Joanne Fluke's latest installment in her Hannah Swensen Mystery series begins on a hot muggy evening in Lake Eden, Minnesota, where Hannah operates a successful bakery. On this night, she will be going to a party celebrating the grand opening of the refurbished Albion Hotel, with her famous Red Velvet cupcakes being served in the hotel’s new Red Velvet lounge. Hannah prefers to remain in the background but reluctantly readies herself to attend because her cupcakes will take the limelight.
"RED VELVET CUPCAKE MURDER is a spicy mystery and a quick read, which fans of the series will find highly entertaining."
But then her sister, Andrea, bursts through the door with a shocking message from their mother. “She’s back,” Andrea declares. An infamous woman known as “Dr. Bev” has returned to Lake Eden and is believed set on revenge against Hannah. Andrea, a realtor servicing a contract for wealthy entrepreneur Roger Dalworth, learns that Dr. Bev is her client’s recent fiancée, and they will attend the hotel gala together. Roger invites guests to his party who can afford the pricey tags on the condos he plans to sell there. When Hannah has been ensured that her cupcakes are amply displayed, she and Andrea take the elevator up to the penthouse to view the renovations. They gingerly skirt a barrier on the terrace and view the lake in the distance, which is a stunning sight.
At the party, Hannah talks with her current boyfriend, Norman, dances with the sheriff, and makes small talk with Dr. Bev, who preens on Roger’s arm but flirts openly with Norman. Barbara Donnelly, Sheriff Mike’s secretary, tells the group that she wants to go up to the penthouse to check out the view and thus boards the elevator. Soon after, Barbara’s body hurtles downward and onto a rosebush, ending face-down and not moving. Although near death, she does survive but is badly bruised and shaken by her experience, convinced that someone is trying to kill her.
Meanwhile, Hannah finds that Dr. Bev has tried to entice her former lover, Norman, back into her good graces. Hannah visits Barbara at the hospital, leaves there and drives around the lake. She sees evidence that a car has taken the curve too fast and its driver may be in trouble. She pulls over, pushes aside broken branches, and gasps in horror at the car in the bottom of Miller’s Pond. Instinctively, she kicks off her shoes and heads into the pond, swimming to help the blond driver, who is still latched in the driver’s seat. With Herculean effort, she pulls the dead weight from the car and carries the woman to the shore. The victim appears to be none other than Dr. Bev.
Sheriff Mike has accepted Hannah’s skills in solving previous crimes but now seems reluctant. Her intuitive mind has given him support in numerous pastry-related murders. The coroner’s report spotlights Hannah as a perpetrator rather than a problem-solver. Dr. Bev has been poisoned, likely by something she ingested from a Red Velvet cupcake.
Despite the support she receives from her myriad of friends, Hannah is determined to prove her innocence. She dives relentlessly into the details, knowing that the sheriff would rather not accept her interference. The devious routes taken to solve Dr. Bev’s death and Barbara’s attempted murder lead to food and its preparation. Heavy tranquilizers have been baked into the cupcakes Barbara ate and mixed with alcohol.
RED VELVET CUPCAKE MURDER is a spicy mystery and a quick read, which fans of the series will find highly entertaining. Hannah’s recipes pop up throughout the book between chapters and are just as enticing as the story itself. Delicacies such as cupcakes, brownies, muffins and cookies will return me to the pages long after the murder has been solved.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on March 29, 2013