As part of the MLS Reader's Advisory Roundtable, this was our benchmark book for "Cozy Mysteries." Its a sub genre of mystery that usually deals with an amateur sleuth and not a whole lot of blood. Joanne Fluke's character is a baker, similar to Diane Mott Davidson's caterer mysteries.
I was initially skeptical about cozy mysteries because I tend to read classic mysteries and was worried it would be too cookiecutter. Typically I like Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers, but if you stop to think Ms. Marple and Peter Whimsey are the ultimate amateur sleuths, so Fluke is not actually that different from the mysteries I tend to enjoy. Not believing that a modern author could really live up to the same standards as Sayers and Christie I was pleasantly surprised when I was completely baffled at who could have committed the murders in the Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder. Fluke did a good job of layering her clues so you had to sift through what was important and not at the same rate that Hannah did. She also introduced a lot of red herrings so you were left following dead ends most the book.
Not realizing this was the first book in a series initially, I was intrigued by the environment that Fluke created, it seemed like Lake Eden had just been pulled out of thin air fulled formed. Its a hallmark of a good writer because the world is self contained and yet not completely explained. It allows for more books to explore other aspects of the environment while interacting with familiar characters and settings.
If you are a fan of mysteries but don't enjoy the gruesome violence or copious amounts of blood some authors fill their pages with, the cozy mysteries are probably for you. There are a lot out there, culinary cozies, little old lady cozies, knitting cozies, cat cozies, etc. This falls squarely into the culintary cozies, but it could appeal to people who don't particularly like baking. (It was nice that the recipes were incorporated into the book as chapter breaks.) A lot of the action focuses around interpersonal interactions. Who does Hannah know, how does she know them, and how can she get them to tell her what she wants because of her relationship to them. The baking is just a jumping off point and occasionally a bribe. I think the characters are well developed, but personally Hannah's mother Delores is maybe the author trying too hard to create a stereotypical overbearing mother. There were glimmers of a multilayered character at the end, and I guess reading more is the only way to find out if she develops. There is also the possibility of a heated romance blooming in the following books, which has me intrigued.
All in all, a very entertaining mystery that isn't demanding or unsettling.
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