Monday, May 11, 2015

Review: Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke

Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder (Hannah Swenson #1)
By: Joanne Fluke
Publisher: Kensington


Hannah Swenson divides her time between running The Cookie Jar, sleepy Lake Eden's popular cookie-centric bakery, and dodging her mother's attempts to see her (finally) married off. Her quiet life is upended when Ron LaSalle, The Cookie Jar's dairy deliveryman and local football hero is found murdered behind her shop. Thanks to the proximity of the crime and with her cookies scattered all over the crime scene, Hannah feels a personal responsibility to see the perpetrator brought to justice. Her amateur investigative efforts uncovers a web of unexpected secrets hiding beneath Lake Eden's sleepy veneer of respectability. And one wrong question could see this cookie-loving connoisseur slip dangerously out of her depth.

After watching the recent Hallmark adaptation of this novel I was inspired to check out the source material. Fluke's first installment in her long-running bakery-themed series is an appealing confection of sweet desserts peppered with a dash of murder. This is a classic cozy -- small town setting, quirky cast of characters, mouth-watering food, and a dash of the mysterious. Hannah is an appealing heroine, equally at home within the tropes of a lite mystery or that of a single woman's dating travails. I love the fact that she's a (for the most part) smart, independent businesswoman who also happens to love chocolate and her cat and is fairly content in her single status (though of course open to change, preferably not engineered by her meddling mother). 

I'm a bit torn as to how to rate this book, because I feel my enjoyment of it was hampered by knowing the eventual outcome from the film -- the flip side being that I would have never picked this book up had I not seen the movie (and there are at least four cookie recipes in here that I'm dying to try!). The road to discovering the identity of the killer menacing Lake Eden is a circuitous, rather predictable one. A cozy mystery isn't supposed to drag, but the pacing felt off and the investigative rabbit trails Hannah follows began to wear thin and have me questioning her alleged smarts by the novel's final act. That said, I loved seeing Hannah's relationship with her polar-opposite sister develop and strengthen over the course of the novel. I also appreciated how Fluke touched on subjects of domestic abuse with the frankness and sensitivity such material warrants while staying true to the overall lighter tone of the book.

This is a cute, fast read, though more skimmable and less engaging than I'd hoped. That said, contemporary cozy mysteries are somewhat outside my reading norm, and I can see the appeal of the conceit Fluke has captured within these pages -- spunky heroine + sweets + mystery = endless possibilities, much like the recipes Hannah loves to develop for her shop. There is the promise of romantic possibilities here, as the local dentist and the new detective compete for Hannah's affections (right now I'm pulling for the detective, but with eighteen books and counting in this series I have little hope that triangle is anywhere close to a resolution), and the day-to-day workings of her business provide an enjoyable -- dare I say tasty -- framework to the series. This isn't a world I'll revisit any time soon, but the next time I'm in the mood for some fluffy, sugary-inspired escapism, I'll keep Hannah's further adventures in mind.

About the book:

Joanne Fluke’s bestselling Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder is coming to Hallmark Movies & Mysteries as Murder She Baked: A Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder Mystery starring Alison Sweeney, Cameron Mathison, Gabriel Hogan and Barbara Niven.

Take one amateur sleuth. Mix in some eccentric Minnesota locals. Add a generous dollop of crackling suspense, and you've got the recipe for this delicious new mystery series featuring Hannah Swensen, the red-haired, cookie-baking heroine whose gingersnaps are almost as tart as her mouth and whose penchant for solving crime is definitely stirring things up.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder

Hannah already has her hands full trying to dodge her mother's attempts to marry her off while running The Cookie Jar, Lake Eden's most popular bakery. But once Ron LaSalle, the beloved delivery man from the Cozy Cow Dairy, is found murdered behind her bakery with Hannah's famous Chocolate Chip Crunchies scattered around him, her life just can't get any worse. Determined not to let her cookies get a bad reputation, she sets out to track down a killer. But if she doesn't watch her back, Hannah's sweet life may get burned to a crisp.

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