Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder - Joanne Fluke Do you ever get tired of the tense, serious, dry murder mysteries that lurk in the "New Hardcovers/Paperbacks" of bookstores or are highlighted at the "Employee Recommended" displays of Borders or Barnes and Nobles? Yeah, me too.
I first learned of this author by seeing someone on the train reading one of Joanne Fluke's books and thought, "What a yummy name! I wonder what it's about." And when I saw that the book was a sweet treat of mystery and home town coziness, I thought it might make a pleasant departure from the pseudo-serious books I had been reading.
Hannah Swensen has a sweet job--literally. She owns the local cookie store, The Cookie Jar. However, her well-mixed day encounters a lump when Ron LaSalle, a dairy delivery man, is killed with a shot in the head. Hannah's brother-in-law, Bill, is assigned to solve the case for a dual purpose: to find the man's murderer and to get himself promoted to detective. He asks Hannah to ask around town to find clues. Hannah, curious as ever, is eager to assist.

Good:
For you cookie lovers out there (me included), you get not only a good mystery, but you also get five cookie recipes definitely there to appease your palette when Hannah talks about making or selling her cookies. Chocolate Chip Cookies, of course, are the highlight, as are Regency Ginger Snaps, Black and Whites (fudge cookies), and Oatmeal cookies. (I actually haven't made any of them yet, but they sound delectable.)
Once you have a yummy treat in hand along with your book (you won't want to read this while hungry), you can fully indulge in the scrumptious setting, the nutty characters, and the smooth plot (okay, enough food metaphors). Seriously, Joanne Fluke is able to do what few other authors (Jan Karon and her 1-9 Complete Mitford Series (Paperback) (Mitford Series, Volumes 1-9) being the first to come to mind) and create a cute, quirky town replete with colorful characters. It is obvious that Fluke has lived in Minnesota as she talks about the cold weather, hooking up a truck to an outlet to start it, and other idiosyncrasies (such as how many Minnesotans don't own winter art). Fluke's characters are quirky and homey. Hannah, our protagonist, is pleasant, concerned, and friendly but also is far from perfect. She is also blunt, a loner, snoopy, and willing to bend (if not break) the law to solve a crime (I am not personally endorsing this, just bringing it up). Nonetheless, it is easy to root for Hannah and cheer her on in the quest to find Ron's murderer. Lisa, Hannah's assistant at The Cookie Jar, is quick to learn but ready to sacrifice a full scholarship to care for her dad. Andrea, Hannah's middle sister, is a career woman, not quite comfortable playing mommy and wife and knowing she wasn't what she ought to be. Other quirky townsfolk appear within these pages that will definitely solidify the home town feel.
Lastly, the mystery is very well done and follows a logical pattern. Hannah asks the questions I would ask but isn't suddenly a super-sleuth. Furthermore, there were plenty of twists and turns that made solving the mystery fun and actually mysterious.

Bad:
The book has moments where it is clear this is one of the author's first novels. Wording is one of the biggest giveaways, but also Fluke will skip over details that made me halt and have to figure out what she was talking about or suddenly summarize conversations once her characters have said all the important information. Also, the characters may irritate readers as they tend to fall into one of two categories: good guys (Andrea, Norman, Hannah) and bad guys (Coach Watson, Benton Woodley, Max). Other characters know more than their areas of expertise would suggest (i.e. Andrea, a real estate agent, suddenly becomes an anesthesiologist as she knows about the effects of the wrong mixture of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, and oxygen).
Other parts of the book take quite a leap of imagination to believe. One of the biggest and most unbelievable is why would a supposedly good detective (Bill) have his sister-in-law (Hannah) do most (if not all) of the investigating of a murder mystery? Wouldn't Bill have gotten in trouble with the police station? And wouldn't this undermine his ability to do his job? Another is: how can Hannah get away with asking everyone and his/her mother about the murder with no one in this small town figuring out that Hannah is investigating Ron's murder? And the last great one: with all the cookies that Hannah passes out, how does she ever make enough money to cover her overhead costs?
Lastly, showdown with the bad guy was straight out of a Nancy Drew book, and the conclusion was off the wall and cheesy.

Dialogue/Sexual Situations/Violence:
Very sparse scatterings of da** and he**.
Hannah mentions her sexual activity from before her move to Lake Eden (although nothing is directly mentioned). A hypothesis about the murderer includes a possible affair. Photos are found that are of women in compromising positions.
Ron is killed with a bullet to the head. A fist fight is brought up between a bouncer and Ron. A total of two men are killed.

Overall:
While certainly no meaty mystery (like Mary Higgins Clark, Agatha Christie, and others that I have not begun to indulge in) and having its share of faults (amateur writing, 1-D characters, and some unlikely assumptions), this book is nonetheless a treat. If you like cookies, a town filled with quirky people, and a small mystery all blended together, then this treat is for you.