Pink Lemonade Cake Murder (A Hannah Swensen Mystery)
“This book belongs on the shelf until the next library book sale.”
For the reader who loves tasty recipes, Joanne Fluke’s new book, Pink Lemonade Cake Murder will be a hit. For the reader who loves a good murder cozy? Not so much.
Hannah Swensen is a baker and the owner of The Cookie Jar café, where she provides delicious treats for the town of Lake Eden, MN. In each chapter, Hannah spends an inordinate amount of talk discussing new recipes that she is going to try, or already town favorites that she bakes on a regular basis. After each chapter where Hannah mentions a treat, the reader can rely on at least one, sometimes two or three recipes following the chapter. The story overflows with such goodies.
So when does the murder occur? Not for a while. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. The story begins with a police department crisis—Chief Detective Mike has decided to retire, and the department is in a tizzy. The town can’t afford to lose Mike.
Hannah calls Stella, who recommended and mentored Mike. Hannah is convinced Stella can change Mike’s mind. Who is Stella? Not clarified, but she gets Mike to her cabin and refuses to let him return to the office. It’s difficult to believe that she could keep a lead detective sequestered if he really wanted to go.
We are introduced to the murder victim, “No-No” Fulton. No-No is homegrown, an ex-MLB player who has returned to Lake Eden for the annual Tri-County Fair and baseball game. He proves himself to be an arrogant guy who considers himself to be clever, smart, and above all, a true ladies’ man. He drives through town in his Cadillac convertible with three local girls—Susan, Emily, and Desiree—seated on the back of the car, wearing skimpy clothes and waving to the stunned crowd. Each young woman is smitten. Their families, not so much.
Enter a bevy of characters who will play a part in the murder: Delores, Hannah’s mother who was humiliated by No-No; Zack Edwards, an MLB player whose career was destroyed by No-No; James Connor, Susan’s father; Roman Ganz, Emily’s grandfather, Tony Sloan, Susan’s boyfriend, humiliated by No-No; two erstwhile mobsters who may have taken a hit on their gambling opportunities; Zack’s dad; Emily, Susan, and Desiree. Could one ask for more suspects?
As the fair progresses, Hannah discovers her mother standing over the lifeless body of No-No Fulton, holding a bloody baseball bat in her hand. Now, the question arises about motive. What ever could possess Delores to murder No-No?
He dunked her three times at a county fair in a dunking booth and ruined her best dress. “I know one thing for sure . . . I’m never going to forgive him for embarrassing me that day! I’m going to get even, just you watch. I’m not sure how, but I can tell you one thing for certain. It’s not going to be pretty!”
This begs the question: If she did not want her best dress ruined and did not expect to get dunked, why did she sit on the dunking platform in the first place?
Fluke takes the reader through this series of suspects and explains the motive each might have such as humiliation, being lied to, gambling problems, and family pride. With the exception of the mobsters and their gambling issues, Fluke does not explain why any of the motives are strong enough to lead to murder.
Fluke creates several situations that are just hard to believe, even in a cozy. The police ask Hannah and her current partner, Norman, to sit in as they interview the suspects. “’Interviews,’ Lonnie responded. . . . ‘We want you and Norman to sit in when we interview persons of interest. . . . We would really like to hear your thoughts on what the interviewees say, and what they don’t say.’”
Taking this interview concept one step further, Hannah is asked, “’If it’s okay with you, we thought we might have the initial interviews here, in the kitchen of The Cookie Jar.’” Really? Interview murder suspects in a café kitchen with non-police personnel? This does, however, give Hannah the opportunity to make more cookies and serve them during the interviews.
And remember Mike? He’s chomping at the bit to get back to town and dive into the murder, but Stella keeps him at the cabin.
The story is not a fast moving one, with a considerable amount of passive narrative and slow-moving dialogue. A cozy that should move quickly and focus on the murder and the investigation, this one is dragged down with recipes and discussions of food that distract from the story.
The requisite climactic scene at the end is okay but not filled with a lot of expected tension.
Fluke is a prolific writer, and it stands to reason that many of her major characters probably appear in previous books. She should not, however, assume that every reader is familiar with them, and perhaps some clarification is in order.
As mentioned at the beginning, as a cookbook, Pink Lemonade Cake Murder has a lot of good and interesting recipes, but as a murder cozy, it has failed its mark.
This book belongs on the shelf until the next library book sale.