’s fiancé, Pavlik, the town sheriff, investigates. Maggy and her business partner get involved to support Amy, and they uncover a tangled web of relationships that extend back to Jacque’s past in France. Balzo's latest (following The Big Steep, 2022) will keep readers on their toes as they track the many characters and plot turns.
A cold case drives Balzo’s cleverly plotted 14th mystery featuring tenacious Maggy Thorsen, co-owner of the Uncommon Grounds coffeehouse in Brookhills, Wis. (after 2021’s Flat White). Philip Woodward, a dedicated noir fan, and his wife, Vivian, are preparing to open a teashop in town called the Big Steep on land that once belonged in the swinging 1960s to Paz and Harmony Koeppler, Vivian’s grandparents. While cleaning out the decades of debris that has accumulated on the property, they discover the broken bones of a baby, whose injuries seem to indicate repeated abuse. Maggy’s determination to discover the infant’s identity leads her to Brookhills Manor, a home for still-spry old folks. When a woman is murdered, drowned in the creek that runs by the old Koeppler place, Maggy suspects that the two deaths may be connected. Lively, intelligent characters and Maggy’s refreshingly anxiety-free relationship with her fiancé, Brookhills County Sheriff Jake Pavlik, make this stand out from the cozy pack. This is a perfect entry point for newcomers. Agent: Nancy Yost, Nancy Yost Literary. (Jan.)
A coffeehouse owner gets ensnared in a murder when she befriends the prospective proprietor of a tea shop.
What could be cuter than Uncommon Grounds, the name of the coffeehouse co-owned by Maggy Thorsen and Sarah Kingston? How about The Big Steep, a new project underway by film buff Philip Woodward and his wife, Vivian? Philip supplies the wit and vision, Vivian the facilities: a rustic cottage on land once owned by her grandparents Ray and Matilda Koeppler. Back in the day, the Koepplers, who renamed themselves Paz and Harmony, lived in the cottage with an ever changing band of hippy-dippy pals. College students, draft evaders, and every sort of counterculture wannabe drifted in and out of their lives. Eventually, a baby named Nirvana drifted in, and a few years later Paz drifted out. Nirvana escaped too, running away at 18 with an older man and giving birth to Vivian less than nine months later. The cottage somehow passes down to Vivian even though Nirvana, now Vana Shropshire, is still very much alive. In fact, she’s made her way to Brookhills, Wisconsin, to see just what her daughter intends to do with her parents’ old home. Which is pretty much nothing, because progress on The Big Steep stalls when Maggy’s dog, Frank, digs up a bone that turns out to be the femur of a months-old infant. Maggy’s fiance, Jake Pavlik, takes charge of the case, but Maggy gets involved too, especially after more corpses turn up.
Connecting murders past and present provides a welcome challenge for coffeehouse cozy fans.
Maggy Thorsen and her acerbic business partner, Sarah Kingston, own Uncommon Grounds, a coffeehouse in Brookhills, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee. A temporary employee, germophobe Christy Wrigley, gushes to Maggy about her boyfriend, Barry Margraves, whom Christy met on an online dating site. Barry gave her an expensive diamond tennis bracelet and is coming to town to meet her, she thinks to propose. However, Barry shows up at Uncommon Grounds seemingly angry at Christy, then is accidentally mowed down by an errant, unattended snowplow, its driver in the bathroom suffering from gastric distress. Or was someone driving the plow, intentionally killing Barry? Events occur that make Christy a suspect, even though she was with Maggy during the incident. Is Christy in cahoots with someone? While Maggy’s fiancé, Sheriff Jake Pavlik, shares limited information with her, Maggy keeps some facts to herself, allowing her to catch the killer. Numerous plot twists, nicely delineated characters, dry humor, and details of running a coffeehouse define this cozy. Suggest to those who enjoy Laura Childs’ Tea Shop mysteries.
