Hannah Swensen has to admit that her life is pretty sweet. Things are going well in the romance department, and her bakery's delectable confections are selling almost as fast as she can bake them. Even her good friend Claire is on Cloud Nine, head over heels with her new husband, Reverend Bob Knudson. If only they could find time to take their honeymoon!
When Bob's childhood friend, Matthew Walters, comes to town, it seems like divine intervention. Matthew, like Bob, is a Lutheran minister with a stubborn sweet tooth. Since he's on sabbatical, Matthew is happy to fill in for Bob while he and Claire take that long-awaited honeymoon. It sounds like the perfect plan--until Hannah finds Matthew in the rectory, face-down in a plate full of Devil's Food Cake, a single bullet in his head.
Determined to find out who killed Matthew, Hannah starts asking questions--and discovers that the good Reverend wasn't quite the saintly fellow he appeared to be. But could the gold Sacagawea coins in Sunday's collection plate hold the key to solving the crime? Or is the murder connected to that big jewel heist out in Minneapolis? Is it possible that Matthew's love of chocolate somehow led to his downfall? It will take some more digging to find out, but Hannah is sure of one thing: even the most half-baked murder plot can be oh so deadly. . .
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Devil's Food Cake Murder
By JOANNE FLUKE
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2011 Joanne Fluke
All rights reserved.
"You'll never see a hearse towing a U-Haul!"
Hannah Swensen turned toward the parlor doorway as she recognized her friend Claire's distinctive voice. She could hear her laughing in the parsonage hallway, obviously delighted by the twist on the old adage, You can't take it with you.
"Claire?" Hannah called out, but there was no answer. That was odd. She'd clearly heard Claire and that meant Claire and her new husband, Reverend Bob Knudson, must be back from visiting sick parishioners at Lake Eden Memorial Hospital.
"Bob? Claire?" Hannah called out again, but no one appeared in the doorway. All was perfectly silent outside the cozy sitting room where Hannah had been visiting with Reverend Bob's grandmother, Priscilla Knudson, and copying the octogenarian's recipe for Red Devil's Food Cake.
Hannah got up and walked to the window to see if she could spot Bob's car. The scene outside could have been lifted straight from a Christmas card. The birch tree on the other side of the driveway was filled with winter birds enjoying the suet that Grandma Knudson hung from the branches. There were red birds, and blue birds, and green birds, and black birds with iridescent feathers that seemed to be perched on every branch. They reminded Hannah of gems suspended from a white gold filigreed pendant. Lake Eden, Minnesota, could be truly beautiful in the winter ... cold, but beautiful. If the KCOW weatherman was correct, the mercury in Grandma Knudson's outside thermometer would shiver in the bulb at the bottom of the scale, poking its head up for only a brief period and then sinking down out of sight again.
Hannah's gaze dropped to the driveway that ran along the width of the house and into the garage. There were no tire tracks in the freshly fallen snow. Had Bob and Claire parked in front of the parsonage for some reason?
Puzzled, Hannah crossed to the doorway and stepped out to peer down the hall. It was deserted. She was about to return to the parlor when Grandma Knudson emerged from the kitchen, carrying a tea tray with coffee and sample slices of what she called her best company cake.
"Are Claire and Bob back?" Hannah asked, quickly relieving Grandma Knudson of the heavy tray.
"Not yet. I asked Bob to call when they left the hospital so that I could put on a fresh pot of coffee."
Hannah retraced her steps to the sitting room and set the tray down on the coffee table in front of the couch Grandma Knudson called a "davenport." It had been reupholstered last month by a member of the Holy Redeemer congregation who had chosen the material and the color. The forest green couch that had gone so well with the green and yellow striped wallpaper had been re-covered with bright pink velveteen in a hue that reminded Hannah of the contents in a Pepto-Bismol bottle.
"Would you pour, Hannah?" Grandma Knudson asked, as Hannah settled down on the pink davenport again. "I know young ladies like you prefer coffee mugs, but there's something so civilized about sipping coffee from bone china cups."
Hannah reached for the silver coffeepot and carefully filled two cups. She set them on their matching saucers and was about to hand one to Grandma Knudson when she reconsidered. "I wonder if we might be better off having our coffee in the kitchen," she suggested, glancing down at the generous slices of chocolate layer cake with fudgy frosting that her hostess had placed on matching bone china dessert plates.
