Beloved New York Times bestselling author and Queen of the Culinary Mystery Joanne Fluke concocts a delicious mix of mystery, humor, and mouthwatering recipes in this classic Hannah Swensen Mystery!
Staying fit during in winter in Lake Eden, Minnesota, can be quite the challenge. But it’s nothing compared to staying alive…
Bakery owner Hannah Swensen has a dress to fit into and a date with her sister, Andrea, at Lake Eden's new health club, Heavenly Bodies. Dragging herself out of bed on a frigid Minnesota morning for exercise, of all things, is bad enough. Discovering the body of man-eating bombshell Ronni Ward floating in the gym’s jacuzzi? Okay, that's worse. Nor does it help that there's a plate of The Cookie Jar’s very own cream puffs garnishing the murder scene.
Trying to narrow the list of Ronni’s enemies down to fewer than half the town’s female population, Hannah has her plate full. Trouble is, when it comes to cookies—and to murder—there's always room for one more…
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CREAM PUFF MURDERA HANNAH SWENSEN MYSTERY WITH RECIPES
By JOANNE FLUKE
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2009 H.L. Swensen, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThere was a loud crash as someone dropped a platter. A split second later, Hannah Swensen reached up to pick a piece of pepperoni out of her curly red hair. She examined it, identified it for what it was, and just barely managed to resist the urge to pop it into her mouth. Although one bite of the traditional pizza topping might not exceed her calorie count for lunch, it could pave the way to a self-indulgent feast from the menu at Bertanelli's Pizza, a popular eatery in Lake Eden, Minnesota.
One glance down at the salad she'd ordered and Hannah almost gave way to temptation. It was a perfectly good salad, crispy lettuce in three varieties, several slices of tomato, strips of yellow and red bell pepper for color, and a dressing of balsamic vinegar and olive oil on the side. Salads were good. Salads were healthful. Salads were much better than pizza when you had to lose at least ten pounds because everything you owned was too tight around the middle, including your very favorite pair of jeans.
"What's that?" her sister Andrea asked, watching Hannah wrap the meaty missile in a napkin and set it aside.
"Pepperoni. I heard a crash right before it hit. One of Ellie's new waitresses must have dropped a pizza platter."
Without anotherword, both sisters picked up their winter parkas and slid over to the edge of the booth so they could peer out at the other diners. It was Saturday, and Bertanelli's was packed with customers. It was also November in Minnesota, and that meant the coatrack by the door was also packed, and they'd had to stash their bulky outerwear in their booth. Andrea was sharing her side with her husband, Bill Todd, the Winnetka County sheriff. Hannah's lunch date was her sometimes boyfriend, Bill's chief detective, Mike Kingston. This was obviously a working lunch because the men hadn't even noticed the porcine projectile that had landed on Hannah's head. They were too busy discussing a bungled bank robbery that had taken place in a neighboring town that morning.
The interior at Bertanelli's was comfort itself, with carved wooden booths and tables, plastered walls with fake brick peeking through, and Italian scenes painted by the Jordan High senior art class. The candles on the tables were stuck in wine bottles that had been dripped with various candle colors, a tribute to the crafts movement of the fifties. All in all, it was a nice, relaxing place to have lunch, but not today.
"Uh-oh," Andrea said, beginning to frown.
"You said it," Hannah added, spotting Bridget Murphy, who had just righted herself after running smack-dab into the waitress who'd been carrying the pizza that had provided Hannah's unexpected slice of sausage.
Both women watched as Bridget, who was known for her fiery Irish temper, veered off toward the big round booth in the corner where Ronni Ward was holding court. Ronni was flanked by four of Lake Eden's most successful males. Mayor Bascomb and bank president Doug Greerson were seated on her left. Al Percy of Lake Eden Realty, and Bert Kuehn, co-owner of Bertanelli's, were seated on her right.
Everyone had thought that Ronni was gone for good last winter when she got engaged and moved in with her fiancé to help him run his fitness center in Elk River. But Ronni and the man she'd promised to marry had broken it off, and, as Hannah and Andrea's grandmother had been fond of saying, the bad penny had turned up in Lake Eden again. Bill, who was a soft touch for a sob story, had rehired Ronni as the fitness instructor at the sheriff's department, and the word on the Lake Eden gossip hotline was that Ronni was flirting heavily, or perhaps even more, with the deputies at the sheriff's station, regardless of their marital status.
