No one cooks up a delectable, suspense-filled mystery quite like Hannah Swensen, Joanne Fluke’s dessert-baking, red-haired heroine whose gingersnaps are as tart as her comebacks, and whose penchant for solving crimes—one delicious clue at a time—has made her a bestselling favorite. And it all began on these pages, with a bakery, a murder, and some suddenly scandalous chocolate-chip crunchies. Featuring a bonus short story and brand new, mouthwatering recipes, this new edition of the very first Hannah Swensen mystery is sure to have readers coming back for seconds…
Hannah already has her hands full trying to dodge her mother’s attempts to marry her off while running The Cookie Jar, Lake Eden’s most popular bakery. But once Ron LaSalle, the beloved delivery man from the Cozy Cow Dairy, is found murdered behind her bakery with Hannah’s famous Chocolate Chip Crunchies scattered around him, her life just can’t get any worse. Determined not to let her cookies get a bad reputation, she sets out to track down a killer. But if she doesn’t watch her back, Hannah’s sweet life may get burned to a crisp.
Includes bonus short story and extra recipes!
“A cleverly plotted cozy full of appealing characters and delicious cookie recipes.”
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Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder
A Hannah Swensen Mystery
By JOANNE FLUKE
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2006 H.L. Swensen, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Hannah Swensen slipped into the old leather bomber jacket that she'd rescued from the Helping Hands thrift store and reached down to pick up the huge orange tomcat that was rubbing against her ankles. "Okay, Moishe. You can have one refill, but that's it until tonight."
As she carried Moishe into the kitchen and set him down by his food bowl, Hannah remembered the day he'd set up camp outside her condo door. He'd looked positively disreputable, covered with matted fur and grime, and she'd immediately taken him in. Who else would adopt a twenty-five-pound, half-blind cat with a torn ear? Hannah had named him Moishe, and though he certainly wouldn't have won any prizes at the Lake Eden Cat Fanciers' Club, there had been an instant bond between them. They were both battle-worn — Hannah from weekly confrontations with her mother, and Moishe from his hard life on the streets.
Moishe rumbled in contentment as Hannah filled his bowl. He seemed properly grateful that he no longer had to scrounge for food and shelter and he showed his appreciation in countless ways. Just this morning, Hannah had found the hindquarters of a mouse in the center of the kitchen table, right next to the drooping African violet that she kept forgetting to water. While most of her female contemporaries would have screamed for their husbands to remove the disgusting sight, Hannah had picked up the carcass by the tail and praised Moishe lavishly for keeping her condo rodent-free.
"See you tonight, Moishe." Hannah gave him an affectionate pat and snatched up her car keys. She was just pulling on her leather gloves, preparing to leave, when the phone rang.
Hannah glanced at the apple-shaped wall clock, which she'd found at a garage sale. It was only sixA.M. Her mother wouldn't call this early, would she?
Moishe looked up from his bowl with an expression that Hannah interpreted as sympathy. He didn't like Delores Swensen and he had done nothing to hide his feelings when she'd dropped in for surprise visits at her daughter's condo. After suffering through several pairs of shredded pantyhose, Delores had decided that she would limit her socializing to their Tuesday-night mother-daughter dinners.
Hannah picked up the phone, cutting off the answering machine in midmessage, and sighed as she heard her mother's voice. "Hello, Mother. I'm ready to walk out the door, so we'll have to keep this short. I'm already late for work."
Moishe raised his tail and shook it, pointing his posterior at the phone. Hannah stifled a giggle at his antics and gave him a conspiratorial wink. "No, Mother, I didn't give Norman my phone number. If he wants to contact me, he'll have to look it up."
Hannah frowned as her mother went into her familiar litany on the proper way to attract a man. Their dinner last night had been a disaster. When she'd arrived at her mother's house, Hannah had encountered two additional guests: her mother's newly widowed neighbor, Mrs. Carrie Rhodes, and her son, Norman. Hannah had been obligated to make polite conversation with Norman over sickeningly sweet Hawaiian pot roast and a chocolate-covered nut cake from the Red Owl Grocery as their respective mothers beamed happily and remarked on what a charming couple they made.
"Look, Mother, I really have to ..." Hannah stopped and rolled her eyes at the ceiling. Once Delores got started on a subject, it was impossible to get a word in edgewise. Her mother believed that a woman approaching thirty ought to be married, and even though Hannah had argued that she liked her life the way it was, it hadn't prevented Delores from introducing her to every single, widowed, or divorced man who'd set foot in Lake Eden.
"Yes, Mother. Norman seems very nice, but ..." Hannah winced as her mother continued to wax eloquent over Norman's good qualities. What on earth had convinced Delores that her eldest daughter would be interested in a balding dentist, several years her senior, whose favorite topic of conversation was gum disease? "Excuse me, Mother, but I'm running late and ..."
Moishe seemed to sense that his mistress was frustrated because he reached out with one orange paw and flipped over his food bowl. Hannah stared at him in surprise for a moment, and then she began to grin.