"Why is that, dear?"
"I'm worried that I might spill something on your pink davenport."
"Don't give it a second thought," Grandma Knudson told her, reaching out to retrieve her cup and saucer. "Every time I sit there, I hope I'm going to spill something. Unfortunately, Donna Lempke Scotchguarded this darned thing after she recovered it. Every single stain I've managed to make just wipes off."
"Well ... that's good."
"No, it's not. It means I'm stuck with this pink monstrosity, and it'll probably outlive me!"
Hannah wasn't sure exactly how to respond. Half of her wanted to laugh because Grandma Knudson hated the color of her davenport so much, she was actively trying to ruin it. But the other half of her wanted to cry because Grandma Knudson thought she'd die before the couch could be reupholstered again. Since Hannah really didn't know what to say, she picked up her dessert plate and took a bite of Grandma Knudson's Red Devil's Food Cake.
"Mmmm!" Hannah gave an involuntary exclamation of pure pleasure. The sweet, fudgy melt-in-your-mouth goodness of the frosting was tempered by the deep, dark chocolate of the cake.
"Thank you, Hannah," Grandma Knudson said with a smile. "I'm glad you like my cake. And I'm very flattered that your mother is going to serve it at her book launch party. Now ... what made you think Claire and Bob were back?"
"I was sure I heard Claire's voice in the hall. And I'm almost positive I heard her laugh."
"You didn't hear Claire. You heard Jacob."
"But it was Claire's voice. I recognized it."
"Jacob can imitate Claire. What did he say?"
"You'll never see a hearse towing a U-Haul," Hannah said, repeating the words she'd heard.
"Then it was definitely Jacob. He was with Claire and Bob in the church office when they were trying to find something to put on the billboard sign for Sunday. Just wait until I tell them! They'll be so pleased he learned something new."
Hannah knew there was some information she wasn't getting. "Who is Jacob?" she asked, deciding to cut straight to the heart of the matter.
"He's Pete Nunke's mynah bird. Bob agreed to keep him while Pete recovers from back surgery."
Hannah laughed. "Well, Jacob fooled me. I really thought he was Claire. Does he imitate you, too?"
"Not me. And not Bob either, at least not yet. He says two things he learned from Pete, though."
"What are they?" Hannah took another forkful of cake. It was so delicious, she wanted to just put her head down and inhale it.
"The first one is, Brrr, it's cold out there! And I won't repeat the second one. It has something to do with the weather and someone digging a well, though."
A possible phrase popped into Hannah's head, but she wasn't about to utter it in the parsonage. "Has Jacob learned anything else since he's been here with you?"
"No, and it's not for lack of effort. Bob and Claire have been trying to teach him to say his name, but he doesn't seem interested."
The phone on the end table rang, and Hannah took another bite of her cake while Grandma Knudson answered it. The cake layers had a slightly reddish tint and Hannah remembered that the recipe she'd copied had called for a half-cup of cocoa powder. Cakes made with cocoa powder often took on a nice mahogany color. She reread what she'd written on the recipe card that Grandma Knudson had given her and realized that the deep, dark flavor she'd failed to identify initially must be from the strong coffee that complemented the chocolate. No wonder this cake was so good!
"That was Bob," Grandma Knudson told her, replacing the phone in its cradle. "They're on their way home, and they said they're bringing a surprise for me."
"Any idea what it could be?"
"Coffee ice cream, pickled herring, or ring bologna." Grandma Knudson gave a little giggle that sounded as if it had come from the throat of someone one-fifth her age. "I'd better turn that coffee on. I have it all ready to go."
In less time than it took Hannah to finish the rest of her cake, Grandma Knudson was back. "Maybe they aren't bringing me something to eat. I was thinking that they might have picked up a tall, dark-haired stranger. I'd really love it if they brought me a tall, dark-haired stranger!"
Hannah stared at Grandma Knudson in surprise. "You're thinking of dating again?"
"Good heavens, no! It's just that it would be fun to tell Pam Baxter that she was right. She was the one who told me I'd meet a tall, dark-haired stranger."
