Death on Tap is the first in a new series of cozy mysteries set in the Bavarian-styled, beer-brewing village of Leavenworth, Washington. The protagonist, Sloan Krause, is a talented brewer who works with her husband’s family at their brewhaus but her world comes crashing apart when she walks in to discover her husband cheating on her with a barmaid.
Kicking Mac out of their house, she has to start again and manages to secure a job working for a start-up nanobrewery. She is the only employee and has a lot of work to do pulling things together in time for their big launch. Just as it seems that things are going well she discovers a body in one of the fermenting tanks and, worse still, it seems her husband is in the frame for murder.
I should probably confess at this point that I am not much of a drinker so words like nanobrewery mean little to me. What attracted me to this novel was the fact I had never seen a cozy mystery set in that particular world and the way it grabbed me with its first sentence. It was a lunchtime gamble forced on me when I contrived to leave all of my books and my Kindle at home and had to find something off the new releases shelf at work and the fact that I finished it the same day speaks to how much I enjoyed it.
I found Sloan Krause a likable protagonist, although her backstory is not particularly detailed. We do learn that she was a foster kid and that is part of the reason she feels so close to Mac’s family and resents the idea of losing them. She is charming, hard-working and devoted to the people she cares about. I would also say she possesses an often very-entertaining narrative voice which does keep things lively.
The mystery itself is entertaining though I don’t think a reader could reach the conclusion through evidence but simply through character intuition. I suspect that may reflect that the book has to balance establishing its characters, setting and interpersonal relationships with its mystery and perhaps that results in a slightly simpler mystery narrative. While I think the book doesn’t quite strike the perfect balance between these aspects, I still enjoyed learning more about these characters and discovering their secrets.
Alexander creates an interesting blend of characters, many of whom make strong impressions in just a few pages. They all have strong, lively personalities that help make them instantly memorable and helps to develop a cast of characters that readers will hope to encounter in sequels (and at least one they’ll love to hate).
I think it is also quite clear that Alexander knows a fair amount about the world of brewing, but there are a few points in the story where I think she is guilty of letting her research show. I certainly recognize that I am not the target audience for those moments but to me they got in the way of the story and felt a little unnatural. By all means explain something to add a bit of color or if it is necessary but details about the proper temperature to refrigerate experimental hops are extraneous.
On the other hand, I suspect that beer enthusiasts will probably savor the lengthy descriptions of beer-paired foods such as chocolate stout brownies as well as the various beverages imbibed throughout the book. Death on Tap conjures up plenty of small town charm and has a wonderful coda that sets up a second book that I am looking forward to reading.