From Publishers Weekly:
Balzo’s lighthearted 13th Maggy Thorsen mystery (after 2020’s Death of a Bean Counter) opens on a snowy winter morning at Uncommon Grounds, the coffeehouse Maggy owns with her acerbic business partner, Sarah Kingston, in Brookhills, Wis. A customer, Christy Wrigley, regales Maggie and Sarah with gushing tales about her new boyfriend, Barry Margraves, whom she met on a dating site and has only communicated with by phone. Through a scrim of blowing snow, Christy glances out the window and is sure she sees Barry. A few seconds later, he’s mowed down by a snowplow. Was his death an accident or was it murder? A stolen diamond bracelet, an angry wife, and a lost passport keep Maggy on the trail of the killer. Maggy’s boyfriend, Sheriff Jake Pavlik, unlike the usual cozy fiction lawman dealing with an amateur sleuth, doesn’t cajole, domineer, or guilt-trip her. Jake is well aware of her need to investigate and accepts it. Their conversations are fun, and their musings about the case are edifying. Readers who like their heroines on the spunky side will enjoy Maggy’s company.
Balzo’s 12th Maggy Thorsen mystery (after 2019’s Murder à la Mocha) is as fresh as the pecan rolls Maggy serves at her Uncommon Grounds coffeehouse in Brookhills, Wis. Sarah Kingston, a partner in the shop, has recently sold her real estate firm and decided to devote her full attention to Uncommon Grounds. The gung-ho businesswoman is filled with ideas to improve, expand, and change the character of the business, much to Maggy’s chagrin. But any modifications to the coffeehouse move to the back burner when the shop’s faithful barista, Amy Caprese, becomes a suspect in the death of her boyfriend, Kip Fargo, a corporate attorney and owner of Fargo Financial, an investment firm. Kip was many things, including cheap and condescending, and as Maggy digs deeper in an attempt to clear Amy, she learns that most of his clients were dissatisfied and angry. Balzo smoothly blends eccentric characters, lively dialogue, and a fair-play plot with a touch of discreet romance. Cozy fans will happily keep turning the pages. Agent: Nancy Yost, Nancy Yost Literary. (Apr.)
Maggy Thorsen, owner of the coffeehouse Uncommon Grounds in Brookhills, Wisconsin, rescues a bedraggled chihuahua on a rainy night, much to the disgust of her Old English sheepdog, Frank. When Maggy contacts George Satterwite, the owner of the chihuahua, whose name is Mocha, she learns that Arial Kingston—the niece of Maggie's business partner, Sarah—is the Satterwites’ dogsitter, and when Maggie drops the dog off the next morning, she sees what she believes to be blood on Arial’s cheek. Concerned when Sarah can’t reach Arial, Maggy and Sarah go to the Satterwites’ house, find a dead body in the theater room, and discover that Arial and Mocha have disappeared. With Arial a murder suspect on the run, Mocha reappears at Maggy’s house. Plot twists, snippets of coffeehouse culture, and plenty of dogs and dog behavior are integrated nicely with the mystery. This character-rich series will appeal to readers who enjoy Laurien Berenson’s Melanie Travis cozies, also featuring a host of canines.
The Importance of Being Urnest "In Balzo’s witty 10th mystery featuring fast-talking Maggy Thorsen (after 2016’s To the Last Drop), wryly observant Maggy, the owner of the Uncommon Grounds coffee shop in Brookhills, Wis., holds forth on books, popular songs, Botox, and other more unlikely topics, but the main focus is on the Goddard Group, whose members are all “mature” java lovers. Many of them reside at the local assisted living facility, Brookhills Manor. A shoot-out at the facility, which ends with one deputy dead and Sheriff Jake Pavlik, Maggy’s fiancé, in the hospital, leaves the residents chattering. Soon afterward, two of the Goddard Group’s members die within days of each other. Speculation grows: was one or both of the deaths murder? There are loads of eccentric suspects and juicy motives, and the clues are wrapped in lively conversation. Don’t expect much detective work; the real pleasure is to be found in spending time with these outspoken people."
