Hannah Swensen faces two dilemmas in her latest tasty mystery. The first is to pick Best of Show in the baking contest at the Tri-County Fair in her hometown of Eden Lake, Minnesota. The second is to discover who bludgeoned her fellow judge, Willa Sunquist, to death in the dark.
Hannah is accustomed to being up to her elbows in pastry dough, but she finds herself almost over her head in trouble when she is the unwitting witness to murder on the midway. Who would want to kill a popular junior college teacher who volunteers to judge cookies and cakes, and serves as a counselor to the beauty contest? Surely no one would kill over a to-die-for cream pie recipe. But might a spurned young lady kicked out of the contest for misbehavior bludgeon Willa to death in the dark? Did Willa, like Hannah, witness a crime? Does Willa have unknown enemies who seek revenge? The clues pile up and the list of suspects grows as Hannah and her on-again-off-again flame, Sheriff Mike, uncover Willa's colorful and previously undisclosed past.
Meanwhile, Lake Eden's citizens are buzzing with equal measures of gossip and speculation about who will take ribbons at the fair and who killed the schoolteacher. Hannah's large extended family looks to her to solve their problems, from standing in for her claustrophobic sister in her brother-in-law's amateur magic act to serving as a target in her mother's charity dunking booth. All this while she frets over the health of her beloved cat, Moise, who is being looked after by the other main man in her life, Norman, the handsome and kindly veterinarian who would marry her in a minute.
There are two more issues for Hannah to resolve --- one is immediate and the other will color her entire future. She dances tantalizingly close to indulging in a sinful deep fried Milky Way bar while she fulfills her judging duties and solves the mystery. She is comically caught red-handed each time she nears Ruby's Candy booth by her mother and both of her love interests, each of whom are more interested in her well-being than is Hannah. More compelling is her decision over which of Eden Lake's most eligible bachelors she will choose.
With the locale of the mystery a county fair baking contest, devoted Hannah Swensen fans will be happy to find 16 scrumptious prize-winning recipes sprinkled generously throughout the pages. You'll even spot one for Ruby's Deep Fried Candy Bars. I can personally attest to the success of the popovers as my grandson and I delighted the family with that dish at last night's supper table.
As for the choice between Mike and Norman, stay tuned.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on February 1, 2008