"Gotta run, Mother. Moishe just knocked over his food bowl and I've got Meow Mix all over the floor." Hannah cut off her mother's comments about Norman's earning capabilities in midbreath and hung up the phone. Then she swept up the cat food, dumped it in the trash, and poured in fresh food for Moishe. She added a couple of kitty treats, Moishe's reward for being so clever, and left him munching contentedly as she rushed out the door.
Hannah hurried down the steps to the underground garage, unlocked the door to her truck, and climbed in behind the wheel. When she'd opened her business, she'd bought a used Chevy Suburban from Cyril Murphy's car lot. She'd painted it candy-apple red, a color that was sure to attract notice wherever it was parked, and arranged for the name of her business — The Cookie Jar — to be painted in gold letters on the front doors. She'd even ordered a vanity license plate that read: "COOKIES."
As Hannah drove up the ramp that led to ground level, she met her next-door neighbor coming home. Phil Plotnik worked nights at DelRay Manufacturing, and Hannah rolled down the window to pass on the warning that their water would be shut off between ten and noon. Then she used her gate card to exit the complex and turned North onto Old Lake Road.
The interstate ran past Lake Eden, but most of the locals used Old Lake Road to get to town. It was the scenic route, winding around Eden Lake. When the tourists arrived in the summer, some of them were confused by the names. Hannah always explained it with a smile when they asked. The lake was named "Eden Lake," and the town that nestled next to its shore was called "Lake Eden."
There was a real nip in the air this morning, not unusual for the third week in October. Autumn was brief in Minnesota, a few weeks of turning leaves that caused everyone to snap photographs of the deep reds, gaudy oranges, and bright yellows. After the last leaf had fallen, leaving the branches stark and bare against the leaden skies, the cold north winds would start to blow. Then the first snowfall would arrive to the delight of the children and the stoic sighs of the adults. While sledding, ice-skating and snowball fights might be fun for the kids, winter also meant mounds of snow that had to be shoveled, virtual isolation when the roads were bad, and temperatures that frequently dropped down to thirty or even forty below zero.
The summer people had left Eden Lake right after the Labor Day weekend to return to their snug winter homes in the cities. Their cabins on the lakeshore stood vacant, their pipes wrapped with insulation to keep them from freezing in the subzero winter temperatures, and their windows boarded up against the icy winds that swept across the frozen surface of the lake. Now only the locals were in residence and the population of Lake Eden, which nearly quadrupled over the summer months, was down to less than three thousand.
As she idled at the stoplight on Old Lake Road and Dairy Avenue, Hannah saw a familiar sight. Ron LaSalle was standing by the dock of the Cozy Cow Dairy, loading his truck for his commercial route. By this time of the morning, Ron had finished delivering dairy products to his residential customers, placing their milk, cream, and eggs in the insulated boxes the dairy provided. The boxes were a necessity in Minnesota. They kept the contents cool in the summer and protected them from freezing in the winter.
Ron was cupping his jaw with one hand and his pose was pensive, as if he were contemplating things more serious than the orders he had yet to deliver. Hannah would be seeing him later, when he delivered her supplies, and she made a mental note to ask him what he'd been thinking about. Ron prided himself on his punctuality and the Cozy Cow truck would pull up at her back door at precisely seven thirty-five. After Ron had delivered her daily order, he'd come into the coffee shop for a quick cup of coffee and a warm cookie. Hannah would see him again at three in the afternoon, right after he'd finished his routes. That was when he picked up his standing order, a dozen cookies to go. Ron kept them in his truck overnight so that he could have cookies for breakfast the next morning.
Ron looked up, spotted her at the stoplight, and raised one hand in a wave. Hannah gave him a toot of her horn as the light turned green and she drove on by. With his dark wavy hair and well-muscled body, Ron was certainly easy on the eyes. Hannah's youngest sister, Michelle, swore that Ron was every bit as handsome as Tom Cruise and she'd been dying to date him when she was in high school. Even now, when Michelle came home from Macalester College, she never failed to ask about Ron.
Three years ago, everyone had expected the star quarterback of the Lake Eden Gulls to be drafted by the pros, but Ron had torn a ligament in the final game of his high school career, ending his hopes for a spot with the Minnesota Vikings. There were times when Hannah felt sorry for Ron. She was sure that driving a Cozy Cow delivery truck wasn't the glorious future he'd envisioned for himself. But Ron was still a local hero. Everyone in Lake Eden remembered his remarkable game-winning touchdown at the state championships. The trophy he'd won was on display in a glass case at the high school and he volunteered his time as an unpaid assistant coach for the Lake Eden Gulls. Perhaps it was better to be a big fish in a little pond than a third-string quarterback who warmed the Vikings' bench.
No one else was on the streets this early, but Hannah made sure that her speedometer read well below the twenty-five-mile limit. Herb Beeseman, their local law enforcement officer, was known to lie in wait for unwary residents who were tempted to tread too heavily on the accelerator. Though Hannah had never been the recipient of one of Herb's speeding tickets, her mother was still livid about the fine that Marge Beeseman's youngest son had levied against her.