"Of course," Hannah said, remembering that Pam was the teacher who'd dressed up in a fortune-teller costume at the last Jordan High carnival.
"Did you have your fortune told, Hannah?"
"Yes. Pam told me that I was going to come into money."
"And you do every day at The Cookie Jar," Grandma Knudson named Hannah's bakery and coffee shop on Main Street. "Pam was right in your case."
"But not in yours?"
"No. My problem seems to be that there aren't many strangers who come to Lake Eden and wind up at the parsonage. As a matter of fact, I can't remember the last stranger who came to town and ended up here. There were more strangers when we had the hotel, but now ..."
"We're back!" a voice called out, interrupting Grandma Knudson's recollections.
Hannah opened her mouth to call out a hello to Claire and Bob, but she reconsidered. Had she heard Claire's voice, or was it Jacob who'd imitated her again?
"It's Claire," Grandma Knudson said, responding to Hannah's unspoken question. "Jacob's in his cage in the bedroom, and Claire's voice came from the other end of the house."
"Here we are," Bob announced, stepping into the parlor with Claire. They made a perfect couple. Bob's dark, wavy hair and sturdy body set off Claire's blond, sylphlike beauty. "Hi, Hannah."
"Hello, Bob. Hi, Claire." Hannah couldn't help noticing that they were holding hands. Not only that, they were both smiling, and they looked supremely happy. Of course smiling and looking supremely happy wasn't all that unusual for newlyweds. Bob and Claire had married on New Year's Eve and this was only the first week in February.
"Where's my surprise?" Grandma Knudson demanded of her grandson. "Hannah and I have been on pins and needles trying to guess what it is."
"What was your guess?" Claire asked Hannah.
"I didn't have the foggiest notion. Grandma Knudson did, though. She told me it was probably coffee ice cream, pickled herring, or ring bologna."
"It's not any of those," Bob said with a laugh. "Try another guess, Grandma."
"If it's not those, then it must be a tall, dark-haired stranger!"
"What?" Bob looked at her in surprise.
"Don't look so shocked. Pam Baxter told me I'd meet a tall, dark-haired stranger at the last school carnival and ... Oh goodness gracious! There he is!"
"It looks like Pam Baxter was right," the stranger said, crossing the room to give Grandson Knudson a big hug.CHAPTER 2
"I never would have recognized you in a million years!" Grandma Knudson said, reaching out to give the stranger who wasn't a stranger a pat on the cheek.
The man laughed. "I'm not surprised. I've changed a lot since high school. Less hair, more body fat, and I'd like to think a bigger brain."
"Well, it's just wonderful that you stopped here to see me!" Grandma Knudson turned to Hannah. "This is Matthew Walters. He lived with Bob's father and me almost thirty years ago."
"My father and mother wanted to go to Africa as missionaries, and they asked Reverend and Mrs. Knudson if I could live with them while they were gone. My uncle and aunt went with them."
"That's right," Grandma took up the story. "Matthew's father had a younger brother, and Matthew's mother had a younger sister. They met at the wedding, fell in love, and got married a year later. They had a son and Matthew's cousin Paul stayed with us, too." Grandma Knudson turned to Matthew. "How is Paul? I haven't heard from him in years."
"Paul is ..." Matthew stopped speaking and frowned. "I'm not sure how Paul is. We haven't kept in touch."
Grandma Knudson looked surprised. "But why? You were so close when you were young."
"I know we were. Since my father and Paul's father were both ministers with churches only twenty-some miles apart, our families spent a lot of time together. But remember how Paul got into trouble while he was here by breaking into school lockers?"
"Of course I remember. But he didn't actually take anything valuable. It was Bill Garrison's last year as principal, and he told me that Paul was just trying to get attention from the girls by breaking into their lockers and taking little things. He thought it was because you two had spent a lot of time together when you first got here and now that you were dating, Paul felt left out."
"That's what everyone thought, but looking back on it now, I'm afraid it was the start of something bigger, almost like a trial run just to see if he could get away with it."
"What makes you think that?" Claire asked.
Matthew drew a deep breath, and Hannah could see that he was uncomfortable talking about his cousin. "Well ... things escalated when our parents finished their mission and Paul's family moved to Cedar Rapids."
