I’m honestly surprised I’ve gotten any reading done at all this past week, seeing as how Brad and I have just discovered the BBC Sherlock series (three years late, I know – mea culpa). When I did get reading, I decided I should pick something from my NetGalley queue. I requested Blackberry Pie Murder a few weeks back because I’ve seen these books, with their yummy-looking baked good covers, in stores for years.
This is the seventeenth (!) book in Joanne Fluke’s mystery series about Hannah Swenson, owner of Lake Eden Minnesota’s coffee shop and bakery called The Cookie Jar. Hannah, along with her mother and sisters, has developed a reputation for uncovering dead bodies. It’s been several months since the Swenson girls solved a mystery, and Hannah is looking forward to focusing on her bakery and planning her mother’s wedding. But Hannah’s peace of mind is short-lived, and in the midst of a terrible thunderstorm, she accidentally hits and kills a stranger with her Cookie Jar delivery car. As she awaits the date of her trial for vehicular homicide, Hannah searches for the truth about the man she hit – what was he doing in Lake Eden, and why was he waiting by the side of the road in the storm?
I really enjoy mysteries, and I liked the idea of a bakery owner who solves crimes in her free time. While the mystery plot was fine, and I enjoyed the recipes that Fluke scatters throughout for the cookies she mentions in her chapters, this book left me cold. Maybe it’s my own fault – maybe it was arrogant to think I could slide into a series with book seventeen and pick right up where all Fluke’s regular readers left off. But something about Fluke’s style of writing rubbed me wrong.
First, Fluke has a habit of creating a metaphor for a situation and torturing it out over multiple pages. At one point, she compares Hannah’s emotions to the feeling of riding a roller-coaster. Fluke treats the reader to five pages of “Hannah’s emotional roller coaster car climbed toward the top of the slope… Hannah pictured the roller coaster car as it teetered on the very apex of the downslope… Hannah’s roller coaster car was on its way up the track again… the car on her emotional roller coaster was starting down the slope again…” She does the same thing about a hundred pages later, comparing her questioning of a suspect to a pitcher trying to strike out a batter. I appreciate the use of the metaphors in the story, but once the comparison has been made, trust your readers to understand and go with it – no need to reiterate it so much.
Second, Fluke seems fond of the technique of “telling” rather than “showing” in her writing. She tends to be repetitive. We are told time and time again that Hannah’s mother, Delores, loves chocolate. Every time Hannah bakes something chocolate for Delores, readers are reminded that Delores is a chocoholic, or that Delores thinks chocolate makes everything better. Also, there are several places where the sentences themselves seem repetitive – for example: “It seemed the ongoing feud was still going on.” Yikes.
I did think the actual mystery element was interesting. Fluke did a good job of tying together some plot lines that I didn’t realize were connected. She does create the atmosphere of the cozy small town where, when accidents happen, a community comes together to make things right. Also, I plan to try the recipes for some of the desserts that Fluke includes, like Fresh Blackberry Cookies and Yummy Yam Cookies. These look great, at Fluke added “notes” from the characters with baking tips and tricks.
If you’ve read the other Hannah Swenson mysteries, you’ll probably like this one. I read reviews for some of the earlier novels, and they are pretty positive overall. Again, maybe my issues with this book come from unfamiliarity with a set of well-established characters. If I’m in the market for this kind of mystery novel again any time soon, I’ll probably stick with Donna Andrews.