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Book Reviews

Milt Gross Book Review: "Devil's Food Cake Murder" by Joanne Fluke
By Milton M. Gross
Feb 3, 2013 - 1:05:26 AM

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The cover of this baking murder mystery was attractive enough for me to pick it up from a book-swapping shelf at our local Toyota dealer. I would not have motivated me to pay the $24 for it listed inside the book jacket. Milt Gross photo.
I'm not much of a cook except for making our Sunday breakfast, which Dolores eats with me as a matter of companionship.

A couple of a hundred years ago, when I was a camp counselor, I stewed a mean kettle of Slumgulian, which I had never seen spelled and over which the campers didn't fight for the biggest helping.

Nor am I a reader of cookbooks, since Dolores takes care of that department for every other meal of the week except that Sunday breakfast.

This week's book takes the cake, Devil's Food or other, any other. It is 322 pages long, about the length of a typical mystery story. Only this one, without counting to be certain I'm not fibbing, dedicates a third of its pages to recipes.

Yup recipes. The rest is a sort-of fiction murder-mystery tale.

Most novels and short stories, whatever their topic, tend to get the reader-grabbing part right out front. For instance, the one I'm reading now starts out at about paragraph one to grab you and let you know there is a serious problem going to occur downstream somewhere through its pages.

And it doesn't wait. Immediately you're dragged into the plot with all the description of horror and emotional tension you expect from a good murder mystery.

Devil's Food Cake Murder gets at the scary stuff in chapter nine. Chapter nine. The climax is good, somewhere near the end, the kind of frightening excitement you might find in a Sue Grafton thriller. The one of hers that quickly comes to mind is when the heroine quietly raises the lid to the big metal trash can in which she's hiding and shoots the murders. Bang. That's it. Robert Parker's go the same dramatic route. The end comes with a bang.

The Devi's Food one has the climax, then drags on for awhile longer. I think one of the best lines in the book is not in the book but on the book cover, where it states, "These days, everyone in Lake Eden, Minnesota, is buzzing with activity, and Hannah Swensen is no exception. But no matter how busy she may be, Hannah can always find time to help a friend in need -- especially when he's been murdered."

Even that paragraph is a bit inaccurate. Yup, a friend is in need just before he get murdered, but Hannah didn't help him at all. Especially when he was murdered. A great reader-grabbing paragraph, though.

It contains the humor of a typical little-old-lady (in this case only one, because Hannah is not old), which I've come to expect in books with titles similar to this one. But the mystery part becomes too draggy and is broken up by far too much discussion about baking and details of women's clothing and other not-pertinent stuff.

The author, Joanne Fluke, credits Grandma with a lot of intelligence and gives Grandma a major role in solving the murder mystery, as in Who Done It, and in saving Hannah's life at the climax.

The climax I found to be properly "scary." After all, climbing around in the bell tower of a church does have that aspect to it. I know because I've done just that. Not to solve a crime, but to help an elderly deacon chainsaw away the supports for the roof of the bell tower that threatened to come tumbling down.

I think the Devil's Food plot was okay, as good as any. But she could have written it in about a third of the verbage, in my probably not-totally humble opinion. I think I would have given the book a better review had it been a lot, as in a lot, shorter.

As some other mysteries, the tale wanders back to teen-age-hood, and then gets up to where we are.

Where we are, of course, involves a romance. Perhaps it is too romances in a strange way but which I mean that Hannah wasn't sure with which guy she was actually in love with until the very end. Hey, I've always found the subject of whom I was in love with not all that mysterious. I knew -- and still do.

One series of incidents, apparently included to build suspense by giving us something else to consider as part of the mystery, involved a cat. Now Dolores and I are cat lovers, by which I mean they put up with us and do all the cuddly stuff they do to keep their kitty evolution moving forward. But I never saw a cat, as did Hannah's kitty Moishe, open a bureau drawer, push past the open drawer, remove a balled-up sock from the drawer below, and place said sock atop the refrigerator. The only mystery I found when reading that was what motivated Fluke to include such a bizarre and impossible series of feline events in the story.

Good fiction generally involves incidents that are possible. Otherwise, we're dealing in fantasy.

A final mystery struck me as I read the cover. On the very top it states, "NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR." I know I'm a tad slow about things at times, but I keep seeing this same description on many book covers. I suppose a fair number of women read this type of tale, but "bestselling author?" If I were cynical, which of course I'm not, I would wonder if you get that description by buying it from that well-known magazine. I'm fairly sure that doesn't happen.

That being that, the author has 13 other books listed to her credit.

But I am sure that Devil's Food Care Murder, published in 2011 by Kensington Publishing Corp., 1119 West 40th Street, New York, NY 10018 will not get a you've-got-to-read-this-one rating from this reviewer.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2012

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