Guest post: COFFEE CRASH, a biotech science thriller about everyone’s favorite bean

I’ve been reading a lot of books outside the science thriller genre lately–hence the paucity of new ScienceThrillers book reviews–but when I hear about an intriguing title I will share it with you. Today, a guest post to do just that.


Greetings, SciThri fans. I’m Steve Hoffenberg, author of the novel Coffee Crash. Amy has graciously offered me a guest blog spot, and we’re offering a giveaway of a signed print edition of my book.

Coffee Crash is a biotech mystery thriller. The protagonist, Samuel Decker, is a professor of microbiology who investigates a plant fungus that is killing coffee trees. The plot also involves a medical researcher studying a human disease (which I won’t divulge to avoid a spoiler). In addition, Coffee Crash delves deeply into the coffee business, including agri-business aspects of coffee growing, genetic modifications of coffee cultivars, the commodities market for coffee, and large-scale coffee retailing. Much of the story takes place in the farm fields and labs of a major Brazilian coffee grower, with additional scenes in the U.S., Indonesia, and elsewhere.

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The first half of the book is an elaborate mystery that’s part “who-dun-it” and part “what-is-it-that-got-dun.” The writing is laced with tantalizing clues to draw in the reader. (I defy anyone to complete the first half of the book and not want to finish it to see how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.) The real action happens in the second half, when the story shifts into thriller mode as an eco-terrorist hatches a plan to spread the coffee plant fungus worldwide, with repercussions that extend well beyond the realm of coffee.

Writing Coffee Crash presented many challenges for me, not the least of which was learning the requisite science. Years of background research went into writing and revising the book. At the time I started writing the manuscript, I had no idea how I would resolve the core problem of the coffee plant fungus. I think readers will agree that the solution is clever. Furthermore, I believe the science is valid, that is, it would actually work. In any case, the solution is clearly plausible, and it even might be applicable in a real world scenario.

The greatest challenge of all, however, was making Coffee Crash an entertaining story that would appeal to both the general public and fans of hard science. I approached that challenge on several fronts. First, to avoiding overwhelming the story with the science, I injected it with humor, satire, and wordplay. Some of the sentences still crack me up when I read them, but maybe that’s just me fooling myself. (You be the judge.)

Second, I began each chapter with a quotation that foreshadows a key element of what transpires in that chapter. Those quotations come from a wide variety of sources, including philosophers, politicians, scientists, and pop culture (e.g. Monty Python, Frank Zappa). A number of readers have told me that at the end of each chapter, they would go back to review the opening quotation, giving them clues to how subsequent quotations might hint at the story.

Third, I included lots of surprises throughout the story, not just at the end. But if I told you more, it would ruin some of the fun.

Fourth, I created a cast of characters that are believable, interesting, and distinct, and I reveal what makes them tick. The bad guys aren’t all evil, and the good guys aren’t all nice. As one character puts it, “What really constitutes doing good?” The answer isn’t necessarily straightforward, which makes reading Coffee Crash all the more intriguing.

Learn more about my book at, and good luck in the giveaway.

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