The Hannah Swensen Mysteries

  • Fri Sep 17th, 2010 11:36pm
  • Life
The Hannah Swensen Mysteries

Although the sudden departure of summer has left me disgruntled (it could have at least said goodbye) I don’t actually mind fall.

True, the rainy darkness gives me the feeling of living inside a damp bucket, but that feeling is not without its benefits. With fall comes my season pass to sit in a squashy chair and break out the comfort reading.

This year I discovered a sophisticated hybrid of comfort reading: Joanna Fluke’s “Hannah Swensen Mysteries.” She combines the ultimate brain candy of plot-lines; murder mysteries with a happy ending, with multiple baked good recipes. Have I lost you?

Essentially, the central character is the eponymous Hannah Swensen, who owns a bakery and cookie shop in the small Minnesota town of Lake Eden.

In between ticking along with midwestern life and stumbling across dead bodies at regular intervals, she bakes a wonderful array of cookies. It is the recipes for these cookies and desserts that appear at certain points between chapter breaks.

Fluke is a genius. Now, not only can I sit and read the fall away, I can imagine that if I wanted to get out of my squashy chair, I could bake a batch of deliciousness to eat while I read.

Of course so far I haven’t got around to actually getting up. Part of the fun is to just read the recipes and imagine. One can choose between floating away on thoughts of who could have possibly killed uncle Gus with an ice pick at the family reunion, or thoughts of pumpkin white chocolate cookies or blueberry cream puffs.

These books are not challenging, and yet steer clear of silliness. Fluke manages to navigate a path between the believable, and the bombastic. The cast of characters, as predictable as they are life- like, carry on through their midwestern lives.

As Fluke herself grew up in a similar environment, the descriptions of Minnesota culture have an extra ring of legitimacy; The winters are so cold and monotonous that cars must be plugged into generators if left unattended, diets are heavy in dairy products and families are so stoic that an affectionate gesture is a pat on shoulder. There are pregnancies and love interests and irritating mothers. In other words, this is ordinary life.

But then of course there are the dead bodies. It is really only when you stop to think about it do the mysteries stretch the bounds of the acceptably realistic. Given that Fluke is now on her 13th Swensen mystery, and Lake Eden is a small town, a rational person has to wonder why anyone would hang out in a confined place that seems to attract murderers.

Somehow, however, that thought only seems to strike me when I’ve put the book down and am doing something less interesting. The second I am back in the world of mayo-drenched salads and corpses drowned in hot tubs, rationality goes out in the rain.

I have now read three of the books, and with each sporting different treats in the title “Carrot Cake Murder,” “Apple Turnover Murder” I keep going back for more mystery, and more recipes.

Currently on “Plum Pudding Murder” I flick between chapters concerning a killer in a christmas tree sale ground, and recipes for christmas cookies. Crazy, perhaps, comforting, definately.

Ultimately the mysteries are not complex and the ending not revelatory. However the cultural context comes from a place of experience and truth, the mysteries are diverting, and the recipes give me something to aspire to. This is great fall time reading.