To the Last Drop “Suggest Maggy’s adventures to fans of Chris Cavender’s Pizza mysteries, Elizabeth J. Duncan’s Penny Brannigan series, and Laura Child’s Tea Shop mysteries”
"Someone kills dental surgeon William Swope by throwing him out his 10th-floor office window in Balzo’s entertaining ninth mystery featuring Brookhills, Wis., coffee shop owner Maggy Thorsen."
Hit and Run In Anthony Award finalist Balzo’s spirited third Main Street Murder mystery (after 2012’s Dead Ends), Wisconsin journalist AnnaLise Griggs is still visiting her hometown, Sutherton, N.C., where she’s acknowledged as the love-child of the wealthiest man in town, Dickens Hart. The proprietor of a “North Carolina High Country rip-off of the Playboy Club concept,” Hart wants to locate any other children he may have fathered, and an elaborate Thanksgiving weekend is planned for past loves and their appropriate-aged off-spring. Before the turkey is served, Hart is found lying naked in bed with his head bashed in—and AnnaLise is the prime suspect. The supporting cast includes several colorful Sutherton citizens and a motley group of potential heirs accompanied by their hopeful mothers. AnnaLise will remind Southern cozy fans of Kathleen Haines’s Sarah Booth Delaney, Carolyn Hart’s Annie Darling, and Margaret Maron’s Deborah Knott.
Murder on the Orient Espresso VERDICT: A nicely hewn homage to Agatha Christie’s iconic mystery gives Balzo’s seventh caffeinated series entry (after Triple Shot) a light and breezy boost. The Florida setting jazzes up the plot, and attentive readers will delight in Balzo’s plentiful book and movie references.
"Readers will be happy to jump on board.
. . . a hit with series fans, but readers of similarly themed novels from writers such as Mary Daheim (the Bed-and-Breakfast mysteries) or Kerry Greenwood (the Corinna Chapman series) should also be steered in Maggy’s direction.
Triple Shot "In Balzo's stimulating seventh Maggie Thorsen mystery, over-the-hill TV star Ward Chitown plans to do a show about a shootout in Brookhills, Wis., in 1974 between the FBI and the Mafia that left six dead and a fortune missing. This amusing, well-written entry should win Balzo more fans.
"How the hell did I get myself involved with this broad? It’s like I’m Lassie, she’s Timmy, and every day is a new well."
--Jake Pavlik in Triple Shot
Dead Ends “Near the start of Balzo’s well-crafted second mystery featuring Wisconsin reporter AnnaLise Griggs (after 2011’s Running on Empty), AnnaLise is in Sutherton, N.C., where she’s been looking after her ailing mother. She’s surprised and embarrassed by the arrival of her former lover, Benjamin Rosewood, the DA of Urban County, Wis., and his wife, Tanja, and their teenage daughter, Suzanne. Ashamed of her dangerous liaison, AnnaLise tries to avoid Rosewood, but is drawn to him after Tanja dies in a terrible car accident on Sutherton Mountain. When one tragedy follows another, AnnaLise finds herself in the middle of a tightening web of deadly intrigue—and at the top of police chief Chuck Greystone’s suspect list. The well-drawn North Carolina setting is integral not only to the plot but also perhaps to AnnaLise’s most endearing quality—her abject terror of the area’s narrow mountain roads, full of crazy switchbacks and heart-stopping overhangs.” - Publishers Weekly
Heaven's Fire “Equal parts thriller, romance and family saga . . . a compelling and deeply human read.” - Joan Johnston, New York Times bestselling author of Texas Bride
“Rooted in the dangerously exotic world of a multi-generational fireworks company . . . spell-binding.” - Jeremiah Healy, award-winning author of the John Cuddy P.I. novels