Unable to live on the small salary the sheriff's department paid her, Ronni had found a part-time job at Heavenly Bodies, the new fitness spa at the Tri-County Mall. Her track record there appeared to be more of the same. She'd sold more memberships than anyone else on the staff, but the members she'd signed were almost all male. Several local wives weren't happy about their husbands' resolve to get into shape by joining one of Ronni's exercise classes or hiring her as their personal fitness coach after hours.
"Here comes Cyril," Hannah said as Bridget's husband attempted and failed to intercept his wife before she reached Ronni's table.
The two sisters watched for a moment. At first only words were exchanged, but with each salvo, Bridget's frown grew fiercer and Ronni's scowl etched deeper.
"What's happening?" Bill asked, tapping his wife on the shoulder.
"Ronni Ward's arguing with Bridget Murphy, but Cyril's there and he's trying to break it up."
Almost simultaneously, Bill and Mike reached for another piece of pizza. Hannah thought she knew what was running through their minds. Bertanelli's had the best pizza in Minnesota. If Bill and Mike had to leave to break up a catfight between Ronni Ward and Bridget Murphy, they wanted to finish their lunch first.
"Bridget doesn't look happy," Andrea went on with her running commentary.
Hannah watched Bridget's husband put himself in what might be harm's way to block Bridget's access to Ronni.
The women's voices became louder, and Bill reached for a final piece of pizza. "What's happening now?"
"I think it's almost over," Andrea told him. "Cyril's got Bridget in one of those holds you see on the wrestling channel, and he's hauling her away. I wonder what set her off?"
Ronni did, Hannah thought, but she didn't say it. She's enough to set any woman off. "I wonder if Ellie knows where Bert is," Hannah speculated.
"She knows. She's over there at the kitchen door, just staring at Bert. If looks could kill, Bert would be a statistic. One of these days Ronni is going to get hers, and it won't be pretty."
"Right," Hannah said, and then she leaned across the table and lowered her voice. "I just hope I'm there to see it."
"Me too! Maybe someone ought to call Stephanie Bascomb, and Sally Percy, and Amalia Greerson, and invite them to come out here for lunch."
"You wouldn't!" Hannah said, giving her sister a long hard look.
"Probably not, but it's fun to think about what would happen if somebody ... uh-oh! Bridget got loose!"
Both sisters watched anxiously as Bridget raced back toward Ronni's table. Cyril looked dazed, and Hannah had a sneaking suspicion that Bridget had bitten him on the shoulder since he was rubbing it through his shirt. It took him a moment to recover, and that gave Bridget time to reach her goal. Once she arrived, red-faced and panting, she hurtled herself at Ronni and grabbed her by the hair.
"Have you no shame?" Bridget's voice took on the thick Irish brogue of her ancestors. "He's got a wife and baby, and another one on the way. You leave my boy alone or you'll answer to me!"
"You tell her, Bridget!" someone shouted, and it sounded like Ellie to Hannah.
"Knock it off, will you? We're trying to enjoy our lunch here!" a diner shouted, and Hannah recognized the voice. It was her downstairs neighbor, Phil Plotnik, and he was sitting with a whole table of DelRay workers.
"Be quiet! Both of you!" a woman called out from a booth across the room. "And if you can't, do us a favor and take it outside!"
Several other shouts for Ronni and Bridget to cease and desist came from various sections of the dining room. Almost everyone wanted the altercation to end, but it was pretty clear that there was even more trouble brewing when a half-dozen Jordan High students at a table in the center began to clap and whistle.
"Food fight!" one of the boys yelled, and all six of them started to hurl garlic bread and meatballs.
Pandemonium ensued in very short order. Waitresses squealed and ran for the safety of the kitchen, several metal pizza pans hit the floor with a clatter, and a plastic Coke glass sailed across the room, barely missing the tall, straw-cradled bottle of Chianti that Ellie had placed next to the cash register.
