It’s been a sleepy summer for the folks of Lake Eden, Minnesota. In fact, it's been a whole four months since anyone in the Swensen family has come across a dead body—a detail that just made the front page of the local paper. And that means Hannah Swensen can finally focus on her bakery…or can she?
Life is never really quiet for Hannah. After all, her mother's wedding is about a month away and guess who’s in charge of the planning? Just when Hannah believes her biggest challenge will be choosing buttercream or fondant for the cake, she accidentally hits a stranger with her cookie truck while driving down a winding country road in a raging thunderstorm. Hannah is wracked with guilt, and things get even worse when she's arrested—for murder! But an autopsy soon reveals the mystery man, his shirt covered in stains from blackberry pie, would have died even if Hannah hadn’t hit him. Now, to clear her name, she’ll have to follow a trail of pie crumbs to track down the identity of the deceased, find out how he wound up in her path—and get herself to the church on time…
“If your reading habits alternate between curling up with a good mystery or with a good cookbook, you ought to know about Joanne Fluke.”—Charlotte Observer
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Blackberry Pie Murder
By JOANNE FLUKE
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 H.L. Swensen, Inc.
All rights reserved.
And you actually believed Mother?!" Hannah Swensen stared at her sister in complete amazement.
"Well ... yes." Andrea shifted slightly on her stool at the stainless steel work island in Hannah's industrial kitchen at The Cookie Jar.
"Let me get this straight." Hannah's youngest sister, Michelle, looked every bit as astounded as Hannah did. "You trusted Mother when she promised not to interfere with the plans we're making for her wedding?"
"Yes. I know it sounds stupid of me, but Mother said it in front of everyone at the table. And she seemed completely sincere."
"I'm sure she was sincere ... at the time," Hannah agreed. "But sincerity isn't the issue here. Personality is. Mother's a buttinski. That's the way she is and she can't help it."
Michelle nodded. "All you have to do is look at her track record. Did you really believe she'd let us arrange everything and just show up for the ceremony?"
"Well ... no. Not when you put it that way. But she said she wanted a fall wedding and I chose fall colors for the flowers. I had beautiful bronze asters and yellow and orange chrysanthemums. Mother loves chrysanthemums. She told me they were her favorite flower just last week!"
Hannah gave a little snort. "Maybe they were ... last week. But this is this week. Why don't you try her out on roses? They come in all sorts of designer colors."
"Do you think she'll go for it?" Andrea asked, but neither of her sisters replied. Instead, they simply stared at her in utter disbelief. Then, almost in tandem, they shook their heads. It took a moment, but Andrea started to laugh. "You're right. Mother won't approve of any flowers I choose, at least not today. I'll suggest the roses and let her reject them."
"Makes sense to me," Hannah said, exchanging smiles with Michelle. Hannah's youngest sister was on a summer break from college and she was in town for two weeks before she had to go back to start the fall semester. She'd spent the previous night with her friend, Carly Richardson, who was undergoing a big change in her family dynamics.
"I didn't get a chance to ask you when I came in," Andrea addressed Michelle. "How's Jennifer Richardson doing?"
"She's doing a lot better than I expected. She's fitting right in, almost as if she never left. And I could tell that Loretta's really happy she's home. Carly told me she really likes Jennifer, but I know it's a big adjustment for her. For most of her life, Carly was like an only child."
"How old was Carly when Jennifer ran away?"
"She was four. There's almost ten years between them, and Jennifer ran away right after her fourteenth birthday."
"Then Loretta is handling it all right?" Hannah asked.
"Oh, yes. Carly says it was a big shock when her mother got that call from Jennifer, but she always believed that Jennifer would come back home someday."
All three Swensen daughters were silent for a moment, thinking about the troubles that the Richardson family had endured. It had started when Jennifer had run away from home, and it had reached a crescendo of hurt when Loretta's husband and Carly's father, Wes Richardson, had fatally shot himself in the hayloft of the barn six months to the day after Jennifer had run away. Somehow, through it all, Loretta had carried on, raising Carly and supporting them both by using the life insurance money that Wes had left her to become a full partner at Trudi's Fabrics.
