Wedding Cake Murder – Joanne Fluke (Kensington Books, 2016)

Set in Lake Eden, Minnesota, Hannah Swensen, owner of The Cookie Jar, a sweets and coffee shop, is facing two momentous events in her life; her impending wedding to Ross Barton, one of three beaus who had been vying for her flour-covered hand, and a shot at the Food Channel's dessert chef contest. Her mother seems to have taken over the plans for the nuptials while Hannah wins the initial challenge in the desserts competition in New York City, which means that the second phase of the show will be taped in Lake Eden, her home community, which is a great thing for the close-knit village.

There are five judges who are coming to Lake Eden. First there is Jeremy Zales, winner of the Golden Knife award, LaVonna Brach, author of a popular series of cookbooks, Helene Stone, an authority on exotic spices, Christian Parker, host of his own show on the Food Channel, and Alain Duquesne, the Head Judge, who is a celebrity chef with a less than delicious personality. Hannah and her friends, including her sister, Michelle, who serves as her baking assistant, dig into learning about the food preferences of each of the judges in order to give them an edge in planning their award winning recipes.

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What they learn about the overbearing Duquesne is that he is fond of the ladies, and seems to be particularly interested in one of the contestants, Gloria Berkeley. Hannah's first impression of Gloria is not complimentary, as Hannah confides in her sister that she hopes Gloria won't drop anything in the competition, “because if she did, and if she bent over to pick it up, their show might receive an X rating.” (p. 102)

And, Hannah's Aunt Nancy knows something interesting about Judge Alain's past. She reveals, “He was born less than five miles from my parents' farm, and I went to school with him. Of course his name wasn't Alain Duquesne then. He changed it when he became an important celebrity chef.” (p.28) Alain's real name is Allen Duke, the boy who ate butterscotch pudding daily for dessert. Alain Duquesne has recreated himself as do many successful celebrities.

The story heats up when the nasty celebrity chef is discovered chilling in the freezer at the Lake Eden Inn, where the contestants are preparing for the second intense round of competition. Amateur sleuth, Hannah Swenson, who sees herself as Minnesota's Nancy Drew, begins a personal investigation into the Lothario's demise.

Unfortunately, I am not a fan of soft core mysteries of the Agatha Christie ilk. For those of you who have been reading my column since its inception, you get that guts and gore punch my ticket. Give me a Cornwell, Reichs, or Bass any day. That being said, Wedding Cake Murder is weak on many counts other than being a soft mystery. The characters are wooden, one dimensional, and just not strong enough to make the reader care much. Likewise, the plot is thin, and quite frankly, who cares who killed Chef Duquesne?

Here's the big but coming . . . But . . . the author includes the most mouth-watering recipes, all of which are incorporated into the story. Now, that is not an innovative idea; it has been done by many writers (including Patricia Cornwell, whose Kay Scarpetta loves to cook the most delectable Italian dishes). However, the detail with which the recipes are explained in Wedding Cake Murder, from where to purchase the ingredients to the type of beater needed to get the right texture for a particular cookie recipe, are fun to read and will make the reader want to run off to the kitchen and whip up at batch of Chips Galore Whippersnapper, Butterscotch Sugar, or Peanut Butter Potato Chip Cookies.

So now that you have the caveat (not a great story), Joanne Fluke's Wedding Cake Murder is worth checking out for its innovative recipes. And there you have it for today.

I am now off to the kitchen to test Hannah Swenson's Lunchbox Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies. I'll let you know what I think next time.

Bon appetite!