Baking, Cookies, and Murder REVIEWING Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder

Welcome back to The Real World According To Sam!

Today we're talking about detective fiction again. I'm still on the hunt for a really good detective/mystery series. I've been sampling random ones here and there this year, as you've seen if you've been following this blog pretty routinely. We've talked about a Hard Case Crime novel and a cozy mystery that I won. Neither was fantastic, both were just kind of okay, so let's see if today's book is any better. I checked out an eBook copy from my local library. 

Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder

Author: Joanne Fluke

Genre: Cozy Mystery

Year: 2000

Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder


Hannah Swenson 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.


Wow, that synopsis. All the taste and sugar references are amusing to me. They aren't hilarious, but they're themed and I appreciate the silliness and effort put into the theming. So this is a cozy mystery and based on the synopsis alone, I'm going to tell you that this is not a serious book by any means. It isn't meant to be humorous, but it isn't realistic. If you want a realistic murder mystery or detective novel, this isn't it. Realism is not this book's forte. Personally, this time around, I don't care if it is realistic or not (which is the gripe most readers and reviewers seem to have about it). I honestly just wanted a fun mystery where the case wasn't overly predictable and the main detective character wasn't obnoxious. Guess what? This book gave me exactly that.

Backtracking a bit, let's talk about the premise. Hannah Swenson is a baker. She has her own little bakery and cafe in a very small town. It is so small that everybody knows everybody and all the town gossip happens at Hannah's shop over people's coffees and pastries. Hannah is single, and her mother is always trying to set her up with somebody. Her mother has friends who have single sons, so naturally she wants to see if Hannah will be able to be with someone if she has any say in the matter. Hannah, as is natural, always feels awkward when her mother tries to set her up. Hannah's sister is married to a local police officer who is trying to move up to the role of detective. Hannah has a niece that she dotes on and loves very much. 

One morning, at the bakery, Hannah ends up coming across the body of the local deliveryman. She knows him, as does everybody else in town, and no one can think of why somebody would want to murder him. Nobody can think of who in town would be a murderer, because it is very quiet and nothing bad really happens there. Hannah isn't law enforcement by any means, but she is just much too curious to keep her nose out of the case. She tries her best to dig up info, does stupid things as a means of getting that info, and in the end solves the case. 

This one is pretty formulaic as far as mysteries and murders go. Body is found, clues eventually turn up or are dug up, investigations of some kind occur, and the case is solved. Nothing out of the ordinary here. Was it the dentist? Was it the dairy owner? Was it somebody else entirely? For a long while, I really didn't know who did it. That's what made me happiest. In the few books I've been reading in the genre lately, the endings have all been too predictable. I want some tougher clues, I want more red herrings, more reasonable alternate suspects with viable motives. This one does provide a lot of clues, but they come slowly and there is plenty of information to sift through. However, at the same time, part of the sidetracks to the crime, in my opinion, end up being how Hannah makes the decisions she does. In one instance, she decides she needs to scope out a certain location for she just...goes. She grabs her sister, grabs flashlights (because it is night time), and goes. They don't tell the police officer husband/brother-in-law, they don't tell anyone they're going out that way in general, they just go. This seems like a very needless risk, a stupid decision, and an amateur move. 

Speaking of amateurs, shall we review the rules of amateur detective fiction? I think yes: 

1. "There must be a crime"

Yep, we got one. Murdered deliveryman.

2. "There must be a detective, someone with superior powers of inductive and deductive reasoning, who is capable of solving the crime that baffles the official police system

Well, I don't know if I would say that Hannah has superior powers of inductive and deductive reasoning. She mainly just has access to a lot of information because she can bribe a lot of people with cookies and other sweets. The official police system is represented by the brother-in-law for the most part, but they seem pretty stumped since murders don't really happen in this town. 

3. "The police must be seen as either incompetent or as incapable of solving a certain type of complex crime

The brother-in-law gets all his major leads from a single baker with no official training so...I'd call that pretty incompetent. Honestly, he gets all his leads from her, and shares information with her, even after he knows that she goes off and does investigations on her own in dumb ways. The police element in this book is absurd. 

4. "The reader must be given all the information or 'clues' to be able to solve the crime"

 Yeah, I think I had them all, but I couldn't get the proper angle and Hannah was privy to a bit more personal knowledge of a particular item than I was. While I didn't nail down everything, I do think that the potential to reach the conclusion was present. 

5. "The detective must explain who the criminal is and the motive, means, and opportunity by the conclusion of the story" 

Yes, this definitely happened. We got it all wrapped up with a nice little bow. 

All of the above rules are listed in The Longman Anthology of Detective Fiction (Mansfield-Kelly & Marchino 25); there will be a full citation at the end of the post since I quoted from it. 

So, this is a legitimate amateur detective story. This one is the best of the three that I have read this year, thus far. It isn't realistic by any means, and how everyone in this town doesn't have cavities from how much Hannah bribes them with sweets, I will never know. Maybe the dentist is just really good at his job, unlike the police officers. Hannah manages to dig up a lot of personal information about all kinds of people in town, using just her pleasant demeanor and baked sugar. You would think it would be a bit harder than that, right? Guess not. Speaking of sugar, this book also has recipes throughout it that match whatever Hannah bakes. If you're into baking and mysteries, this aspect will probably be pretty thrilling. I didn't try out any of the recipes myself, and I have to eat gluten-free anyway. The recipes aren't adapted to that dietary need so even if I had tried them, they wouldn't be exactly to book specification. 

I honestly just wanted a mystery that wasn't predictable and where the character didn't completely annoy me. I liked Hannah. Even if she isn't always bright with her decisions, she means well and is a nice person. I couldn't predict the outcome, so I'm happy to overlook the lack of realism. My bar is a bit low this year so far, if you couldn't tell. This book was actually turned into a Hallmark Mystery movie, so naturally its relatively wholesome, apart from the murder portion. Maybe eventually I'll look into watching it and see how it was adapted, just for kicks. 

Ultimately, I give A Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder a Lone Star rating of ✯✯✯ and a half. It was better than the last two amateur detective books I read, but still wasn't the best of all detective novels I have read by any means. It is light and fun, but not realistic. If you want realism, don't get this book. If you just want a nice light mystery read for a weekend, this can do the trick well enough. I might try reading more books in this series, but I'm not fully decided on if I will or not yet. I'm just considering it. I might just try to sample some other mystery series and see what's out there. I'm open to suggestions!   

This concludes another review here at The Real World According To Sam, where I bring the books straight to your screen and even provide my own two cents about them.

Works Cited

Mansfield-Kelley, Deane and Lois A. Marchino. The Longman Anthology of Detective Fiction. Pearson, 2005.