"Time to go to work," Bill said, sliding over in tandem with Mike. "Let us out, will you? We've got to break this up before those Jordan High students do some damage."
"And before Bridget and Ronni really hurt each other," Mike added, and then he turned to Bill. "It's your call. You outrank me."
Bill didn't hesitate. "I'll take the Jordan High kids. You take the women."
"I knew you'd say that," Mike said with a grin. "Okay ... let's roll."
Once they'd let Bill and Mike out of the booth, Hannah and Andrea sat back down to watch the men in action. For several moments it was a free-for-all as Cyril tried to pull Bridget away. Invectives from the women and the patrons alike rebounded. At the same time, Italian sausage, breadsticks, antipasto, and spaghetti vied for air supremacy. Andrea and Hannah leaned out to catch the action, ducking back when any edible ammunition came within their range. It took several minutes, and Andrea wound up with a splatter of marinara sauce on her arm, but it was clear the tide had turned and the long arm of the law was winning.
"Wow!" Hannah gasped as Mike dashed nimbly over fallen platters, food, and drink glasses to lift Ronni out of the booth. He grabbed her by the waist like a father dealing with a recalcitrant child, and carried her out the door.
"Wow is right." Andrea motioned toward the table of students. Bill had just arrived at the table and as they watched, he disarmed them neatly by grabbing the edge of their red-and-white checkered tablecloth and removing their weaponry in one massive jerk.
"Good thing he doesn't know how to do Herb's trick with the tablecloth," Hannah said, chuckling as she remembered her mother's shock when Herb Beeseman, Hannah's partner's new husband and an amateur magician, had grabbed the edge of the tablecloth at the last dinner party they'd attended and whisked it away, leaving everything on the table intact.
Their lunch dates were nothing if not efficient, and in remarkably short order peace was restored. A squad of Bertanelli's waitstaff hurried out to make the mess disappear, and within a matter of a minute or two, patrons were once more able to enjoy their lunch and hear Tuscan melodies over the sound system.
"That was fast!" Hannah commented. "Bill calmed those students down in nothing flat. Your guy's good at this."
"So's yours," Andrea responded, snagging one of the remaining pieces of pizza.
"He's not mine. I'm not even sure he's partially mine, not when Ronni's living in the apartment right across the hall from him."
Andrea picked up a slice of mushroom that had fallen to the platter and popped it into her mouth. "I don't think Ronni will be around for much longer, at least not at the sheriff's department. Bill called her in last week and told her that if he heard one more word of gossip about her and any of the married deputies, he'd fire her."
"Can't be too soon to suit me," Hannah muttered, frowning deeply.
Andrea reached out to pat her sister's hand, a more personal touch than what was the norm for the Swensen clan. Whether it was due to the Scandinavian influence or some other innate cold-climate reticence, warm hugs and embraces were more generally attributed to Mediterranean climates and did not come easily to Minnesotans. "Let me pay, and let's get out of here. And then we'll ..." Andrea stopped, drew in her breath sharply, and then continued, "I can't believe I forgot!"
"The dresses Mother ordered came in at Claire's dress shop. We have to go try them on now. She called me this morning."
"No, Mother. She wants us to go for a fitting this afternoon in case there are minor alterations."
"You're talking about the Regency dresses for the launch party?" Hannah guessed. Their mother had written a Regency Romance novel, and the launch party was set for the weekend before Thanksgiving. Delores had asked that her daughters wear Regency-style ball gowns to serve the refreshments, and they'd all agreed.
"That's right," Andrea confirmed it.
"Okay. We're on the same page. But how did Claire know what size to order for me?"
"Mother told her to order the same size as the dress she bought you for Christmas last year."
"Last year?" Hannah groaned loudly. "I gained some weight since last year. I can't get into the dress Mother gave me anymore. It's way too tight across the ... well, you know."
"Yes, and other places, too."
Andrea looked thoughtful as she signed the check and added a tip. She led the way to the door and as she pushed it open, she said, "We'll have Claire let it out as much as she can and go from there."