"What do you mean, escalated?" Grandma Knudson asked.
"Let's just say that Paul didn't grow up to be an outstanding citizen, if you know what I mean."
"Oh, dear! I was afraid of something like that. Paul didn't seem the least bit remorseful when I talked to him about the school lockers." Grandma Knudson gave a sigh, and then she reached out to pat Matthew's hand.
"You don't have to sugarcoat it for me, Matthew. Did Paul commit a crime?"
Matthew hesitated briefly, and then he dipped his head. "Yes, he did. I don't know all the details, but we heard he was serving ten to twenty in a prison in Iowa."
"Ten to twenty is a stiff sentence," Bob remarked. "Your cousin must have done something fairly serious."
"It was a burglary gone bad. I had a private detective look into it, and he said Paul got out in five."
"But that's only half of his sentence," Hannah pointed out.
"I know. The detective thought it was probably due to prison overcrowding and a reduction in funding. All I really know is that Paul was released and a few days later the trail went cold."
"Maybe he learned his lesson and decided to become an honest person," Claire suggested. "He could have moved to another state and started a new life."
Hannah noticed that Matthew didn't sound at all convinced. It was clear that he didn't think his cousin was now on the straight and narrow. "What made you hire a private detective?" she asked.
"My Aunt Sarah was diagnosed with bone cancer. She's Paul's mother, and I thought he ought to know, that maybe he'd come home, or write a letter to her, or something. But the detective couldn't find Paul. There was no trace of him anywhere after he left prison."
"Is it possible he changed his name?" Claire asked.
"He could have done that. The detective told me it's not that difficult to assume someone else's identity. For all we know, Paul's in Mexico, or Canada, or another foreign country living incognito. Or perhaps he's ... it could even be worse."
Hannah gave an involuntary shiver. She knew exactly what Matthew meant when he said, it could even be worse.
"Anyway, everything will work out in the end." Matthew smiled, but to Hannah's eyes it looked a bit forced. "I'm just glad to be here with you, Grandma Knudson. This room looks almost the same except ... this couch is new, isn't it?" Matthew reached out to pat the piece of furniture Grandma Knudson had described as a pink monstrosity. "I seem to remember a green couch. It was slippery."
"Green taffeta," Grandma Knudson said, reaching out to touch the pink davenport. "This is it re-covered. And after that it was cream-colored silk. That didn't last long. Then it was forest green voile. That was the best. And now there's this ... pink!"
Hannah laughed. She couldn't help it. Grandma Knudson spit out the word as if it were a bug that had flown in her open mouth.
"I'm so glad I ran into Bob at the hospital," Matthew said, smiling at Grandma Knudson. "I stopped to say hello to Doc Knight, and he introduced us. And then I met Claire and learned that they were newlyweds. We're going to have plenty of time to catch up on old times, Grandma."
"What do you mean?" Grandma Knudson asked.
"I'll be right here for the next two weeks. I promised I'd take over Bob's pastoral duties for two weeks so that he can take Claire on a real honeymoon."
A delighted smile spread over Grandma Knudson's face. "Why, that's just wonderful! And it's so kind of you to offer to help out here. But can the seminary spare you for that long?"
"They're sparing me for longer than that. I'm on a four month sabbatical." Matthew turned to smile at them all and then he turned back to Grandma Knudson. "Now how about some of that coffee and cake? Bob's been telling me how good your Red Devil's Food Cake is."
"That's because it's Bob's favorite. It always has been, ever since he was a little boy. And I've got some Lemon Poppy-seed Cake for you, Matthew."
Excerpted from Devil's Food Cake Murder by JOANNE FLUKE. Copyright © 2011 Joanne Fluke. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I'm done with this series...Waste of Time and Money. Self centered, Hannah, corrects grammar in her head, thinks the men in her life should be around when she chooses, can't decide what man she wants, but they can't move on with their lives. She is an over sized diva...If all i want are recipes, i will buy a cookbook. Goodbye Joanne Fluke...
I have faithfully read all of this series and I have to say this book was disappointing. The plot was weak, the recipes were the bulk of the book, and the dating relationships have become tiresome. If you are a fan of the series, it is only worth reading to learn what is happening with Norman. Otherwise, don't bother.
