I started reading the Hannah Swensen mystery series several months ago based on the recommendation of a friend, and even though I wasn’t particularly overawed by author Joanne Fluke’s writing style, I find that these types of novels are good enough to listen to on my iPod during workouts or house cleaning sessions. Once I discovered that my public library stocks the audiobooks and I could get them for free, I decided to keep going with the series.
That’s how I recently came to finish Blueberry Muffin Murder, the third Hannah Swensen mystery from Fluke. Like its predecessors, the book follows a pretty specific formula, which almost makes me think that Fluke has a template or something for these novels. As they say, familiarity breeds contempt, and since I felt that I’d read it all before in Fluke’s previous books, I didn’t enjoy Blueberry Muffin Murder very much at all.
Plot summary (with possible spoilers): It’s time for the First Annual Lake Eden Winter Carnival, an event designed to boost the town’s usually sluggish winter economy. Hannah Swensen, owner of The Cookie Jar, welcomes the extra business now that the holiday rush is over. She’ll be baking cookies for all of the hospitality tents, and has also been asked to escort TV cooking show personality Connie MacIntyre, who had agreed to put in an appearance at the Winter Carnival in order to promote her cookbooks and her new shop at the local mall, around to the various Carnival venues.
Though everyone else in Lake Eden seems starstruck whenever they encounter Connie Mac, Hannah sees right through the glamor and glitz to the egotistical, domineering control freak within. Connie Mac bosses people around, fires staff members on a whim, and is a master manipulator. So when she’s found dead in the kitchen of The Cookie Jar, with one of Hannah’s famous blueberry muffins in hand, there’s no lack of potential suspects.
Of course, Hannah discovers the body and since the murder occurred in her place of business, she feels she has every right to get involved in the investigation, despite objections from detectives Bill Todd (her brother-in-law) and Mike Kingston (her sometime boyfriend). As with the last two novels, everyone Hannah questions actually gives her answers, so it’s no surprise that she manages to solve the case well before Bill and Mike — who are noticeably absent from the action.
As with the two previous novels in the series, there aren’t any real twists or turns along the way. Just the usual routine of Hannah (and Andrea) identifying suspects, establishing timelines, and questioning suspects in order to eliminate them from the list immediately.
My Reaction: As I said above, there is definitely a formula to the Hannah Swensen series, and it’s starting to wear out its welcome. I’m not sure if this is the norm for so-called “cozy mysteries” or not, but I don’t really like this approach. For instance, why does Hannah always have to be the one to find the bodies of the murder victims? I understand that Fluke is mainly going for laughs with this particular angle (as evidenced by Doris’s repeated exhortations for Hannah to just stop it already), but this has moved beyond ridiculous and into eyeroll territory. Please don’t tell me Fluke continues this trend in every single book.
Another thing I don’t get is why nobody even raises an eyebrow about all the murders in Lake Eden. It seems that only six months or so have passed during the first three books of the series, meaning that there have been six or seven bodies found in that time. Wouldn’t this unusually high number of murders put a sleepy town like Lake Eden, MN in the national news? I find it hard to believe that no one thinks it’s odd that all of these murders are taking place in such an unlikely location. Yeah, these novels aren’t supposed to reflect “real life”, but still….
Also, I’m beginning to get annoyed with the way Fluke constantly hammers people over the head with certain points that she wants to communicate. Like with Andrea’s pregnancy thing. How many scenes did we have to have of Andrea pigging out on french fries, donuts, pancakes, cookies, and other junk food? She’s pregnant, we get it already!
And again, Fluke’s choice to make four-year-old Tracy sound completely unlike any other child out there just boggles my mind. A typical question from this kid is, “Why are you grinning like that, Aunt Hannah?” Who uses the word “grinning” instead of “smiling”? Not 4-year-old kids, that’s for sure. It’s one of those words that appears far more often in print than in spoken conversation — but not in Fluke’s world. Yet another eyeroll-inducing moment in a book chock full of them.
Overall, I was extremely disappointed by Blueberry Muffin Murder. I don’t read Fluke’s books expecting to be treated to a masterpiece, but I don’t want something straight off the assembly line either. Use the cookie cutters for your dessert recipes, not your novels!