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Book Review
Banana Cream Pie Murder
By Joanne Fluke

WARNING: SPOILERS, BIG SPOILERS AHEAD!

I discovered the Hannah Swensen series, by Joanne fluke, a few years ago. I was enchanted by the title Blackberry Pie Murder. I love blackberry anything and had to read the book. And I got hooked. I rushed off to BARD—that’s the National Library Services for the blind’s braille and audio digital service—and got all the books in the series, starting at book one and making my way through to what was the last book at the time. My dear friend, Blackberry Pie Murder. I’d never cared for cozy mysteries before, but I fell in love with Lake Eden, with Hannah’s bakery the Cookie Jar, with the characters, quirky, funny, kind or not so. I loved it all. Some books in the series were better than others, and I definitely had my favorites and ones I skipped over when I reread, in preparation for a new book release. I never thought I’d be so angry and disgusted with one of the books that I would consider giving up on Hannah Swensen for good. And yet, here I am.

Three books ago, when Hannah got engaged to Ross Barton, I was thrilled. I was so tired of the ongoing should-she-marry Norman or should-she-marry-mike debate that Hannah has with herself. Obviously, if she loved either of them enough, she wouldn’t be stumbling over making a decision. Mike is a jerk and Norman is too gooey. I liked Ross from the time he was first introduced in Cherry Cheesecake Murder, so I was ecstatic when Hannah booted both previous contenders for her hand and fell head over heels in love with Ross.

I reviewed Wedding Cake Murder, and my disappointment with that book was deep but not overwhelming. Mike and Norman were despicable in that one. But the worst was Hannah herself. Rushing off to a restaurant to catch a killer instead of rushing off to the church to marry her intended. She had her cell phone and at least half a dozen sheriff deputies in her contact list. So why, oh why did she go catch the killer? And then she jumps in a garbage truck to get away from him, has to be rescued again, by Mike naturally, and races down the church aisle covered in trash. I supposed it was supposed to be funny, but it wasn’t. It was horrible. That was then, Wedding Cake Murder.

Finally, yes, I’m there, my review of Banana Cream Pie Murder. This is when the spoilers begin, so read at your own risk. Personally, I love spoilers.

The book begins with Hannah’s mother lounging around her condo. She hears arguing from the condo below hers, but her friend, a former Broadway actress and a now acting coach for Lake Eden’s amateur acting group, so Dolores thinks it must just be someone acting. But then she hears a gunshot, and it was real. Does she immediately pick up her cell phone and call 911, or her son-in-law, bill, the sheriff, or even Mike the jerk, the homicide cop? No, of course not. She rushes downstairs into the scene of the crime, and she does find her friend dead, shot to death. Oh no. She thinks to herself that she must call her other daughter Hannah, who is conveniently on her honeymoon, and tell her she absolutely must come home right away and solve this crime.

From then on, the rest of the book is back to Hannah as the point of view character. Hannah is on her honeymoon. Ross is out of the cabin right now, and Hannah is thinking that it’s nice to have him away for a few minutes. He hovers too much and she’s not used to it and doesn’t like it. I have to say, having been single, living alone, since my divorce over thirty years ago. I get that. I do understand. It’s part of why I vow I will not marry again, ever. But I don’t think anyone would feel that way on their honeymoon. This was just the beginning of all the ways that Hannah no longer felt like Hannah to me.

We know the formula. Hannah and Ross come home from their cruise and Hannah begins to solve the mystery, while running her bakery and starting her new life with Ross. This should have been great, or at least, if not great, it should have been fun, and sweet and charming. We should have had happy moments between Ross and Hannah mixed in with the baking and sleuthing. The book should have had some added element with Hannah being married. But what we got was a very weird Hannah, a boring predictable mystery, Mike and Norman butting in and horning in where they don’t belong, and well, I don’t even know where to begin with Ross or the marriage aspect of the story. And a cliff hanger that makes no sense and shouldn’t be in a cozy mystery at all, in my opinion anyway.

My biggest complaints are about Hannah. They all go back to work the day after they get home from the honeymoon. Okay, so they all is just Hannah and Ross. That’s cool. But Hannah invites Mike and Norman over for dinner that same night. The night after she got home from her honeymoon! Yes, that’s right. What? Really? I wouldn’t want the gals my husband used to date to come over for dinner the night after we got home from our honeymoon. It felt weird and just off to me. Also, Hannah’s younger sister, Michelle, was staying in town for a while, instead of finishing her college semester. Hannah immediately asked her to stay at her condo, and it was Michelle who practically had to force her to call Ross and ask if he minded. And I understand that too. If you’re used to living alone, it takes time to get used to thinking for two and living for two, so to speak. I liked that Hannah didn’t feel she had to ask permission to go to the various places to ask questions as she tried to solve the murder. She’s an independent woman, and it’s nice to see it. And it would have been nice to see her being independent but still becoming a couple. I believe she spent more time with Mike and Norman than she did with Ross. At least, they got more screen time than Ross did. Hannah didn’t seem to be married at all. It felt like Ross was just a roommate or a guest, not someone Hannah loved deeply and was ecstatic to spend her life with. It just felt wrong.