"Will you tell Carly to call me if there's anything I can do for them?" Andrea asked Michelle.
"Sure. I'll tell Carly."
"The same goes for me," Hannah said. Michelle, Carly and Tricia Barthel had been fast friends in school, and Hannah had always been fond of Carly. "Now let's get back to the wedding plans before Mother gets here," she said, bringing them back to the subject at hand. "How are you coming along with the bridesmaid dresses, Michelle?"
"I'm not. Mother says she wants our dresses to match the flowers so I have to wait until she makes up her mind about them. The only thing is, Claire says it'll be a special order if we want three dresses exactly the same, and special orders take at least three weeks."
"No flowers and no dresses." Andrea was clearly frustrated as she ticked them off on her fingers. "If Mother doesn't start cooperating with us, this wedding isn't going to happen."
"At least she finally approved the menu for the reception," Michelle said, obviously trying to look on the bright side. But then she noticed Hannah's exasperated expression. "The menu's not set?"
"Not anymore. Mother called me yesterday and said she didn't want the standing rib roast. So far, she's rejected beef, pork, lamb, and poultry including Doc's favorite, Rock Cornish Game Hens."
"Then the only thing left is fish," Andrea pointed out.
"I know. I'm going to try to talk her into poached salmon with champagne sauce. Sally says she can do that for a large crowd."
"I think Mother likes salmon," Michelle said, but she didn't look convinced. "Do you think she'll go for it?"
"We'll find out in a couple of min ..." Hannah stopped in mid-sentence when there was a sharp knock at the back door. "That must be Mother now. Andrea? Will you please get the door? And if you'll pour her coffee, Michelle, I'll dish up some Chocolate-Covered Cherry Cookies. Maybe a couple of her favorite cookies will make her more cooperative."
Hannah had just finished plating the cookies when the kitchen door opened and she heard Andrea greet their mother.
"I've never been so embarrassed in my life!" Delores Swensen swept into the kitchen with the force of a hurricane. "This is absolutely ridiculous!"
"Sit down, Mother." Andrea gestured toward a stool at the work island.
"I poured your coffee, Mother," Michelle said, setting the mug in front of her mother.
"And I baked your favorite cookies," Hannah added, setting the plate directly in front of her mother.
"I'm far too upset to eat. Or sit. Or even drink coffee, for that matter."
All three sisters exchanged puzzled glances. Their mother was obviously agitated. Delores Swensen was always perfectly dressed and coiffed when she left her house, but this morning the scarf at her neck was crooked, her blouse wasn't tucked in all the way, and even more alarming, she wasn't wearing any makeup!
"You're not wearing makeup," Hannah said, commenting on her mother's less-than-perfect appearance.
"I didn't have time to put it on. I just rushed right over here to show you. Have you girls seen this atrocity?"
Hannah looked up at the paper Delores was waving over her head like a saber. "Is that the Lake Eden Journal?" she hazarded a guess.
"Yes! And I'm never going to speak to Rod Metcalf again!" Delores named the editor and owner of the town newspaper. "He's nothing but a ... a snake in the grass!"
Hannah didn't want to ask, but her younger sisters were silent and someone had to find out what was wrong. "I'm not sure what you're talking about, Mother. What did Rod do?"
"He wrote this!" Delores slammed the paper down on the stainless steel surface in front of Hannah. "Just read it and you'll see what I mean!"
Hannah glanced at the headline. "Jordan High Gulls Win Three Games in a Row?" she asked, reading it aloud.
"Not that one!"
"Loretta Richardson Never Lost Hope That Her Daughter Would Come Home?"
"Not that one, either! Read the article below it. I've never been so mortified in my entire life!"
"When Is the Next One? No Body Nose!" Hannah read the heading on the article halfway down the page.
"Yes! That awful man ridiculed us! I don't know what you girls are going to do about this, but I plan to pull the curtains closed and never leave my house again! I don't appreciate being the object of public mockery!"