I have enjoyed the series however this book was too much recipes (not even one's I wanted to try) and not enough writing. The plot was boring- this was the worst one in the series- and I am dissappointed because I bought the ebook.
First the cop is a womanizer, next hannah is chasing after another guy from college (and selfishly wants them all), and now the dentist apparently isn't exactly loyal either! I am beginning to lose interest in this series. What happened to morals and happy endings? That's the reason I started reading these books.
Like most fans of the Hannah Swensen series, I awaited the arrival of the most recent installment, Devil¿s Food Cake Murder, not so much with anticipation as with curiosity. The last book left off, yet again, with the love triangle (Hannah/Norman/Mike) still unresolved. I finished this current book with anger and frustration. Ms. Fluke has an obligation to her readers that she has failed, yet again, to meet. This book is more a recipe book (the recipe for big, soft, chewy molasses cookies with its variations is eight pages long!) than a mystery. The murder is almost incidental and formulaic. As the story comes to its finale (it is again an ¿open book¿ soap-style ending), we are left with two unresolved issues: Is Delores, Hannah¿s mother, ill? Is Norman being blackmailed into marriage with Doctor Bev? The Norman issue in this reader¿s opinion is laying the groundwork for the next mystery; i.e., the murder of Doctor Bev and Norman ending up in the hot seat. Here come Hannah and Mike to the rescue! If you MUST read this book, do yourself a favor and wait until it¿s out in paperback or go to the library for the hardcover. The Devil¿s Food Cake Murder is, for this reader, the last in the series.
I'm glad I downloaded this book from my library to my Nook. If I had paid for it, I would want my money back. This series has never been great literature; that's not why I read these books. However, this addition to the series is so light and uninteresting, it's an insult to fans. The so-called mystery is transparent and makes me wonder just how stupid the Sheriff's department is that they needed Hannah to figure this one out. In other books in the series, Hannah's investigation of the murders usually augments that of the authorities, but this time I felt as if she was interfering and could be arrested for obstruction. Her relationship with Mike and Norman has never rung true, but in this book, it was particulary ridiculous, or maybe I'm just tired of it all. There were more than the usual number of recipes, but that's just to hide the fact the story was so short. Save your money!
I've read all the books in this series and this book was disappointing because of the hugh amount of recipes and weak plot. I enjoyed the development of Hannah's mom, Delores--glad she not the typical stereo type 60 yr old mother described in some books. Tiring of Hannah's indecision bouncing back and forth between Norman & Mike. Buy it if you need some new cookie recipes.
I too have had it with the "torn between two men" premise. How could you ruin a good series like this by running the romance angle into the ground. What a shame! She could have married by now and (I pick Norman-good hearted guy) and that would have opened up all kinds of story possibilities. I also think her treatment towards her mother is overdone and mean so goodbye. Thank you "nrcookie" for you comments to make me realize I'm not alone in my disappointment.
I have read all of the Hannah Swensen books and find them to be great fun. The characters seem like old friends, and the prose is uncomplicated and entertaining making this the perfect book to help you unwind when you need to escape from real life for a bit.
This is an engaging mystery set in the fictitious town of Lake Eden, Minnesota. Our sleuth, Hannah, is caught up in a case of mistaken identity and stolen jewels. Romantically, she wavers between officer Mike and dentist Norman and seems to settle on Norman; but the book ends with a cliffhanger involving Norman's past.
I listened to the Recorded Books audio version of this book. Somehow, the narrator's voice did not seem quite right for Hannah, but the other voices that she did were on the mark. The story revolves around the murder of the visiting Rev. Matthew, who has taken Pastor Bob's place at the Lutheran church while he and Clare go off on their honeymoon. Of course, it's the dead of winter in Minnesota so everyone needs lots of coffee and cookies to stay warm. This is not the book to read if you are dieting or hungry with no access to food. Numerous cookie recipes were read as part of the presentation. Of course, Hannah eventually gets to the bottom of the mystery. The real shocker comes at the very end of the book with an announcement concerning one of the men in Hannah's life. Stay tuned for the next Cooke Jar Mystery to find out what Hannah will do.
This series just keeps getting worst. Weakest book of the entire group.