A Cup of Jo "In Balzo's delightful sixth Maggy Thorsen mystery, Maggy is planning to celebrate the opening of her rebuilt shop [until] the giant inflatable coffee cup she hired for the occasion accidentally deflates and reveals the body of missing Brookhills event manager JoLynne Penn-Williams sprawled at the bottom. When amateur sleuth Maggy begins to investigate, she's dismayed that clues point to her boyfriend, county sheriff Jake Pavlik, as the killer. Devastating innuendos that Jake has been unfaithful shatter Maggy, but don't prevent her from seeking the truth. As ever, Maggy's wit and wisdom help keep the pages turning through this lighthearted cozy." -Publishers Weekly
Running on Empty 'Balzo has created a lively southern town full of quirky characters and matched them with a lively plot. Readers who enjoy Margaret Maron’s Deborah Knott mysteries will have fun with this one.” - Booklist
”Balzo (A Cup of Jo) introduces a beguiling heroine in this wryly amusing first in a new series. . . . readers will cheer the resolute and feisty AnnaLise every step of the way.” - Publishers Weekly
”A Wisconsin reporter comes home to murder and mayhem in a High Country resort town. Balzo’s Maggy Thorsen series (A Cup of Jo, 2010, etc.) was a mild jolt, but her new franchise is a full-throttle joyride.” - Kirkus Reviews
”The author of the Maggie Thorsen mysteries (From the Grounds Up) introduces an appealing new amateur sleuth who is calm, good-natured, and nosey for someone else’s own good. For readers of G.A. McKevett and Joan Hess.” - Library Journal
The Grass is Always Greener and other stories Four short stories, all compact little gems. Two are winners of various awards, and have that sort of polished, Ellery Queen's Mystery Mag feel to them. It's nice that writers can make such stories available these days, even if you missed the original publication…Based on this book, I'm interested in reading more by this author. -on Amazon.com
From the Grounds Up “Maggy Thorsen, the proprietor of Uncommon Grounds, finds that rebuilding her coffee shop in the “Old Brookhills” section of Brookhills, Wis., can be murder in Balzo’s witty, smoothly plotted fifth caffeine cozy…sassy, lighthearted whodunit…” - Publishers Weekly
“A witty cozy with eccentric characters and a fast-moving plot.” - Booklist
Brewed, Crude and Tattooed “Near the start of Balzo’s lively fourth Maggy Thorsen mystery, a sudden spring “thundersnow” traps Maggy and friends in Benson Plaza, the Brookhills, Wis, strip mall where Maggy rents space for her coffee shop, Uncommon Grounds.. . . Credible characters and a well-constructed plot.” - Publishers Weekly
“A freak May snowstorm provides the perfect cover for murder in a suburban strip mall [and,] armed with flashlights from Goddard’s Pharmacy, Maggy leads her mighty band of retailers on a quest to capture the killer.” - Kirkus Reviews
Bean There, Done That “Balzo gives an old formula new life with crisp dialogue, complex characters and a puzzle that can’t be beat.” - Kirkus (starred review)
“An engaging sleuth, Maggy puts her own humorous, breezy spin on everything, from coffee lore to the colorful locals, in a cozy that will leave readers guessing until the end.” - Publishers Weekly
Grounds for Murder “All the right ingredients…Balzo’s keep-em-guessing plot and fresh, breezy prose are more than enough to ensure that this series will continue to delight.” - Booklist (starred review)
“Bright and breezy Maggy makes a charmingly down-to-earth sleuth. A bit of romance and coffee lore provide the froth on top.” - Kirkus Reviews
Uncommon Grounds “In her delightful debut, Balzo puts a 21st-century spin on the traditional cozy, replacing tea with coffee as the comfort beverage of choice. Readers will want to curl up with this winner with a cappuccino or maybe even a Viennese cinnamon latte.” - Publishers Weekly
“…as wonderfully rich and sharply written as anything going. What moves Balzo’s book high above other writers who try to cover the same territory is a sharp and often amusing skill that convinces us that this is real life, and that it matters.” - Chicago Tribune