Murder, Mayhem, and Macchiatos
Author: Joanne Fluke
The homicidal hotbed known as the sleepy Minnesota town of Lake Eden is gearing up for the season of pumpkin pies and family reunions. Only, our redheaded baker, inexplicably abandoned by her husband, is not feeling in the mood for cold weather cuddles and family antics. As Hannah plods through the days, she tries to find excuses for why Ross has abandoned her with no note yet a seemingly significant amount of background preparation. When P.K., Ross’ work partner at KCOW, dies tragically with one of Hannah’s latest confections nearby (you guessed it, the deadly raspberry Danish of cover fame) Hannah is left to wonder if Lake Eden’s most recent killer was actually after her disappearing husband or if the beloved, mild mannered P.K. was really the victim.
In the world of biting cold, endless desserts without calories, and enough coffee to curl your hair, Hannah continues going through the motions – a little too well. Despite a marriage on the rocks and a potentially departed hubby, she still frolics with Mike and Norman over dinners and desserts, performs her daily work routine with only the occasional twinge, and investigates murder as a back-burner issue to the holiday treat preparation. Hannah is even slow following up leads, potentially left by Ross, and sorting through her husband’s stored possessions for a clue to who he really is and where he is (she never does actually get around to opening those boxes or going through them). After all – the responsibilities of cooking and having meals with friends is key; not to the plot development, but to the unrealistic devolution the series has steadily been following as Hannah and co slowly regress in both emotional maturity and credibility. Sigh.
But . . . before I start complaining too much . . . I must give Raspberry Danish Murder its dues as being superior to its moribund predecessor, Banana Cream Pie Murder. While never a fan of Hannah’s cop-out insta-relationship, the Ross story has deepened here. Hannah’s usually sterile world has been infected and it’s this seed of doubt, coupled with her dreams of unworthiness (cue the emotional infidelity with her two long term, seemingly asexual boyfriends) that creates a compelling hook. We never imagined Hannah married and certainly not in a drastically failed marriage. While her reactions are low key for my taste, there are some reactions and the tone of marital strife makes the novel a little deeper, just gritty enough to let us think that perhaps this is a turning point and the series will restore itself to former glories. The conclusion even lends me some hope despite it being melodramatic (i.e. another cliff-hanger which is NOT picked up in the next book but presumably the one slated for publication in February).
While this seed germinates, the novel spins its usual formulae. Everyone eats an ungodly amount, coffee is the cure for all life’s ills (ok, admittedly, that one is true), and this world of older adults is creepily innocent and technologically illiterate. This is nothing new though – it’s everything I’ve said since book fifteen and everything everyone has said in the Amazon reviews. I’ve lightened up a little. I’m not sure why but I still like and want to follow the series; the joy of seeing the new cover art and the next deadly confection something that still gives me that cozy bookworm satisfaction. So I turn a blind eye – it’s not Hannah’s olden days anymore. In all honesty, it probably never will be again. I’ve made my peace and decided to stay for the occasional bread crumb. Is it habit or something deep seated that Fluke set-up early on that keeps me going even though this Hannah isn’t the one of Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder? Who knows…
And so, as the Ross-is-MIA story progresses, we slowly investigate P.K.’s related murder with Hannah lazily working at the details. This mystery really isn’t significantly different than any that have come before. It’s enjoyable for the same reasons and it mostly fails for the same reasons too. Hannah lucks into her suspect – the new character in the story (as always), there is an ill-recommended confrontation, the killer is brought to justice (although this time the details of his why and how are a bit murky), and everyone is happily ever after. At least – sort of. Mike’s last minute news for Hannah and the set-up for the next Ross initiated disaster sinks that tantalizing hook in just a little deeper. Overall, I enjoyed Raspberry Danish Murder while reading it and either by stubbornness or hope or some quirky mix of both, I’ll continue onward with Hannah.
- Frances Carden
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