These books are getting a mite predictable to say the least, but I do still enjoy the characters and I just finished reading a very heavy and long book before I started this one. It was a nice way to to come down from what reading a book like the long one does to me. It's winter in Lake Eden when the action takes place, and it's a cold one. Hannah and her friends are trying to solve the mystery of the murdered parson. Who would murder a parson anyway? And what did Jacob the mynah bird see while he was in his cage at the murder scene? You get it the drift, don't you? These are nice, light mysteries with kind of fun characters. I have enjoyed and still am enjoying this totally "cozy" series.
This book left us really hanging. Now I can hardly wait for the next book to come out. Probably in 2012.
I feel I'm at the crossroads as to whether I should continue reading the series.Overall, I like the town and the characters, though Hannah (the main character) has been annoying me more and more over the past few books. I can't tell how much is the character and how much is the author. Hannah seems to be getting even more pedantic, with her constant correcting of grammar/facts of other characters (even if she doesn't say it out loud). She's also a bit of a know-it-all, which gets rather tiresome. I'm not sure where the gun rant via Lisa came from. To me it didn't seem to fit the overall story.I was not happy with the ending, for various reasons. I won't spoil things here, but I'm not sure how Fluke will write herself out of this one. To me, it seemed very out of character for both the one character involved and the series.I'd give bonus points to Hannah actually using the phrase "Dominatrix Day", but I'm not entirely convinced Hannah would even know what a dominatrix was...
While the the recipes sounds delicious as always and the possible mistaken identity angle of this story's murder in Lake Eden is a bit better than the last couple in the series, I'm getting ready to call it a day. I don't think the surprise revelation at the end of this book is going to change the bizarre three way love triangle Fluke has cornered herself into.My suggestion is to either have Norman sell out and move or have Mike promoted to a police force down in the Cities. After all, his homicide closure rate rocks.
A stranger, or a near stranger, has come to town. Reverend Matthew Walters spent some time in Lake Eden as a teen and is now back to fill in for the local Lutheran minister while he's on his honeymoon cruise. Something's not quite right, but before Hannah can figure out what it is Reverend Matthew's been murdered. Or was it Reverend Matthew? Perhaps it was his nearly identical cousin Paul, recently released from prison after serving time for a burglary gone wrong. Hannah, along with the usual gang, must determine first of all who was murdered, then why, and finally, by whom.Don't worry, they get the job done.This, the 14th installment in Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swensen (mysteries with recipes!) series, is of a piece with its predecessors. Somehow, it's simultaneously light and fluffy and loaded with fat, sugar, and empty calories. Still, it satisfies. There is the requisite amount of coffee drinking and cookie eating (as always, one marvels at how these people don't all weigh 300 pounds...and how do they ever manage to get any sleep?). In addition to the usual mouth-watering recipes for cookies and cakes and desserts of all sorts this time around there are several recipes for main courses, two of which--Pineapple Casserole and Welsh Rarebit--veer dangerously close to classic white trash fare. But then again, yum.If you like your cozies truly cozy, with no bad language, all violence happening off-stage, and only the merest hints of sex, then Hannah Swensen's the gal for you.
Once again, Hannah has stumbled on a murder-but who has been murdered, Rev. Matthew or his not so angelic cousin, Paul? And who is the murderer? A minah bird may hold all the answers.Joanne Fluke has once again written a book that will keep you second guessing your second guesses.
Well, I've got this series' formula down enough that I can pick the crime and/or villain within the first couple chapters. And the probable plot set-up for the next book is usually presented on the last couple pages. It's time to stop with this series.
Story line was good, recipes interesting, but a bit distracting.
Matthew Walters has agreed to take the pulpit of the local church in Lake Eden while Reverend Bob and Claire take their honeymoon. But they've just left town when Hannah finds him shot next to a piece of her Devil's Food Cake. For those who love the characters, they'll find another fun adventure. Those who are frustrated by the love triangle of think the series is too light will find nothing to change their minds here.
This was another fun and easy read!
Plot twists and turns keep you and Hannah guessing who is who.
I love the Murder She Baked series and started with the first and have read them in order. Also love the fact that there's recipes included. So glad they made some into movies!
predictible for a romance novel/mystery.