Christmas Caramel Murder (A Hannah Swensen Mystery). I grew up reading and enjoying mystery novels. I started with the kids mysteries series then quickly turned to adult series. What I loved was my ability to follow the clues and discover the culprit with the detective no matter her age, career, race, or even sex. Mysteries still run the full gambit of target audience ages and also can fall into multiple subgenres like romances, paranormal, science fiction, and YA or children's literature. I have never read a Joanne Fluke novel before nor have I watched the Hallmark Channel's movies based on a few of them. Given that Fluke's books have been made into TV movies they must be fairly popular so I was looking forward to reading this book. I received an advanced reader's copy of this novel through the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review; no other form of compensation was received.
The first thing to note is that lead character, Hannah Swensen, runs a bakery and thus this mystery novel also has a touch of cookbook in it. In this case, there are 12 recipes in the book with cute notes about how the characters make them. Normally I'd test out a recipe or two in a book if it included some but none of the dozen offered in this book really fit with my family or our annual holiday party. I simply do not have the ingredients on hand or there were allergens or in general dislikes for most of them.
The genres of Christmas fiction and mystery have dedicated fans and Joanne Fluke, a best-selling author, has dedicated fans, I'm sure. But I wasn't impressed by this book for several reasons. However, I need to make it clear that this is my first Joanne Fluke book so I do not know the characters or the setting; perhaps I'm missing something but I doubt it.
I found the mystery common but that is fine; there are limited numbers of realistic murder mysteries in the world, the motives for killing someone are not that many after all. I kept waiting for Hannah Swensen, the lady with "slaydar" to really do a good investigation but it never happened. Instead a supernatural aid was used to put her on the correct path and that just felt weak to me. I don't think this paranormal factor is common to these mysteries given the reactions of the characters and honestly I don't know why it would be necessary in this one.
I found the community not so much quaint as annoyingly gossipy. Sure, this is a big plus to these average-person-as-investigator books but there was just something particularly gossipy about the tone and interactions that turned me off. I needed to feel connected to the characters and honestly I just felt they were huge busybodies. Hannah was just not impressive as a detective either, certainly not on par with a Miss Marples, Miss Franny Fisher, or even Nancy Drew whose ability to investigate and logically figure out the crime is head and shoulders above Hannah's.
It felt like half the book was about food! There were wonderful descriptions of food of all types in this book and the 12 included recipes contained entertaining notes that made them fun to read. That same level of description was missing for many of the characters. I have no idea what color hair for example Hannah has! You don't need to describe everyone in great detail, particularly in a series, but at least give the new readers a hint of what characters look like.
Finally I just found the writing itself to be simplistic. Instead of showing how characters feel we are given repeated statements about their thoughts to the point of feeling like these statements were more to fill out the word count than to advance characters or plot. Yes, this book is on the short side, but far more attention needed to be placed on the murder, the investigations, and the use of those investigations by the authorities to make this a real mystery novel.
That said, I know that many folks just want a quick, fun read and I can understand that this book will fulfill that need. It just isn't a need I personally have.
If you love the Hannah Swensen Mystery series and don't yet have this book, click below to buy it and also to help support The Chocolate Cult. If you someone on your friends or family gift list loves these sorts of books, consider giving it to them. It isn't too expensive and it isn't too big so it would be easy to carry to a party or to their house to give it as a gift.