To Brew or Not to Brew
by Joyce Tremel (2015)
I was in the mood for a mystery series I hadn’t tried yet, so when I saw To Brew or Not to Brew on the shelf at Barnes and Noble, I was instantly intrigued. It’s the first book by a new writer, in an anticipated new series. Getting in on the ground floor is always appealing. If it turns out to be great, I can say I was there at the very beginning.
Greatness may not be forthcoming, but this first story of Maxine “Max” O’Hara, a Pittsburgh native returning home to open a brewpub after years of studying the craft in Germany, has some potential. Max is likable and smart, passionate about brewing and (a requirement in murder mysteries of this sort) stubbornly independent. She makes friends easily with her neighboring entrepreneurs, providing (also a requirement) a colorful assortment of supporting characters. Her family ties are strong, and her family is large, and of course there is the best friend of an older brother, on whom Max has had a lifelong crush but who sees her only as a kid-sister figure. Uh huh.
In addition to the hassle of settling a menu, hiring and training a staff, and getting her building ready for final inspection, she has to deal with someone who doesn’t want her to open, as evidenced by the murder of one of her employees. Max’s father is a detective with the police department, but when the death is officially ruled an accident, it’s up to Max to figure out who the culprit is.
It’s mostly a by-the-numbers mystery with the usual parade of secondary characters. I don’t find the family members especially endearing, and Max’s business-owner friends are still flat, with no genuinely attractive qualities. Remember when you read A is for Alibi and you were first introduced to Kinsey’s landlord Henry, and how much you liked him? Or how you wish you knew someone like Rosie, the owner of the local tavern? There’s nobody like that here, although Max’s friends are certainly likable enough. The love interest situation isn’t bad, but the character isn’t developed well enough to say anything meaningful about him.
Still, it’s good enough, mostly on the strength of Max’s efficiency as a manager and her good radar for good people. She’s admirable, which (after likability) is one of the most important qualities in mystery series central characters, and she’s easy to root for. Count me in for a few more.