Hannah turned at the corner of Main and Fourth and drove into the alley behind her shop. The square white building sported two parking spots, and Hannah pulled her truck into one of them. She didn't bother to unwind the cord that was wrapped around her front bumper and plug it into the strip of power outlets on the rear wall of the building. The sun was shining and the announcer on the radio had promised that the temperatures would reach the high forties today. There was no need to use her head bolt heater for another few weeks, but when winter arrived and the mercury dropped below freezing, she'd need it to ensure that her engine would start.
Once she'd opened the door and slid out of her Suburban, Hannah locked it carefully behind her. There wasn't much crime in Lake Eden, but Herb Beeseman also left tickets on any vehicle that he found parked and unlocked. Before she could cover the distance to the rear door of the bakery, Claire Rodgers pulled up in her little blue Toyota and parked in back of the tan building next to Hannah's shop.
Hannah stopped and waited for Claire to get out of her car. She liked Claire and she didn't believe the rumors that floated around town about her affair with the mayor. "Hi, Claire. You're here early today."
"I just got in a new shipment of party dresses and they have to be priced." Claire's classically beautiful face lit up in a smile. "The holidays are coming, you know."
Hannah nodded. She wasn't looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas with her mother and sisters, but it was an ordeal that had to be endured for the sake of family peace.
"You should stop by, Hannah." Claire gave her an appraising look, taking in the bomber jacket that had seen better days and the old wool watch cap that Hannah had pulled over her frizzy red curls. "I have a stunning little black cocktail dress that would do wonders for you."
Hannah smiled and nodded, but she had all she could do to keep from laughing as Claire unlocked the rear door to Beau Monde Fashions and stepped inside. Where could she wear a cocktail dress in Lake Eden? No one hosted any cocktail parties and the only upscale restaurant in town had closed down right after the tourists had left. Hannah couldn't remember the last time she'd gone out to a fancy dinner. For that matter, she couldn't remember the last time that anyone had asked her out on a date.
Hannah unlocked her back door and pushed it open. The sweet smell of cinnamon and molasses greeted her, and she began to smile. She'd mixed up several batches of cookie dough last night and the scent still lingered. She flipped on the lights, hung her jacket on the hook by the door, and fired up the two industrial gas ovens that sat against the back wall. Her assistant, Lisa Herman, would be here at seven-thirty to start the baking.
The next half hour passed quickly as Hannah chopped, melted, measured, and mixed ingredients. By trial and error, she'd found that her cookies tasted better if she limited herself to batches that she could mix by hand. Her recipes were originals, developed in her mother's kitchen when she was a teenager. Delores thought baking was a chore and she'd been happy to delegate that task to her eldest daughter so that she could devote all of her energies to collecting antiques.
At ten past seven, Hannah carried the last bowl of cookie dough to the cooler and stacked the utensils she'd used in her industrial-sized dishwasher. She hung up her work apron, removed the paper cap she'd used to cover her curls, and headed off to the coffee shop to start the coffee.
A swinging restaurant-style door separated the bakery from the coffee shop. Hannah pushed it open and stepped inside, flipping on the old-fashioned globe fixtures she'd salvaged from a defunct ice-cream parlor in a neighboring town. She walked to the front windows, pulled aside the chintz curtains, and surveyed the length of Main Street. Nothing was moving; it was still too early, but Hannah knew that within the hour, the chairs that surrounded the small round tables in her shop would be filled with customers. The Cookie Jar was a meeting place for the locals, a choice spot to exchange gossip and plan out the day over heavy white mugs of strong coffee and freshly baked cookies from her ovens.
The stainless-steel coffee urn gleamed brightly and Hannah smiled as she filled it with water and measured out the coffee. Lisa had scoured it yesterday, restoring it to its former splendor. Lisa was a pure godsend when it came to running the bakery and the coffee shop. She saw what needed to be done, did it without being asked, and had even come up with a few cookie recipes of her own to add to Hannah's files. It was a real pity that Lisa hadn't used her academic scholarship to go on to college, but her father, Jack Herman, was suffering from Alzheimer's and Lisa had decided to stay home to take care of him.
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.
A few minutes later, the coffee began to perk and Hannah sniffed the air appreciatively. Nothing smelled better than freshly brewed coffee, and everyone in Lake Eden said that her coffee was the best. Hannah tied on the pretty chintz apron she wore for serving her customers and ducked back through the swinging door to give Lisa her instructions.
"Bake the Chocolate Chip Crunches first, Lisa." Hannah gave Lisa a welcoming smile.
"They're already in the ovens, Hannah." Lisa looked up from the stainless-steel work surface, where she was scooping out dough with a melon-baller and placing the perfectly round spheres into a small bowl filled with sugar. She was only nineteen, ten years younger than Hannah was, and her petite form was completely swaddled in the huge white baker's apron she wore. "I'm working on the Molasses Crackles for the Boy Scout Awards Banquet now."
Excerpted from Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by JOANNE FLUKE. Copyright © 2006 H.L. Swensen, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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