Hannah's sisters were regarding her curiously and Hannah began reading the article aloud. "It's been over four months since a member of the Swensen family has sniffed out the body of a murder victim," she began, but Delores held up a hand to stop her.
"Reading it once was quite enough for me. I don't want to hear it again!"
"I understand," Hannah said, even though she was secretly amused at Rod's heading No Body Nose and his reference to sniffing out murder victims. Although it took a great deal of restraint on her part, she kept a solemn expression on her face as she pushed the cookie plate a bit closer to her mother. "I baked these just for you, Mother."
"All right, dear. I'll have one. I wouldn't want to hurt your feelings."
Hannah breathed a sigh of relief as her mother reached for a cookie. Perhaps the endorphins in the chocolate would have a calming effect. Then she spread out the newspaper in the center of the worktable and motioned for her sisters to crowd around her so that all three of them could read it silently.
The article continued in the same vein, pointing out that with the exception of Coach Watson, every other Lake Eden homicide victim had been discovered by someone in the Swensen family. There was even a tally sheet, arranged like a baseball box score, showing Hannah with the most "hits," followed by Delores and Andrea. Michelle was in last place with nothing but strikeouts. Under the score box was a quote from Andrea's husband, Bill Todd, the Winnetka County Sheriff, who said that the drop in the murder rate had made it possible for his deputies to take care of routine matters like serving warrants for smaller crimes and tracking down citizens who had failed to show up for jury duty. Then Rod quoted one of Hannah's boyfriends, Deputy Mike Kingston, who said his homicide detectives were almost caught up on paperwork. The article ended with another quote from Mike that had Hannah wincing slightly because he speculated that perhaps Hannah's uncanny ability to find murder victims, an attribute he called her "slaydar," was on the blink.
There was an awkward moment of silence as they all finished reading and then Hannah spoke. "We really shouldn't be that upset over this," she said, attempting to put the best spin on what she'd just read. "Rod didn't have enough real news so he put this in as one of his little jokes."
"It's not funny!" Delores said, and her tone was icy. "It's cruel. And after Doc reads it, he'll be just as embarrassed as I am. I wouldn't blame him a bit if he called off the wedding!"
"Doc would never do that," Hannah told her. "He loves you. You know that. And Doc knows Rod well enough to realize that this is just another one of his spoofs. Nobody's going to take it seriously, Mother." Hannah turned to her sisters. "Right, girls?"
"Right!" Michelle agreed quickly.
"Everybody in Lake Eden knows that Rod has a strange sense of humor," Andrea said. "Remember when he ran that awful picture of Bill right after he was elected sheriff?"
"The one that said Law Enforcement at Its Finest?" Hannah asked, unable to keep the grin off her face as she remembered the photo of her brother-in-law dressed in the bank robber outfit he'd worn when he took Tracey and her friends out to Trick or Treat for Halloween.
"Yes. Bill knew it was a joke. He even thought it was funny. And so did everybody else at the sheriff's station."
"That's not the same thing!" Delores said, giving Andrea the look that all three girls had named Mother's Death Ray. "You girls may think this is funny, but I'll never be able to hold my head up in this town again!"
The sisters exchanged glances, but no one was about to argue the point. Despite the fact that she'd reached for another cookie, their mother was still in a terrible mood. The silence stretched on for several more seconds and finally Michelle spoke up.
"Where's Lisa?" Michelle asked in an obvious attempt to change the subject.
"At Cyril's garage," Hannah told her. "Her car was supposed to be ready by seven and Herb dropped her off there on his way to work."
Andrea glanced at the clock on the kitchen wall. "It's eight-thirty. I guess Cyril didn't have it ready on time."
"That's not surprising." Delores gave a little laugh. "The last time I took my car in for an oil change, it took two days. What's wrong with Lisa's car?"
Hannah's spirits lifted considerably as her mother helped herself to a third cookie. "Her fuel pump went out. She was going to call if Cyril couldn't have it ready to go by nine."