Not even the soothing décor of Claire's nicest dressing room could turn Hannah's ordeal at Beau Monde Fashions into a pleasure. Wallpaper the color of green tea with a lovely rose border could not erase the fact that her dress wouldn't button.
"I've been meaning to tell you," Claire said, her voice floating in through the louvers of the dressing room door. "Bob and I are really grateful to you as an enabler."
"Huh?" Hannah was thoroughly puzzled.
"The way you helped us tell the congregation that we wanted to get married."
"Thanks." Hannah remembered the morning in church when she'd made the announcement that Reverend Robert Knudson and Claire were planning to be married. She'd certainly overstepped the bounds of friendship by forcing the issue in such a public way, but everything had turned out all right. She was just patting herself on the back, mentally, for a job well done, when she realized that Claire had used the word enabler. "You're seeing a marriage counselor?" she guessed.
"A pre-marriage counselor, someone from the synod. It's recommended when a minister gets married. Anyway ... I don't have any family and ... will you be our maid of honor for the wedding?"
Hannah took a moment to think that over. The old saying, Three times a bridesmaid, never a bride, didn't apply in her case since she'd walked down the aisle as a bridesmaid five times in the past. "I'd love to, Claire. Thanks for asking me. But you'd better order a larger size dress."
"There's a problem?" Claire glanced in as Hannah opened the door, and not even the soft pink bulb in the overhead lamp could hide her dismay. "Oh, dear!!"
"What's wrong?" Andrea asked, coming up behind Claire. Hannah glanced at her sister. Of course Andrea's dress fit perfectly. She hadn't gained an ounce since high school.
"Hannah's dress is too tight," Claire murmured, stating the obvious.
"And how!" Andrea shook her head. "Is there anything you can do?"
Claire gave a little shrug. "I can let it out, but not that much. They clipped the seams."
Even though she wasn't a seamstress, Hannah knew that meant she was in trouble. "Can you order a larger size?"
"There's no time. It takes at least two months for a special order, and your mother's party is only two weeks away." Claire thought for a moment and then she turned to Hannah with a hopeful look. "You said you were serving the refreshments. What kind of apron will you be wearing?"
"See-through lace. Mother ordered them from a catalogue."
"Then we've had it. Unless ..."
"Unless what?" Hannah asked, hoping that Claire had come up with a miracle.
"Unless I put in inserts."
"Can you do that?" Hannah asked her.
Claire picked up the hem of Hannah's dress and looked at it. "There's not much material, and it's a large print. I'm not sure I can match it."
"What does that mean?" Andrea asked, every bit as clueless as Hannah was.
"It means that I'm a good tailor, but it's still going to look like we had to enlarge it because it was too small."
"Okay," Andrea said, turning to Hannah. "Hurry up and change back into your regular clothes. I've got a plan."
Hannah wasted no time in peeling herself out of the dress and handing it out the door to Claire. In less time than it would take her to beat a meringue by hand, not that she ever would, she emerged from the pretty little dressing room, zipping up her parka.
"I'll call you later, Claire," Andrea said, hustling Hannah out the door.
"What plan?" Hannah asked, turning up her collar as she headed across the parking lot for the back door of her bakery and coffee shop, The Cookie Jar.
"You're already on a diet. You told me that, and it's all to the good. That means we've got two whole weeks to firm you up."
Excerpted from CREAM PUFF MURDER by JOANNE FLUKE Copyright © 2009 by H.L. Swensen, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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A Message from the Author
I can't believe it! Can you picture Hannah Swensen sticking to a low-cal diet? Jogging in place to the driving beat of exercise music? Swimming thirty laps in an Olympic-sized pool, and then pedaling furiously on a stationary bike? No way, no how! The slightly-more-than-a-little overweight owner of The Cookie Jar has always insisted that the phrase "exercise routine" is not in her vocabulary. But that's exactly what happens in Cream Puff Murder. The gal who believes that butter is better is enrolled in three exercise classes at Heavenly Bodies, Lake Eden's newest fitness club and spa.
