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Summary: Hannah solves the murder of the town flirt and aerobics instructor, while trying to lose weight.
When I first moved to Minnesota, I asked the librarian to suggest some Minnesota-based mysteries for me. (When I lived in Portland, OR, I adored the Samantha Kincaid series based in Portland.) Along with books by KJ Erickson, P.J. Tracy and David Housewright, he gave me a novel by Joanne Fluke, who writes the Hannah Swenson murder mysteries.
Hannah Swenson lives in Lake Eden, a town that seems to fluctuate from 45 minutes to over two hours away from the Twin Cities. The distance seems to vary with each book. Lake Eden seems like it could be Aitkin or Brainerd or even Moose Lake, some town small enough where everyone knows the town business, but large enough to have a police force and a mayor. There's also tourist activity in the summer, like many northern Minnesota small towns near a lake.
Hannah runs The Cookie Jar, her business in town. Her business partner Lisa handles the administrative side, keeping the books and expanding their business. Lisa starts the series as a young part-time employee, and ends up a young bride and Hannah's full partner. Lisa remains one of my favorite characters across the series.
Hannah is torn between two men in town. Norman is the town dentist, mild-mannered and helpful, with a sense of humor. Their mothers are best friends and run an antique shop together. He loves to take Hannah out to eat, and help her with the housekeeping details of Hannah's life. He seems to know exactly what Hannah needs, often before she needs it. Early in the series, Fluke introduced Mike, the hunky sheriff, who also has an interest in Hannah. Both men have proposed to Hannah and she has demurred multiple times.
As owner and Chief Creative Officer of a cookie shop, Hannah has been struggling with her weight often. In Cream Puff Murder, Hannah is suddenly too large for the specially-designed dress she will be wearing to serve cream puffs at the party for her mother's book launch in two weeks. With no time to order a new dress, Hannah has to lose weight. Hannah's beautiful younger sister Andrea creates an exercise program for Hannah and the two sisters work out every morning at Heavenly Bodies, the health club in town. They also take a class from vicious-but-extremely-fit Ronni Ward, a one-time girlfriend of Mike's. Hannah is a reluctant exerciser, but is determined not to ruin her mother's big event.
One morning, Hannah discovers a dead body floating in the gym's Jacuzzi surrounded by the cream puffs Hannah gave Mike last night. Mike is definitely off the case, because he had a relationship with the victim, none other than the beautiful and bitchy Ronni Ward. Town sheriff Bill, Andrea's husband, and Lonnie, a town deputy and Hannah's sister Michelle's boyfriend, are also off the case.
So they all insist Hannah use her detective skills to clear them in the case, and insist on Hannah investigating their way, instead of Hannah's way. Mike jokes that Hannah has slay-dar - one of the worst puns I've read in this goofy, wordy series.
Mike's micromanaging of Hannah should have put the nail in the coffin of their relationship. Apparently Hannah's wishy-washiness concerned other readers, because Hannah acknowledges that her unwillingness to commit isn't fair to the men, but that they don't seem to mind. All along, Mike has dated a number of women, likely also when he was "dating" Hannah. I put "dating" in quotes not because I mean it as a euphamism for sex, as Hannah has made it very clear she's a virgin, but Hannah's dating seems to be kissing for a minute and then going out to eat. Dating for Mike does mean sex. Mike also takes advantage of Hannah's cooking skills, expecting Hannah to serve as the little woman to his brawny cop mentality. Mike thinks nothing of knocking on Hannah's door late at night, expecting a fresh cup of coffee and a baked good, along with updates on the case. This disrespect of Hannah, and the fact that she can dismiss his chauvinistic treatment of her simply when he kisses her, made me long for Norman and Hannah to be a couple, soon.
Hannah's life would only improve if she married Norman, and likely go downhill, but be infinitely more exciting, married to Mike. But Mike's fidelity would also be in questions, as is the reason why he likes Hannah. From the descriptions, Mike likes skinny busty women, and Hannah doesn't fit that description.
In addition to me taking an active dislike to a primary character (Mike) in this series, the alliteration was painful. In a painful scene, Hannah throws her chicken foot from her Chinese meal to her cat, Moishe. He chases after the "avian appendage" and returns with the "flying foot." Groan.
The final insult was that the recipes were disappointing. If Hannah is supposed to be losing weight, none of the recipes were at all mindful of calories. In this book, almost half were not dessert-based. Norman's egg salad (not a diet food normally) includes cream cheese. And Hannah eats it! Many of Fluke's readers write in and suggest recipes and the pool of delicious easy and available recipes might have been thin (no pun intended) for this book. All the recipes were disappointing and I didn't want to make a single one. For this book, a low-fat cookie or healthy dessert recipe would have especially made sense.
Of course I will still follow the Hannah Swenson series, but feel free to skip this particular book. My favorite is Blueberry Muffin Murder, with a decadent blueberry muffin recipe. I do love my mystery-with-recipes style books. The Goldy Bear series of Diane Mott Davidson have great sweet and savory recipes that call for expensive ingredients and specialty tools, but with weak writing. Livia Washburn's series is a little dull and only feature about four recipes a book. And I tried a Tamar Myer book and didn't like the main character. I look forward to to Norman and Hannah getting married, and some healthier cookie recipes. I hope that happens.