Murder-as-entertainment was never my thing. Having spent a short chapter of my life working on a true-crime television show that resulted in daily calls to my mom to tell her I loved her, I’m not one to rush towards grisly Netflix docs or podcasts about someone’s favorite murders. But one afternoon while waiting in the checkout line at a grocery store, I noticed an ad on the conveyor belt divider for the newest book by Joanne Fluke, a New York Times bestselling author who apparently holds the much-coveted title of “Queen of Culinary Capers.”
The book was called Raspberry Danish Murder, a title that, given my tendency to request the dessert menu at the start of every restaurant meal I partake in, instantly caught my attention. As it turns out, Raspberry Danish Murder, which was released in February of this year, is the 22nd (!) book in an ongoing series surrounding a fictitious bakery owner/detective named Hannah Swensen. Each installment features a new murder for Hannah to solve, along with at least a dozen recipes for baked goods and (an occasional) savory dish, each mentioned somewhere in the story. The most accurate way to describe these books might be “cookbooks with smatterings of fiction woven in” — which is precisely why they’re my favorite guilty-pleasure reading material.
The protagonist, Hannah, is a red-headed 20- or 30-something (depending on how far along in the series you are) living in the fictional small town of Lake Eden, Minnesota. She lives with her giant orange cat, Moishe, is very close with her mother and sisters, and, despite being an innocent bakery owner, manages to find herself entangled in multiple murders each calendar year. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly macabre elements — they’re about as scary as Dr. Seuss stories, complete with a small-town setting that adds a dose of provincial charm. Hannah knows everyone in town by name (in addition to their favorite sweet treat), and her bakery, the Cookie Jar, acts as a community meeting place for Lake Eden’s locals. Murder might be what excites the town, but Swensen’s desserts are what unite it.
. . . .
Hannah’s desserts, of course, are actually Fluke’s recipes, which, as she told the New York Times in 2017, come from her own kitchen experiments, her family’s recipe books, and from fans. The featured recipes often have nothing to do with the actual plot line of a book — for instance, a quick reference to deep-fried candy bars made during a visit to the county fair in Key Lime Pie Murder warrants the inclusion of “Ruby’s Deep-Fried Candy Bars” in the recipe index.