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The Golden Spoon


The Golden Spoon

Knives Out meets “The Great British Bake Off” in Jessa Maxwell’s stylish, suspenseful and methodically plotted THE GOLDEN SPOON.

Six amateur bakers have arrived on the grounds of Grafton Manor in the green hills of Vermont to take part in “Bake Week,” a reality show that has become television's most-watched baking competition. Hosted by “America’s Grandmother,” Betsy Martin, an esteemed baker and Grafton's owner, the program has set itself apart from the competition by being gentle, with a focus on craft rather than embarrassing contestants or pitting them against one another in ugly, combative ways. Although she is sweet on camera, it is no secret that Betsy has worked hard for her empire, churning out bestselling cookbooks, breaking the mold with her unusual reality show, and even going so far as to film in her beloved family home.

"Led by a truly fantastic and eccentric cast, this locked-room whodunit is a stylish, addictive and deeply satisfying puzzle. Maxwell somehow manages to infuse a tense, somewhat dangerous plot with the air of a cozy mystery without sacrificing any of the intrigue or suspense."

What is a secret, however, is just how desperately Betsy needs “Bake Week” to keep her sprawling manor afloat…and that its ratings have been dropping, forcing producers to call in backup in the form of a new co-host. A Gordon Ramsey/Anthony Bourdain type, Archie Morris hosted his own show, “Cutting Board.” In this macho, cutthroat competition, viewers rooted not for the panicked, backstabbing chefs, but for Archie, who is known for unleashing torrents of abuse upon disappointing dishes and their chefs. Needless to say, season 10 of Betsy’s beloved show will be a difficult one.

As always, the bakers this year are from all walks of life, backgrounds and experience levels. First, we have Stella Velasquez, a former journalist who challenged herself to master the art of baking in just one year and, by all accounts, succeeded. Still reeling from a difficult termination of her job, she has found a nearly obsessive comfort in all things Betsy Martin, and she knows this is her chance to meet and befriend her idol.

Up next is Hannah Severson, a perky baker from Eden Lake, Minnesota, who happens to be the second youngest contestant in “Bake Week” history. The pride and joy of her local diner, Hannah is ready to shed her girl-next-door persona and become the next big star. She is the polar opposite of Gerald Baptiste, a high school teacher whose love of baking stems not from a sweet tooth but from an appreciation of figures, facts and formulas. Pradyumna Das, a millionaire entrepreneur, is an unlikely competitor, but his free-spirited approach to flavor combinations and genuine love of the art makes him a worthy opponent.

Rounding out the group are Lottie Byrne, a retired mother who specializes in classic recipes with a contemporary edge, and Peter Gellar, a construction worker whose methodical approach to restoring old buildings applies perfectly to his love of baking and creating love-filled dishes for his husband and adopted daughter.

Switching off between each of the competitors and Betsy, Maxwell invites readers into the high-stakes world of reality television, but with a coziness typically missing from these sorts of locked-room suspense novels. The tension is there, cresting in the persistent presence of cameramen, the countdown of the clock during each bake-off, and the characters’ realizations that while they are all friendly, they are also each other’s competition. But Maxwell takes the time to properly introduce readers to each character, giving us a reason to root for them and revealing that most of them are hiding something.

No one seems to be out to harm anyone directly, yet strange happenings occur from the very first day of filming. Peter’s sugar is switched with salt, Gerald’s homemade orange essence is replaced with gasoline, Stella’s range is turned up so high that it burns her peaches, and so on. It doesn’t seem like something Betsy would do to her guests, and even Archie appears to be too full of himself to stoop to such petty games. So who is sabotaging “Bake Week,” and why?

As tensions rise and competitors are eliminated, the gang dwindles down to only four bakers. With the decadent scents of their confections wafting over the dazzlingly green grounds of Grafton Manor, it becomes clear that something sinister is afoot. This fact is made undeniable when a body turns up on the roof of the filming tent, dripping blood onto the otherwise spotless bakers’ stations. But in this mystery, everyone is a suspect, and anyone could be the next to be sent home.

Led by a truly fantastic and eccentric cast, this locked-room whodunit is a stylish, addictive and deeply satisfying puzzle. Maxwell somehow manages to infuse a tense, somewhat dangerous plot with the air of a cozy mystery without sacrificing any of the intrigue or suspense. The result is deliciously entertaining. I read the book in one sitting, only putting it down to debate whether or not I could squeeze in an episode of “The Great British Bake Off” before deciding that I simply couldn’t turn to anything else until I figured out who was killed, who committed the murder, and, of course, who ultimately wins the Golden Spoon.

THE GOLDEN SPOON is written with the complexity and taut plotting of Lucy Foley and Sandie Jones. With its atmospheric setting, reality TV cast and a captivating mystery, it’s a recipe for deliciously fun fiction that you’ll find as addicting as your favorite sweet treat.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on March 25, 2023

The Golden Spoon
by Jessa Maxwell

  • Publication Date: March 7, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • ISBN-10: 1668008009
  • ISBN-13: 9781668008003