Goodreads: Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder
Series: Hannah Swensen #1
Published: April 1, 2000
Hannah Swensen already has her hands full, between dodging her mother’s attempts to marry her off, and running Lake Eden, Minnesota’s most popular bakery, The Cookie Jar. But when the Cozy Cow Dairy’s beloved deliveryman is found murdered behind Hannah’s bakery with her famous Chocolate Chip Crunchies scattered around him, Hannah sets out to track down a killer. The more Hannah snoops, the more suspects turn up. This is one murder that’s starting to leave a very bad taste in Hannah’s mouth, and if she doesn’t watch her back, her sweet life may get burned to a crisp.
After enjoying a few Agatha Christie novels, I thought I might branch out into other adult mystery writers. I started with Joanna Fluke because I’ve often seen her books displayed face-out at the library, tempting me with illustrations of desserts and the promise of sweet-themed mysteries. Unfortunately, I found both the plot and the prose of The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder to be lackluster, and I will not be continuing with the author or the series.
I complain about bad prose in YA books frequently, but The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder is a great example of an adult novel that also has unsophisticated, or perhaps just irritating prose. Choppy sentences and the unnatural tendency of characters to use each other’s name at the end of nearly every sentence made my eyes twitch a bit, but I might have overlooked this is the plot had been more captivating.
As it was, I found the plot surprisingly linear for a mystery. As I said, my primary experience with adult mystery novels (particularly ones without thriller elements) is with Agatha Christie, and I was expecting a story structured like one of hers, ones with red herrings and twists and turns that would make it seem like everyone or no one could be the culprit and leave me intrigued but stumped. Instead, I got a story where the protagonist posits a theory, checks it out, discards it, posits a new theory, checks it out, discards it. Rinse, wash, repeat. I imagine this structure might actually mirror a real-life investigation, but it makes for somewhat dull reading. There is also not much room for the reader to participate in the speculation and figure out who committed the crime.
I also was not enthralled with the speculation. The main character is 28 or 29, but she does not always act like it. She surprisingly exhibits some of the same naivete I have rolled my eyes at in YA books, where others might explain it away as “the characters being young.” Here, Hannah really has no excuse for starting to investigate a murder and being surprised/shocked/absolutely stunned by the idea that it might be dangerous. She also has no excuse for going around interrogating everyone, asking them pointed questions like what they were doing at the time of the murder and whether they can provide a witness to verify their alibi and thinking she’s being incredibly clever and under-the-radar and that no one would ever suspect she was investigating the murder. It is all definitely a secret that she is helping the police with this. The actual detective is, of course, close to useless, a classic mystery stereotype.
So, I was not a fan. The book has its merits, and the series has been made in a television series, which I can imagine being pretty cool if the writers adapt the source material for me, but I won’t be reading anything more by Fluke. I’ve made comparisons to YA a few times throughout the review because naysayers obviously like to accuse YA of being poorly written as if adult books are great art, and The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder is just a great example of how books for adults can also be underwhelming and, frankly, illogical.