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Coffeebean Café, by April May Rollins
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Ore Mountain
Published: 2005
Review Posted: 5/11/2005
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 10 out of 10

Coffeebean Café, by April May Rollins

Book Review by Susie Hawes

Have you read this book?

This is sci-fi of a different flavor. Part murder mystery, part drama, part alien contact novel, Coffeebean Café is a smorgasbord of richly drawn characters and suspense. Laced with humor and spiced with a delicious irony, it hooks the reader from page one. Be warned. This book is filled with mysteries, and to reveal the answers would spoil the reading of the novel, so I can only pose questions and provide hints.

A cultural center, the coffee shop attracts local residents in an eclectic mixture that treats the reader to a variety of personalities and life styles. A bit soap, a bit mystery, a bit sci fi channel, this book is a heady mixture.

Lacey, one of the main characters in this novel, is a poet performing for the clientele of this new England coffee shop. On the evening that Lacey discovers she is, indeed, pregnant, the mayor's wife, Chastity, is murdered in what appears to be a fit of jealousy by the dry cleaner's wife.

Who done it? The author proceeds to introduce characters in a blend of soap and mystery as we ponder these questions. Chastity's life was in turmoil. She was having an affair and was on the brink of divorcing the mayor, threatening his political and financial standing, so the Mayor has a motive. Chastity's lover, Richard, and his wife, Patricia, have motive, because of the affair and the jealousy it engendered.

But, there's more. Two people witnessed the shadowy killer as he ran from the murder scene. Tess, the Mayor's illegitimate daughter, and Lacey saw the figure of a man running from the scene of the crime. The night was dark and the man's identity is unknown.

Patricia, startled by the sound of gunshots, grabs a gun from the cash register and goes out to investigate only to find her rival dead. She is subsequently arrested and then cleared, but her fear and her suspicions cause her to retreat into a shell. She's hospitalized for a time, leaving more unanswered questions. What did Patricia see, and who does she suspect? In order to protect her husband, whom she suspects, she allows herself to be institutionalized, deepening the mystery. After a while she is released, and finds new strength in her marriage, which is saved.

The story takes a strange turn as the question of Lacey's pregnancy is explored. Lacey is in shock after seeing the killing. She wanders away, then resolves to speak to the police but at that moment she is surrounded by a bright light shining down on her from the night sky. She awakens the next day in the park and meets a stranger. As they begin to talk, she comes to trust this man. A terrifying dream that sounds like a classic reenactment of an alien abduction confuses her.

The combination of the unexplained dream and the discovery of Chastity's murdered body stuns Lacey. She withholds evidence from the crime scene, in the form of a shell casing she picked up that night. She does not go to the police, fearing the delay and the odd dream will make her look untrustworthy. Instead, her mind muddled and her memory perhaps tampered with, she tries to function without fully dealing with her experiences. She befriends the stranger, Deacon, and helps him get a job at the Cafe.

As the plot advances, we soon discover that currents run deep beneath the surface of this town. All is not as it appears to be. Slim, the coffee shop's eccentric owner is an enigmatic soul. He was a C.I.A. operative who was abducted by aliens. When he told his story he was discredited, and retired to this small town. He still maintains his contacts with the C.I.A., and is determined to prove the truth of his experiences. When the stranger, Deacon, shows up at his cafe, Slim takes him in. At first he spies on Deacon, but soon he begins to trust him. In the end, Slim decides to help the alien blend in with his human counterparts. Aliens have come to live in this New Hampshire town.

Lacey's pregnancy progresses and the nature of her child comes into question. Is it of alien extraction? Will it be born human, alien or a hybrid of both?

Deacon provides the answers, at least to the reader, and examines the question of why an alien race would abduct and experiment with humans or wish to reproduce with them. There are two alien races wishing to come to earth. The aliens involved in this experiment are the Etheron. In order to inhabit our planet they find pregnant women and alter the DNA of the unborn child, introducing elements of alien DNA into the womb. Lacey's unborn child will be a hybrid, both alien and human.

The need to inhabit earth is never fully explained, but the concept of an alien integrating into our world and the birth of an alien/human hybrid is an intriguing one. Dean and the doctor who biogenetically altered Lacey's child are both aliens sent to earth by the Etheron, who seek to learn from their experiments with our people, and perhaps to seed our planet with their kind. Deacon is ordered by the Council of Etheron to remain on earth for a period of three years. The doctor, a character never truly explored, continues to oversee Lacey's pregnancy while keeping her uninformed as to the true nature of her child or of the doctor's own actions on her body.

I found this element of the story incomplete, yet the whole thing was dealt with on an emotional level that did not detract from the story's interest. Lacey and her boyfriend, Joey, bond and determine to love the child. The doctor, while being deceitful, is not malicious. It would have been more satisfying to me if the whole had been revealed to the parents, but the story arc works.

Meanwhile, the murder mystery continues. The mayor and his troubled wife form the center of a circle of uneasy relationships, mysteries and passions. The Mayor, Victor, has a child by Chastity and one by a lover. He is employed by an unnamed crime organization and is determined to retain Chastity's money and his own political standing with the help of his driver, Jake, a shady underworld figure. Victor arranges for Chastity's murder, but when the murderer gets cold feet he has to find another method of stopping the divorce.

Even the local police have their secrets. Three members of the police department are criminals, and one a potential murderer. Deputy Dean is the man who Victor hired to murder Chastity, yet in the end, he could not go through with the murder. Hal and Sharon Green, a fellow policeman and his wife, who works as a secretary for the police department, have been killing for profit for years. Did one of them take up where Dean left off? I can't reveal the answer without spoiling a few surprises, but it all fits in.

The soap opera threads throughout this story by following the love lives of Victor and Chastity and their offspring. At one point, Victor's love child and his legitimate heir become involved, without knowing the ties that bind them. When they discover their relationships to Victor it threatens their love and their peace of mind. Will this new love die, or will fate intervene to free them? Again, the answers will spoil the reading, so I can only ask questions.

Slim is in the loop, as far as Deacon's presence is concerned, and will help him. Lacey and Joey are at peace and Victor and the killers are dealt with by their criminal organization. Even the doomed lovers find closure, which is important since these well developed characters have the ability to make us care about their fate.

Deftly plotted, the author takes us through a series of twists and turns as many of the conflicts are resolved and the mysteries revealed. Although the separate elements at times seem overwhelming and the story is crowded, the strength of emotion and the personality development of the characters carry the tale. The elements of mystery, drama and science fiction are well blended, threading through one another with care.

The author does at times use deus ex machina to tie loose ends. The aliens employ mind altering drugs on a bit character and his wife at a convention, and on Lacey and her husband during the pregnancy. C. I. A. involvement is prominent and expedites information gathering and damage control. The large, unnamed criminal organization that underwrites Victor finally deals with him and with the Greenes, cleaning up the police department, yet the way the author handles this is right in line with the quirky flavor of this novel. One almost expects it. In the end, it only adds flavor to the tale.

Although at times a bit confusing, this is a tense and well-paced read. Lacey, Slim and the citizens of this town find their path in life. Because of the strong writing we have come to care for these people and leave this story feeling satisfied that our time is well spent. The sentence structure is at times glitchy and there are a few typos, but they may be cleared up with a new printing. The publisher has already addressed this difficulty by switching companies.

I have to rate this story a three for mechanics, but a five for sheer fun. Overall, I give it a solid four and recommend it.
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