Saturday, January 15, 2011

New Hannah Swenson Mystery, DEVIL'S FOOD CAKE MURDER, by Joanne Fluke

When the investigator owns a bakery, recipes have a major role in her life -- so it makes perfect sense that Joanne Fluke's newest Hannah Swenson mystery (due out in March), DEVIL'S FOOD CAKE MURDER, is packed with sweet treats. In fact, my count from the review copy is 25 recipes, with their own index! And each one includes suggestions from the character who provides the recipe during the course of Hannah's investigation labors, and from Hannah, and often from her partners and friends who've experimented with it. Now, if that doesn't encourage you to take risks and do it your own way, what else could? Some of the recipes extend to four or five or even six pages, with tips on how to combine ingredients, how to substitute when you're out of something, and how to come up with new variations. It's a wonder!

That said, I'm glad to say that the murder mystery presenting all these goodies is also yummy. Readers of the series -- and you don't have to have read any of the others before this one, although it will add some color and some explanations to the quandaries -- already know that Hannah is an independent woman, a good businessperson, an adept creator and changer of recipes, and ... torn between two wonderful men in her life. DEVIL'S FOOD MURDER puts that problem front and center, when Hannah begins to realize that both of her swains are also dating the far too adorable "Dr. Bev," a former fiancée of one of the men (Norman). They're blunt about it: When Hannah isn't out with Norman, he's with Bev, and the same thing holds for her police-force date, Mike. It's an odd way for Hannah to finally have to make up her own mind about commitment.

And that would be my only criticism of this volume: that Hannah's predicament is more complex and challenging than the murder she's determined to solve, that of a substitute minister who's returned to the area as a favor for an old friend. Also challenging is the behavior of Hannah's cat, Moishe, who may be finding a way to get Hannah's rolled-up socks out of her drawer and up onto the refrigerator each morning! Or could it be that Hannah is so overstressed that she's sleepwalking?

All strands come together in the book's finale ... but not everything gets resolved, and it's clear there will be another Hannah Swenson investigation in the near future. It's a quirky way to add to your recipe collection ... but with gems like Death by Caffeine Mocha Trifle, Sally's Apricot Bread, and Chocolate-Covered Raisin Cookies, this book definitely belongs in the kitchen, among all the other tools and weapons available there. Last but not least, this is probably the only mystery author who dares to include a recipe for the cat to enjoy!

One caution: Pick up this book, and you'll want to check out the earlier ones, too. It's not just Hannah's complicated life, or her deft digging into criminal activities that affect her friends. It's those recipes! And just to make your stomach growl a little more, Fluke's website now includes an index to the recipes, indicating which ones are in which books. Special added announcement: A cookbook collection is coming out next October, which will sit next to the Nero Wolfe version on my shelf.

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