What has happened to change Hannah's outlook so drastically? It could be the dresses Delores ordered for her three daughters. Andrea's and Michelle's fit perfectly, but Hannah's dress is much too tight. Hannah has promised she'll wear the dress to serve refreshments at her mother's book launch party, and there's not enough time to order a larger size. Diet and exercise are Hannah's only options and she joins Andrea at the spa to sweat away those unwanted inches.
Heavenly Bodies lives up to its name when Hannah finds the body of one of the female instructors floating face down in the Jacuzzi. And this time Mike Kingston, head of the Winnetka County Sheriff's detective squad and one of Hannah's boyfriends, doesn't tell Hannah to leave the investigating to him. Mike's a suspect and so are several other members of his squad including Michelle's boyfriend, Lonnie. The lengthy suspect list even includes Andrea's husband, Sheriff Bill Todd!
Solving a murder by committee is impossible, but every one of the suspected, suspended detectives wants to micromanage Hannah's investigation. She's running herself ragged trying to please them all when her other love interest, Norman Rhodes, convinces Hannah to ignore all the well-meaning advice and go with her own instincts.
Despite a heavy influx of orders for special holiday cookies at The Cookie Jar, Hannah's cat, Moishe, who's emptying his new self-feeder at an alarming rate and appears to be eating enough for a dozen felines, and the sudden interest that "the mothers" (Hannah's and Norman's) have taken in a local Karaoke contest, Hannah manages to keep a cool head… until she has a run-in with the killer. Will Hannah manage to escape in time? Or will she become the killer's second victim and the next "Heavenly Body" to be found at the spa?
Of course there are recipes -- over twenty for you to try. They were all taste-tested by my family, friends, and neighbors. The consensus is that Hannah's Very Best Cream Puffs are incredibly yummy, the Brownies Plus are to die for, and you can't have just one Triplet Chiplet Cookie.
I hope you enjoy reading Cream Puff Murder as much as I enjoyed writing it. I'm including the recipe for Triplet Chiplet Cookies so you'll have something to munch while you read it. And while you do that, I'll be busy writing Hannah's next adventure, Plum Pudding Murder. Released in October of 2009, it will include recipes for the Swensen family's entire Christmas dinner, one dead elf, and the only Christmas guest who could possibly leave Hannah speechless.
Thanks so much for your wonderful e-mails and snail mails. And always remember to "Eat Dessert First!"
TRIPLET CHIPLET COOKIES
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F., rack in the middle position.
2 cups melted butter (4 sticks, one pound)
3 cups white (granulated) sugar
1½ cups brown sugar
4 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
4 beaten eggs (just whip them up in a glass with a fork)
5 cups flour (not sifted -- pack it down in the cup when you measure it)
1 cup white chocolate chips (6-ounce package)
1 cup milk chocolate chips (6-ounce package)
1 cup semi-sweet (the regular kind) chocolate chips (6-ounce package)
2 cups chopped salted cashews
Hannah's 1st Note: If you can't find white chocolate chips, you can substitute butterscotch chips, peanut butter chips, or any other chips you like.
Melt the butter by heating it in a microwave-safe bowl on HIGH for 3 minutes, or in a pan on the stove.
Hannah's 2nd Note: This dough gets really stiff -- you might be better off using an electric mixer if you have one.
Mix the white sugar and the brown sugar with the butter. Add the vanilla, baking soda, and salt. Mix well.
Feel the bowl. If it's not so hot it'll cook the eggs, add them now and mix well.
Add 2 cups of the flour and stir well. Then add the chips, and the chopped nuts. Mix it thoroughly.
Add the 3 remaining cups of flour and stir them in well.
Drop by rounded teaspoons onto greased (or sprayed with Pam or other nonstick cooking spray) cookie sheets, 12 cookies to a standard sized sheet. If the dough is too sticky to handle, chill it for an hour and try again.
Bake the cookies at 350 degrees F. for 10 to 12 minutes or until nicely browned. (Mine took 11 minutes.)
Let the cookies cool for two minutes and then remove them from the baking sheets. Transfer them to a wire rack to finish cooling.
Yield: Approximately 10 to 12 dozen crunchy, nutty, chocolaty cookies that everyone will love.
This recipe can be cut in half, if you wish.