Piratical legend features in this twelfth entry in the Tea Shop Mystery series by Laura Childs.
The Tea Shop Mysteries are like revisiting an old friend. Invariably the story begins with Theodosia Browning and company at a notable event in Charleston, South Carolina, and by the end of the first chapter, someone had been killed. It’s not long before Theodosia is convinced to look into things and begins her own unofficial investigation, one often interrupted by “real life” commitments and the day-to-day running of the Indigo Tea Shop.
At the Heritage Society’s Pirates and Plunder show, an antique skull–fashioned into a goblet–is stolen and a young intern is murdered. At the scene, Theodosia finds an orange ticket left behind. Soon she is compelled–by octogenarian Timothy Neville of the Heritage Society–to find out what happened. The focus is on the missing skull cup. The idea being that if they can find it or the treasure it’s rumored to lead to, they will also find the killer. For Theodosia–and her sidekick and master tea blender Drayton Conneley–the hunt is on to discover the owner of the orange ticket and to learn more about Blackbeard’s skull.
Edward Teach, more famously known as Blackbeard, pirated the waters of the Atlantic from the Caribbean to the Carolinas in the years following the War of 1812. At the height of his career, he blockaded the port city of Charleston. He often traded on a fearsome image to achieve his aims. And though he sought and obtained pardon, there were those authorities who forever considered him a threat, and in May 1718, mounted an assault led by Lieutenant Robert Maynard resulting in Blackbeard’s death and beheading. Legends of treasure buried in the Carolinas and embellishments of Blackbeard’s short career (1716-1718) persist to this day.
Childs deftly weaves the Blackbeard legend in her story as Theodosia searches for information about the origin of the skull cup that ended up in the Heritage Society’s collection. Along with descriptions of modern Charleston and the busy operations of the tea shop, Childs breathes life into her setting, though perhaps less successfully here than in previous books.
This entry in the series seemed to move at a breakneck speed–previously novels were more leisurely paced–and was more intent on solving the mystery, focusing more on the stolen skull than the murder. The orange ticket ultimately leads nowhere. There are suspects, but zero clues are offered to point readers in one direction or another. Ultimately the killer’s identity is revealed by a clever–if clichéd–ruse: Theodosia stages a party at which a “fake” skull is put forth as the genuine article, making the killer believe the stolen one was a mere copy. Still this was a fun read.
I really don’t read these as whodunnits so much as simply enjoying the story, and particularly, the characters. Theodosia is a likeable heroine. Drayton, as elder stateman, is a perfect foil and sidekick for Theo’s sleuthing. Haley, who concots all sorts of delicious confections–tying in nicely with the oft featured recipes in each book–rounds out the tea shop “family.” The police are represented by the large and imposing Detective Tidwell, who frequently referes to Theo’s meddling, yet occasionally offers up bits of information pried from him with Haley’s tasty treats. Then there’s self-important Delaine, owner of a local boutique, who bursts into scenes bringing some irritation and some comic relief. And of course, Timothy Neville, the perfect representation of genteel, well-to-do, old family Charleston. These and other recurring characters are a joy to revisit.
If there’s one disappointment in these stories, for me, it’s the romance. Theodosia doesn’t ever really seem to connect with her two boyfriends, first a lawyer, then a restaurateur. This latest volume introduces the potential for a new boyfriend, one that may finally fit in this charming series. We shall see with the next installment due out in March 2012.