So my first attempt at reading a “cozy mystery” flopped big time, despite the much-anticipated union of food and mystery. Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder moved very slowly and wasn’t as exciting as I expected; the narrative bogged down the story and overpowered the few action and dialogue scenes. The “mystery” part of the story could have been better executed, and the characters – even the protagonist! – lacked depth and seemed very single-minded. I feel like I didn’t have to use my brain at all because it was all written out for me. The one thing that kept me reading was the “food,” and I can’t wait to try out the recipes (mmm, pecan chews)!
Hannah Swensen runs The Cookie Jar, a bakery and coffee shop in small-town Lake Eden, Minnesota. Everything was nice and peaceful until Ron LaSalle, the well-liked dairy delivery man, ends up dead behind her shop with a gunshot wound to the heart. As Hannah uses her irresistible cookies and her quick wit to help her detective brother-in-law find the murderer, Hannah has to also keep her matchmaking mother at bay, deal with the affections of two men, and rack her brain for more unique dessert recipes to keep her customers happy.
The first thing I noticed while reading Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder was the writing style, which I’d probably call “gossipy” in the sense that I am told every character’s history, thoughts, and opinions right off the bat. And there’s no filter to it: even superfluous details and rumors about so-and-so’s affairs that have nothing to do with the plot (about characters who have nothing to do with the plot) are included, and that gets very distracting. In addition, every single action is noted, which leads to a much stronger emphasis on the narrative than on the action or the dialogue, slowing down the pace of the story significantly. Take the following scene as an example:
Hannah removed three eggs from the refrigerator behind the counter and dropped them, shells and all, into the bowl with the coffee grounds. Then she broke them open with a heavy spoon and added a dash of salt. Once she’d mixed up the eggs and shells with the coffee grounds, Hannah scraped the contents of the bowl into the basket and flipped on the switch to start the coffee.
And by the time the first recipe sheet shows up, scenes like the one above just don’t interest me anymore because there’s already so much detail in the recipes. And speaking of the food, it looks like Hannah’s cookies are magical because when she gives them to people, people tell her everything and get so distracted that she might as well have given them drugs or something. WHICH IS SO TRUE, because the recipes look sooooo good and I wish I had the ingredients to make everything because oh my gosh I basically drooled over all the pages gahhh.
In terms of the characters, they either lack flaws or are full of them. Hannah is basically a know-it-all smarty-pants who is umpteenth times more intelligent than anyone else in Lake Eden, making everyone else look like easily manipulable puppets on a string. The characters are also very transparent because they look “positively betrayed” or relieved or disappointed whenever they feel it. The lack of the need to think on my part also made me less attached to the characters, even the protagonist, which should never happen in a book.
The mystery itself is laid out in a unidirectional manner: there is only one way to go. Hannah interviews someone in the town, whom then leads her to someone else, and so on and so on. Then these characters never show up again in the story. Even though this seems simple, there’s a major twist at the end of Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder which shouldn’t have happened because I was not properly prepared for it. AT ALL. It really came out of nowhere, and no matter how hard I could have dwelled over the first part of the story, it wouldn’t have led me to the ending.
The action scenes also aren’t very realistic, and there is really no gore or blood or actual witness of a shooting throughout the book. I’m guessing this is typical of a “cozy mystery”? But yeah, I just didn’t feel the surprise, suspense, or apprehension I do when I usually read mysteries. The strongest emotion I felt while reading Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder was disbelief at the ending.
Oh, and there’s some unbelievably awkward romance in this too... reminds me of gawky teenagers at the first school dance. Eep!
A cutesy novella, Candy for Christmas, is included at the end of the book. It still has the same unrealistic scenes and know-it-all protagonist, but it’s sweet and full of fluff and holiday spirits, so I liked it a little more than the main story.
I’m sure Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder and the Hannah Swensen series appeals to many readers – this first book, however, didn’t make me feel the same way. The mystery wasn’t as well-written and exciting as I had hoped, but I might come crawling back for the food!
Have you read Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, any of the books in the Hannah Swensen series, or “cozy mysteries” in general? Do you like reading about food and recipes in novels?