Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Plum Pudding Murder: Review

Plum Pudding Murder by Joanne Fluke is the twelfth book in the Hannah Swenson baking mysteries.  It's also the first one that I've read.  Fortunately, one really doesn't need to have read earlier books to slip into this one (although there are some relationships to work out that are probably explained as you go along if you read them in order).

Hannah Swenson is the owner of the Cookie Jar pastry shop in Lake Eden, Minnesota.  She's the queen of baking in the small town and a pretty dab hand at solving a mystery or two.  It's Christmas time in this particular outing and business is booming with everyone putting in orders for extra cookies, pastries and other deserts for their holiday gatherings.  "Lunatic Larry" Jaeger, the owner of the Crazy Elf Christmas Tree Lot is no exception.  He's been selling Hannah's creations in his Elf Treat shop and the cookies are flying out of there faster than Santa's reindeer.  He asks Hannah to whip up a special dessert that will make even more customers flood into his tree lot and she obliges with some Minnesota Plum Pudding.  She takes a sample to Jaeger to try, but before he can tell her whether he thinks it will fit the bill someone decides that he has sold his last Christmas tree.

When Hannah gets curious about who might have wanted Jaeger to join the ghosts of Christmas present, she finds that there are more people on the list than she anticipated--from the Mayor who was Jaeger's partner (and who may have found himself swindled by the fast-talking tree salesman) to his ex-wife to his current fiancee to connections from his rather murky business past.  It seems that Jaeger was on more than just Santa's naughty list.  Hannah and her helpers (her mother, her boyfriend the dentist, her pastry shop assistant, and her boyfriend the police officer--yes, two boyfriends) will have to work fast to find the killer before the killer decides to put an end to Hannah's cookie business...permanently.

This book has a lot of fluff....and I'm not just talking about the marshmallow creme in some of the recipes (yes, there are recipes included--and they sound yummy).  I realize that this is a cozy mystery and on the whole I'm a fan of cozy mysteries...but this one leaves a lot to be desired.  It starts out with a bang (literally) and Jaeger immediately becomes a Christmas corpse.  But then Fluke takes us back in time--One. Whole. Day.  That takes up more than One. Half. of the Book.  Just to give us the background and lead us back to the point where Jaeger's body is discovered.  That's because we have to take all these little detours through "what the heck is Hannah's mom's best friend up to and why is she so secretive???" to "the multiple adventures of Hannah's cat and the first-ever Christmas tree that he has to deal with"--not to mention working in all the recipes that we then pad the story with.  Not that the recipes don't sound good.  They do.  But, honestly....28 recipes in one book?  Is this a cozy mystery with a bit of cooking theme or a cook book with a murder thrown in for spice?  

The book is plugged in the synopsis as "a clever whodunit with pastry recipe dividends."  I'm afraid not.  It's not all that clever.  I spotted the murderer as soon as s/he was introduced in a meaningful way.  I think the characters could be very interesting if we had as much attention given to them as we do to the minute details of every recipe (which recipes are given with multiple helpful hints "from" various characters in the book).  Two stars--just.


Puzzle Doctor said...

I reviewed the first of the series a while ago and thought maybe things might improve. Thanks for sparing me the need to revisit the series, Bev.

Bev Hankins said...

You're welcome!