Reading Joanne Fluke’s latest novel, Christmas Cake Murder, is a bit like jumping into a time-space continuum. After all, fans of her character, Hannah Swensen, are accustomed to her baking at The Cookie Jar, enjoying her nieces, and getting mixed up in murder. This book, however, takes us back to the beginning—before any of that started. At the end of this review, you’ll find a link to one of our favorite recipes from the book: Honey Apple Crisp.
A Step Back In Time
It’s a creative twist that allows the author to go back in time to give her readers a “back story” without altering anything essential about the characters. If anything, it give us more depth and appreciation for Hannah, her mother, her sisters, and the other residents of Lake Eden, Minnesota. It’s a pleasure to find out something new, particularly if you’ve been a fan of the close to 30 books about Hannah Swensen, or of the five movies that have been made (so far) for Hallmark Channel.
The book is a prequel, meaning we meet sisters Michelle and Lisa while they are still in high school, and Hannah just as she moves home after . . . well, we won’t spoil it for any new readers by explaining just why Hannah came home. It does a great job of setting up Hannah’s propensity for what will, in the future, be called her “slaydar”—meaning her habit of finding bodies even in her quiet Minnesota town.
Hannah Expands Her Culinary Repertoire
What’s more, there are some recipes in this book that allow Hannah to branch out a bit from cookies, showcasing some great cake recipes and some of the mouth-watering dinners she fixes for her family, and there are some cookie recipes, too! The book contains 14 original recipes, including “Cashew Butter Blossom Cookies,” “Melt-in-Your Mouth Pork Roast,” and “Ultimate Lemon Bundt Cake.” All of the recipes, as in all of the books in the series, include step-by-step instructions written in Hannah’s style, making it easy to follow even the most complicated recipe. No worries, though, as most of them are simple and have ingredients easily found at your own local version of the Red Owl Grocery.
As a fan of culinary fiction, my bookshelves (and Kindle) are filled with novels that play on every possible cooking term that mixes with murder—many of them too outlandish to be believable. When it comes to Fluke’s characters, however, they are realistically written, with human flaws, tricky family relationships, and all. After a while it doesn’t even seem unusual for a quaint small winter-wonderland type of town to have more than its share of murderers!
A Culinary Mystery—With Recipes
Christmas Cake Murder is, at its heart, a story within a story, and both tales engage you and carry you along as the stories unfold. For those who are already Hannah fans, it’s nice to go back in time and understand the beginnings of The Cookie Jar, seeing it with fresh eyes and a new appreciation for Hannah and her family.
Fluke, which is her pen name, is a prolific writer, with, by our count, 27 Hannah Swenson books and short stories/culinary mysteries plus a series of Regency romances and a few thrillers. Christmas Cake Murder is her second book to come out in 2018—in fact, Raspberry Danish Murder is not even available yet in paperback. Plus, she has a new book already available for pre-order, Chocolate Cream Pie Murder.
For those who can’t wait to find out what Hannah does “next,” a new book is always a welcome addition. Even when it takes us back in time.
Don’t Miss Earlier Food Channel Coverage of “Murder She Baked”