I saw the temptingly cartoonish cover of Joanne Fluke's Plum Pudding Murder glinting at me from Target's book aisle a couple of weeks ago as I rolled my cart by in pursuit of paper towels. I'd read a few of Fluke's other dessert-themed mysteries, all of which featured heroine Hannah Swensen, Minnesota's favorite cookie shop proprietor-slash-sleuth. To be blunt, they hadn't exactly knocked my socks off. But then, almost any "cozy" murder mystery novel series pales in comparison to Mary Daheim's zany bed-and-breakfast tales. Perhaps it was this thinking coupled with my compulsive need to read something Christmasy during the Christmas season that motivated me to reach down, snatch the paperback, and toss it onto the towering heap in my cart. Relegated to the confines of my sickbed that weekend, I was awfully glad I'd succumbed. I gobbled Plum Pudding Murder in a single gulp.
This time Hannah, or, to be more accurate, Hannah's mild-mannered dentist boyfriend, Norman, stumbles upon the dead body of Larry Yaegar, a shady Christmas tree salesman (pun intended). Although Hannah is bombarded with cookie orders on account of the season, she drops everything and sets off in search of the killer, leaving her salt-of-the-earth business partner to pick up the pieces. It should be mentioned that Hannah offers up free cookies and other goodies to anyone who asks (and there are plenty of freeloaders in her midst), seemingly oblivious to her profit margin. Also, Norman isn't Hannah's only suitor. She's also dating Mike, a slick and handsome local cop and Norman's polar opposite. What's more, Norman and Mike know about each other and don't seem to mind, taking turns squiring Hannah around town with nary a sign of rivalry.
I couldn't help but wonder why Hannah would abandon her business to track down the identity of a cold-blooded killer who probably wouldn't balk at killing her. First of all, everyone knows that people who own their own businesses never have a spare moment, working harder than most nine-to-fivers just to make ends meet. As someone falling into that category, Hannah seems like she wouldn't have time to do her laundry let alone take off on a crime-solving adventure. Second of all, even if Hannah had all the time in the world, wouldn't trying to find a killer scare her? I don't know about you, but sometimes I feel like I'm taking my life in my hands when I go to the mall alone at night.
As I read, I continued thinking in this critical vein until something hit me. Fluke wasn't a sloppy writer. She was a smart writer. After all, most nine-to-fivers probably think that running a business full-time is glamorous, focusing on the independence and the creative challenge instead of the cranky customers, grueling hours, and tiny paychecks. Likewise, solving a murder probably sounds exciting to someone who's seen dead bodies only on "CSI." Fluke knows this, lacing her plot with enticing fantasy life tidbits designed to thrill and bait the secretary or bank teller safely ensconced in her La-Z-Boy.
So, I apologize, Ms. Fluke, if I've come off as snarky. Clearly, you know what you're doing. After all, I no more want to draw my sole income from a cottage industry than I want to court a bullet-happy lunatic. Yet I still enjoyed reading about Hannah doing just that. I guess that's why we read books. To escape reality and visit another dimension, even dimensions we don't want to inhabit. Once there, we're free to enjoy the excitement without the pitfalls, kind of like scarfing down a bowl of ice cream (or in this case, plum pudding) without absorbing the calories.
So, thanks for the treat, Ms. Fluke. It was mighty tasty.