As if on cue, the phone rang and Michelle got up to answer it. Hannah listened to Michelle's end of the conversation for a beat and then she got up to retrieve her car keys.
"It's not ready?" Andrea asked, as Michelle hung up the phone.
"Not yet. I'll open the coffee shop if you want to drive out there, Hannah."
"And I'll help," Andrea added. "I'm good at pouring coffee and talking to people."
Delores nodded. "I'll help too, but I'm going to stay out here in the kitchen so I don't have to talk about Rod's horrid article. I'll fill the display jars and you girls can carry the cookies into the coffee shop."
"Thanks for helping," Hannah said sincerely. Her family had never failed to volunteer whenever she needed help. She glanced out the window and frowned slightly as she realized the sky was overcast. "I wonder if it's going to ..." Hannah stopped speaking abruptly as they all heard a crashing boom outside. A few seconds later, a blinding flash lit up the darkening sky.
"You'd better take an umbrella, dear," Delores warned her. "I was listening to KCOW radio in the car on my way here and Rayne Phillips said that there was a sixty-percent chance of a summer storm this morning."
"He should have made that a hundred percent chance," Andrea commented as raindrops began to pelt against the windowpane.
Hannah grabbed an umbrella from the coat rack by the back door. "I'd better hurry. If Lisa calls, tell her I'm on the way and I've got an extra umbrella in the car for her."
"Just a minute," Delores said, stopping Hannah before she could leave.
"What is it?" Hannah asked, turning to face her mother.
"I want you to promise me you won't find any dead bodies on your way out to Cyril's garage."
There was a smile on her mother's face and Hannah was glad. The chocolate in the cookies must have helped. Delores was getting her sense of humor back.
"I promise," Hannah said.
"Or on your way back, either."
"Yes, Mother," Hannah promised, heading out the door and into the rain.CHAPTER 2
A rainy morning in August presented problems that appeared almost insurmountable just as soon as Hannah drove out of the parking lot in back of The Cookie Jar. It was so muggy that the windows in her Suburban were already starting to fog up. By the time she got to the end of the alley, she'd used her hand to wipe off a clear space to peer through, and she had to lower the driver's side window to keep it from fogging up again. This meant the rain came in, but she figured that a little rain was better than running into a building or another vehicle.
Naturally, the air conditioner wasn't working. It seemed the only time it worked was in the winter when she didn't need it. Ditto for the heater, which seemed to work best in the summer. In order to keep the windshield from fogging up so much that she couldn't see the pavement, she had to endure a wet left sleeve. "At least I don't wear glasses," Hannah muttered as she turned right on First Street and headed for the highway that would lead her to Murphy's Motors.
At highway speeds, the rain no longer came in the window and Hannah breathed a sigh of relief. She couldn't go as fast as she would have liked because it hadn't rained in over a week and the asphalt was slick with oil from the trucks that barreled down this route every day. Every time the lightning flashed, she could see an answering gleam in the surface of the wet roadway and the rumbling of thunder outside her open window made listening to the radio impossible.
The giants in the sky are bowling, Hannah thought, smiling as she remembered her father's reassuring words when the booming thunder had frightened her as a child. But why is it flashing? she'd asked him, pointing up at the lightning. Because their bowling balls have flashing lights in them, he'd answered. And from that moment on, Hannah had wished for a toy bowling ball with lights in it each and every Christmas until she was old enough to realize that it was all a figment of her father's imagination.
Excerpted from Blackberry Pie Murder by JOANNE FLUKE. Copyright © 2014 H.L. Swensen, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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BLACKBERRY PIE MURDER
Exclusive Q&A for BN.com
Hannah's mother, Delores, changes her mind so many times about what food she wants served at her wedding! Is Delores based on anyone you know in real life?
