Strawberry Shortcake Murder: A Hannah Swensen Mystery (Book 2) by Joanne Fluke
Publication Date: March 1, 2001
Length: 296 pages
I admit I had already watched all the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries movies starring Alison Sweeney when I read the first Hannah Swensen book. So I had a pretty biased view of what the main character would look like, sound like, and act like. I also didn't start with book one because that exact story had been made into a movie and I figured I already knew how the mystery was solved. I plan to read it eventually as I think there are some small details one misses when jumping into the second book.
These books are just fun! If you are going to the beach or maybe are just looking for a totally easy read to fill a long afternoon then I recommend reading one. You could almost classify them as Young Adult Fiction because they really are simplistic in dialogue and plot. But when you add in the charming aspects of small town life, recurring characters, recipes, and the murder mystery I'd say they are cozy mystery fiction for anyone. They are pretty clean with little to complain about if you don't like bad language or gory details. You will definitely come away feeling like you've just watched a nice story unfold and it will make you smile.
In this story we find our heroine, Hannah Swensen busy with her baking and minding her successful shop, The Cookie Jar. She is in the middle of judging the first ever Hartland Flour annual dessert bake-off and is also showing off some of her tried and true recipes on the local news program. When one of the judges is murdered and found face down in her strawberry shortcake, his wife is accused of the crime. Hannah is a friend and as such she feels an obligation to clear the woman's name and find the real murderer. She begins to investigate with the help of her plucky sister, Andrea, and her reliable assistant, Lisa. Along the way she antagonizes the local detective, Mike Kingston by rarely listening to his advice not to get involved. She is also caught up in a love triangle involving the local dentist, Norman Rhodes and Mike who are as different as cookies and celery. Throughout the story her mother Dolores tries to wheedle her into accepting the attention of Norman who she feels is the better catch. Dolores is always trying to marry Hannah off and to make over her simplistic style into the flashier, more feminine way she thinks is best. Hannah is not easily manipulated by anyone in her life and stubbornly pursues the clues until the murderer is caught and brought to justice.
The author does a good job of describing the scenery and setting up an authentic description of small town life. Her details about navigating winter in Minnesota ring true and give a glimpse into the rural midwest that many people might not otherwise know about. She adds cute touches with Hannah's beloved cat, Moishe and his snobby, house cat personality. The people she describes feel homey and innocent, like watching an Andy Griffith episode, and yet, when Hannah is caught in dicey situations with the shady characters, one still manages to feel an apprehension for how she will escape.
The added bonus of course are the recipes found at the end of each chapter. Any time Hannah is creating in her bakery you can be assured the steps for the delicious dessert will be found in the book. It's just a fun little extra I like even though I haven't yet tried any of them.
My biggest complaint about the books is that the author does way too much explaining. Instead of just writing a thought Hannah might be having and letting the reader interpret the hidden meaning, we are subjected to an often lengthy follow up of details that are unnecessary unless you are a very young or inexperienced reader. It is for this reason that I would almost classify it as Young Adult fiction. But although it is irritating and sometimes a bit distracting, it doesn't keep me from reading the books altogether. Just know going in if you are used to mystery books which use a lot of vague clues and innuendo throughout the story you might find yourself rolling your eyes sometimes. And thinking, "yes, I know that!"
I definitely plan to read the first book and then move on to number three. These are going to be great for a pick me up when the days grow dark early and I'm swamped with school and Mom issues in my busy life. Just like Hannah's recipes, they are comforting and predictable and sometimes we all need some of that!