Ross is a good guy. He accepts Hannah as she is in ways neither Mike nor Norman ever did. He doesn’t put her down, and he doesn’t try to stop her from doing whatever she wants to do. He doesn’t try to protect her too much. He encourages her and supports her in all her activities, including amateur sleuthing. I really wanted to see Mike and Norman dating other people, or even better, I’d have liked to see that both Mike and Norman had split the scene altogether. Yippee, happy day that would have been. He loves her as the strong woman she is and doesn’t try to make her anything less. He’d been the sort of man I could love, his personality I mean.

Of course, Hannah solves the mystery. Yawn, ho hum. Yep. As usual. Along the way, we see Andrea, Michelle, Dolores, Tracy and Bethy, Lisa and of course Moisha, Hannah’s wonderful cat. We don’t see enough of Ross, but we see the characters we’ve come to love over all the books. And we get some yummy new recipes. The banana cream pie recipe alone was worth reading the book to get.

What can I say about the ending? More spoilers, the biggest spoiler of all. Of course, Hannah nearly gets done in solving the crime. Mike the Jerk takes her home. Ross had been away on a trip, and as they pull into the parking lot of the condo, Hannah notices Ross’s car is home. She’s thrilled. Well, that’s nice at least. But when they get to her door, they discovered it is ajar. Mike goes in first and when he finally allows her to enter, he is somber and in cop mode. They can’t find Moisha at first either. Finally he appears, having been hiding in the closet, afraid of something. Oh, and Ross is nowhere to be found.

Mike leads Hannah down to the master bedroom, where she finds a half-packed suitcase, with Ross’s clothes jumbled into it. His keys are on the dresser along with his cell phone. Ross has disappeared. The only key he took with him is the key to the condo he shares with Hannah.

I was ready to throw my Victor Reader stream—an MP3 type player that plays accessible books—across the room. I was ready to scream and yell and have a complete fit of rage and irritation.

Mike, of course, Mike the Jerk, proceeds to tell Hannah that the reason Ross left everything is because he wants to disappear. He left money and credit cards and ID, so he can’t be traced. The Jerk works hard to place doubt in Hannah’s mind. He never gives her any other sort of idea for what it could be, and as far as I can tell, he doesn’t plan to investigate. And good grief, Hannah isn’t even investigating! Hannah, who can’t let a dead body pass her by, doesn’t even consider investigating what happened to her husband. The one man she loved so much that she couldn’t bear to be without him and married him. I don’t get it.

The main story ends with Hannah realizing that Ross took only the condo key, and so he must be coming home to her. But there is a brief epilogue sort of thing after that. Showing everyone, the usual gang, at Dolores and Doc’s place, watching the Mayor on TV accepting an award for his sister, the former Broadway star who got murdered at the beginning of the book. Remember her? Hannah is beginning to live again and feels good being out and surrounded by her family and friends, including Gooey Norman and mike the Jerk. However, Norman does get the only real points for anyone in this story, because he tells Hannah that he believes Ross loves her and that he will be back. Yay Norman. And Hannah is still not thinking of investigating.

One big red herring in the process of solving the murder, was an allusion to unscrupulous business managers for people like actresses. This was mentioned over and over and turned out to be nothing. Could have been just a red herring, but I also wonder if it’s a clue about Ross and his disappearing act. He was a Hollywood producer before giving it all up to move back to Lake Eden, Minnesota to be with his one true love. Personally, I believe Ross is in trouble but that he hasn’t done anything bad or illegal. I believe someone has done something bad to him. Because frankly, if we had all this set up and Ross turns out to be a bad guy, I am going to scream, really throw my book player, and delete every book in the series from my hard drive. I could not bear to lose Ross, to go back to Hannah debates over Gooey Norman or Mike the jerk, in essence, to go backward instead of forward. I do usually get bored with a series after a long time, having stuck with Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware series since the eighties, and Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch since the nineties. But those are the only two that haven’t come to bore me at some stage. I can move on from Hannah and Lake Eden, but I would be sad to do so because the entire series became so outrageous and unacceptable to me. I don’t know how long we have to wait for the next book. Another year? I only plan to read it to see what really happened to Ross, but I also hope it will restore my joy in my visits to Lake Eden and Hannah Swensen’s world.

I suppose this isn’t the most terrific book review. I had a gut reaction to this book, a visceral reaction. I didn’t hear the final words with any sense of contentment and pleasure at a nice comfortable experience. I was just angry. I felt cheated and frustrated. I’ve read plenty of books that make me angry. Take martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, where every good guy I love gets murdered. But it all makes sense in the world the author has created. Karen’s death in exodus by Uris broke my heart, but it worked with that story. I wasn’t outraged, feeling like the author cheated me and confused me for no reason. And that’s how banana Cream Pie left me, feeling angry, drained, cheated and confused. I didn’t like it at all. If I was handing out stars, it would get one, for the fantastic recipes.

Very sad to write this review.

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