Author: Joanne Fluke
Kensington Books, 2008
A coworker friend of mine (L) is into reading "cozy mysteries" and she lent me this book. We're both into cooking as well as reading fiction, and now we're trading books (she's reading State of the Onion, which I recently blogged about.) Typically, I like to read series books in order, but L promised me it wasn't necessary with the Hannah Swensen series. I'm not sure that I agree, so I bought Chocolate Chip Murder, the first in this series - I'll read it sometime soon.
Hannah is a (presumed) thirty-something, single woman who lives with her cat Moishe in Lake Eden, Minnesota. She grew up here, so she knows everyone and they all know her. Hannah owns a cookie shop (and she has a cookie truck that she drives) and occasionally partners with the local police to solve crimes. Carrot Cake Murder didn't really provide any background on that, except that one of the police officers, Mike, is a sort-of boyfriend of hers. (She also has another sort-of boyfriend. Norman is a dentist.)
Carrot Cake Murder starts with a weird scene in a church, where Hannah blurts out to everyone that the minister is about to get married. Although this is an interesting way to open a book, there was no connection between this chapter and the rest of the book. In fact, I don't recall that the minister or his fiancee were mentioned again??? This is the kind of detail that sort of drives me crazy when I read.
In the meantime, there's a family reunion going on, and Gus -- a family member who hasn't been around for many years -- shows up unexpectedly. He drives a Jaguar and wears fancy clothes and brags about his successful "Blues clubs" in Atlantic City. The next day, Hannah finds him dead, apparently stabbed with an ice pick and surrounded by a carrot cake that she'd made the day before. So this book is all about solving Gus's murder . . . but of course, other stuff happens, too. Like a lot of baking. And eating.
Fluke is really good with dialogue, especially dialogue where nothing much is going on. Here's an example . . . but I'm not writing it word for word as it is in the book. Hannah and someone else are sitting in a diner.
"I'd like a cup of coffee."
"I'd like a cup of coffee, too."
"OK, two cups of coffee coming up."
I'm being a little facetious here, but what I'm trying to say is . . . Carrot Cake Murder is not a sophisticated book, and its characters are not sophisticated either. I started reading it on a Friday night and finished Sunday night . . . only reading a couple of hours each day. If you need a quick read and you want something that's not full of sex, cuss words, and violence, then this is a good book for you. Would I read another Fluke book? Like I said, I ordered the first one already. So yes, I would read them - if not for sophisticated characters and writing, then for a good yarn and LOTS of recipes . . . which is really the highlight of this series. Among the recipes included in Carrot Cake Murder are:
- Hannah's Special Carrot Cake (duh!)
- Viking Cookies
- Red Velvet Cookies
- Salmon Cakes
- Clara and Marguerite Hollenbeck's Mexican Hotdish
- and many more. You get my drift.
Each recipe is . . . cute, because Hannah (Joanne?) inserts funny commentary into them. I might have to buy all of these books just for the recipes. Reading them makes me . . . hungry.