Delores does change her mind frequently when it comes to her wedding preparations. In that respect, and only in that respect, she's a lot like my Grandmother. When it was Gammie's turn to host a ladies luncheon with her friends, she went into a regular tizzy about which dessert we should serve. She'd begin to deliberate at least two weeks before the affair. Of course Mom and I would help by suggesting things we knew she liked and, at that time, she would decide on one. The next day she'd come down the stairs for breakfast and say she'd been thinking about it and she'd changed her mind. One time that I remember in particular, Gammie didn't reach a final decision until the night before the luncheon. And then she chose the first dessert that we'd suggested!
You may have noticed that someone else in the Swensen family also has trouble reaching a decision. Both Mike Kingston and Norman Rhodes have proposed to Hannah, but she still hasn't married either one of them. Will Hannah eventually choose? I don't have a clue. She hasn't told me yet!
If you were planning a wedding reception dinner, what would you make for dessert?
If I were planning a big event like a wedding reception dinner I'd choose something easy, something that could be made in advance and served rapidly, something attractive, and something that I thought almost everyone who attended would enjoy. One of my very favorite desserts is something that fits into all those categories. It's mixed and sugared berries in a tall, fluted dessert glass with a generous dollop of my cr?me fraiche on top. Since my recipe for pseudo cr?me fraiche can be prepared hours before serving, I would put these desserts together in advance, refrigerate them, and then simply sprinkle the top with a little brown sugar. (The recipe for my homemade cr?me fraiche is in Strawberry Shortcake Murder.)
In the bonus scene you wrote for the exclusive B&N edition of BLACKBERRY PIE MURDER, Hannah's sisters are helping her prepare for a dinner party. Do you have any helpers who you call on when you need an extra set of hands in the kitchen?
I do have an extra set of hands in the kitchen whenever I prepare for a large celebration. The hands belong to my son, John, who's an excellent cook in his own right.
The night before Thanksgiving, I baked the pies: both pumpkin and pecan. John peeled the potatoes and put them in salted water in the refrigerator. He also made the dressing. (In my family, we call it "stuffing" if it's inside the turkey and "dressing" if we bake it in a casserole dish or a crockpot.
We started the next morning at 6AM by getting the turkey ready to roast and boiling the potatoes for the Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes. We also prepared a wheel of cooked, chilled asparagus with a side dish of dressing. We got out my phalanx of crockpots (I have 6 at last count). My Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes went in the biggest crockpot and the dressing in the second largest. We prepared my Green Beans with a Twist, a baked yam dish, and my Holiday Rice. Then we set the tables lined up all the crockpots and serving dishes for our buffet, and had 5 minutes to spare before the first guests arrived.
It was fun, but it was also a lot of work to prepare the traditional Thanksgiving feast for 36 people. The moment the last guest left, I put the leftovers away and went to bed. John told me that he went home and did the same.
(Most of these holiday recipes are inSugar Cookie Murder.)
In the special B&N edition of BLACKBERRY PIE MURDER, Hannah makes Scottish Shortbread from a recipe she got from her grandmother. Do you have a favorite recipe that's been passed down throughout the generations in your family?
I have several favorite family recipes and I've used most of them in the Hannah series. My Grandmother's Buttermilk Pie is one and I used it in Blackberry Pie Murder. Then there's my mother's Lemon Meringue Pie, which is in Lemon Meringue Pie Murder. I also have Gammie's Molasses Crackles (Strawberry Shortcake Murder) and Mom's Chocolate Chip Crunch Cookies, which are inChocolate Chip Cookie Murder.
I'd better stop with that. I have too many favorites and writing about them is making me hungry. It's breakfast time right now and I might just have dessert for breakfast!
Do you memorize the specific measurements for your recipe or do you measure by taste?
My grandmother was the only one in our family that could bake without using a measuring cup. We had a flour canister, a big one, and she would reach in, scoop out handfuls of flour and dump them into the mixing bowl. The same went for sugar. I don't think Gammie measured anything including any liquids in the recipe. I remember asking her how she could tell the amount of flour and sugar to use. She replied, "That's simple, honey. You just add until there's enough." Mom and I never quite picked up Gammie's trick of not measuring and we relied on measuring cups and measuring spoons instead.