Christmas Caramel Murder by Joanne Fluke
Reviewed by Gerti
The latest offering from Joanne Fluke, starring her cooking-baking crime solver Hannah Swensen, is a little shorter than her fans may be used to. Oh, it still has the dozen odd recipes that are purportedly from Swensen’s Minnesota-based bakery, called “The Cookie Jar”. And it still has the requisite murder, generally of some evil outsider who has invaded the pleasant Midwestern paradise that is Lake Eden. It even has Swensen’s cat Moishe (thankfully now playing a smaller part in the stories!) and Hannah’s two competing boyfriends, Mike (the hunky cop) and Norman (the thoughtful dentist). What it doesn’t have is bang for your buck. There are only around 150 odd pages of real story here. If you take out the 3 - 6 pages taken up by each recipe, that’s barely a full-length novel.
While I love Fluke’s uncomplicated writing style – her words go down as smoothly as whipped cream on a Dunkin Donuts hot chocolate in the wintertime – I sense that this book was whipped up just as quickly in order to be fed to the Christmas book-buying public. Fluke has cooked up a mystery a year at least since she invented her curly-headed culinary crime solver, with varying degrees of success. Some mysteries fall as flat as a noise-affected soufflé. Others are as rich as a triple-chocolate brownie. I love the idea of combining cookbooks and mysteries, and have to confess that I have copied down and even tried some of the recipes she touts – with varying degrees of success.
But I resent an author is who writes a book solely for the money. Yes, I understand. Every writer has to make a living, and some probably make a better living than others. But I can still dislike it when mass-market authors like Joanne Fluke and Mary Higgins Clark fail to turn in a quality product because they are now writing holiday books to please their publishers. Mary Higgins Clark and her daughter have been doing it for years, getting together to write skinny little Christmas books that frankly aren’t worth reading. What’s next? Robin Cook writing a cutting-edge holiday medical mystery? “Coma at Christmastime”? Yes, it’s a bit of a rant, but I’m entitled. This practice is not fair to faithful readers.
Fluke has written a book that takes only a few hours to read, and maybe that’s a good thing at Christmas, when most people have cards to write and real cookies to bake. But if I had purchased this book, and not just borrowed it from the library, I would have felt ripped off. I see in the backcover blurb that they are now making movies on Hallmark Channel of Fluke’s foodie mysteries, and I’m hoping if she makes enough money out of that venture she’ll go back to writing her mysteries with more substance than fluff. None of her books are going to earn her the Nobel Prize in Literature, let’s face it. But this puny book would hardly get her an “A” for effort as a senior project in English class.