The residents of Lake Eden, Minnesota, are planning to paint the town red, white, and blue to celebrate the Fourth of July--but the fireworks are already going off at Hannah Swensen's bake shop, The Cookie Jar...
Lemon Meringue Pie Murder
Hannah Swensen thought she'd finally discovered the recipe for a perfect life. But her sometime beau Norman Rhodes tosses a surprise ingredient into the mix when he phones to tell her he's just bought a house from local drugstore clerk Rhonda Scharf--which he plans to tear down in order to build the dream home he and Hannah designed. It seems the plan has been cooking for quite some time, and Hannah's shocked. Especially since her ring finger is still very much bare...
The good news is that the soon-to-be-torn-down house is full of antiques--and Norman has given Hannah and her mother first dibs. They uncover some gorgeous old furniture, a patchwork quilt...and Rhonda Scharf's dead body. A little more sleuthing turns up the half-eaten remains of a very special dinner for two--and one of The Cookie Jar's famous lemon meringue pies. Now it's up to Hannah to turn up the heat--and get busy tracking down clues. Starting in her very own kitchen...
Part of the RS Summer Picnic Sale
A lemon meringue pie, two pieces cut and only one eaten (an important clue or A lemon meringue pie, two pieces cut and only one eaten (an important clue or an insult to her cooking?), an empty bottle of wine and only one of two take-out dinners consumed-these bits of evidence set Hannah Swenson, amateur sleuth and owner of the Cookie Jar Bakery in Lake Eden, Minn., on the trail of a murderer in Fluke's fourth fun, frothy cozy (after 2002's Blueberry Muffin Murder). Who could have killed voluptuous Rhonda Scharf, whose half-buried body Hannah's interfering mother discovers in the basement of an old house one of Hannah's swains has just purchased? The investigation proceeds unhurriedly, with plenty of time for cookies, coffee and small-town gossip. Enticing recipes for cookies and other treats, presented with helpful procedural hints, are an extra bonus.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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January 31, 2004
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Excerpt from Lemon Meringue Pie Murder by Joanne Fluke
Hannah Swensen was startled awake at four forty-seven in the morning. Two feral eyes were staring down at her. She batted out at them and they vanished, leaving an accusatory yowl floating in their wake.
"This is my pillow, not yours!" Hannah muttered, retrieving it and settling it in, under her head. But before she could close her eyes for the few precious minutes of sleep that remained until her alarm clock blared, guilt set in. She'd never slapped out at Moishe before. Her orange and white tomcat had taken enough abuse while he was living on the streets. His left ear was torn and he was blind in one eye, a reminder of how he'd once fought to survive. In the time since Hannah had invited him in to share her condo, they'd become friends. Now that friendship was in jeopardy. If worse came to worst, Moishe might never trust her again.
"I'm sorry, Moishe. Come here and I'll scratch your ears." Hannah patted the sheets, hoping for feline forgiveness. "I'd never really hurt you. You should know that by now. You just scared me, that's all."
There was another yowl, a bit less irate this time, coming from the floor by the foot of her bed. Hannah patted the sheets again and she felt a thump as Moishe landed on the mattress. All was forgiven and that made her feel good, but now that she was wide awake, her neck began to twinge with a vengeance. Moishe must have commandeered her pillow shortly after she'd gone to bed and now she was paying the price of his comfort. The only cure for her sore neck would be a long hot shower before she went to work.
"Fine. I'm up," Hannah grumbled, reaching out to flick off her alarm. "I'11 get your breakfast. Then I'll shower."
Once she'd found her slippers, Hannah padded down the hallway to the kitchen. She flicked on the light and opened the window to catch any early morning breezes that might be lurking outside her condo complex, but only warm, muggy air greeted her. Lake Eden, Minnesota, was in the middle of an unseasonable heat wave, unusual weather for the tail end of June, and the nights were almost as hot as the days.
Moishe took up a position by his food bowl and gazed at her expectantly. His tail was flicking back and forth like a metronome, and Hannah wondered idly whether she could attach a fan and harness all that energy.
"Patience is a virtue," Hannah muttered, quoting her mother. Then she remembered that the admonition hadn't worked on her, either. "I'm getting your breakfast right now, even before my first cup of coffee. If that isn't an apology, I don't know what is!"
Moishe's tail continued swishing as Hannah went to the broom closet and opened the padlock she'd installed on the door. Some people might think that the padlock was overkill, but Moishe got insecure every time he could see a bare patch at the bottom of his food and he wasn't shy about helping himself from the mother lode. Tired of sweeping up spilled kitty crunchies, Hannah had attempted to secure her stock by several unsuccessful methods. Moishe had conquered a bungee cord, a new heavy-duty latch, and a hook-and-eye fastener. When her determined feline roommate wanted food, he turned into a regular Houdini. No lock could stop him for long.
Once Moishe was crunching contentedly, Hannah poured herself a cup of coffee and headed off to the shower. Today was Friday and it promised to be a busy day. Not only was Friday Pie Day at The Cookie Jar, Hannah's bakery and coffee shop, she had to fill an order for five batches of Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies. The order had come from a Minneapolis caterer and the cookies were for a wedding reception.
Hannah and her partner, Lisa Herman, had mixed up the cookie dough before they'd locked up the previous night. Hannah would bake the cookies and then the pies, Lemon Meringue this week, before Lisa came in at seven-thirty. It was Lisa's job to decorate the cookies with the initials of the bride and groom, "PP" for Pamela Pollack and "TH" for Toby Heller.
After a few minutes under the steaming spray, Hannah's neck pain had faded into a dull ache. Since the KCOW weatherman had predicted that today could be one of the hottest days of the summer, she decided to wear her lightest-weight slacks, the ones she'd chosen last summer on a rare shopping trip with her sister, Andrea. Hannah stepped into the slacks and struggled as she attempted to pull them up. Even with the zipper wide open, she couldn't get them past her hips. They hadn't been this tight when she'd tried them on in the dressing room!
Hannah eyed her straining slacks balefully. She'd gained weight, a lot of it. It was bad enough being the tallest one in her petite family and the only daughter who'd inherited her father's unruly red hair. Now she was also overweight. It was time to go on a diet whether she liked it or not.
Visions of an endless stream of salads with low-cal dressing danced through Hannah's head as she peeled off the slacks and rummaged in the closet for a pair with an elastic waistband. Jogging was out. She hated it and she didn't have the time anyway. Joining a gym wasn't possible, either. The nearest gym was out at the mall and she'd never drive out there to use it. As much as the prospect sickened, she'd just have to limit her intake of food. It was the only possible way for her to shed the weight she'd gained.
Hannah turned to glance at the bathroom scale. She knew it was only her imagination, but it looked coiled and ready, like a rattlesnake set to strike. She told herself the sensible thing would be to weigh herself now, to see how much she needed to lose. She even took a step toward the scale, but she stopped when her heart began to pound and her palms grew damp. When was the last time she'd stepped on the scale? It had to have been at least six months ago. Perhaps she should diet for a week and then weigh in. That way the shock wouldn't be so severe. At least coffee didn't have calories. She'd have another cup and decide later about when she should weigh herself.
The hands of her apple-shaped kitchen clock were approaching five-twenty by the time Hannah finished her third cup of coffee. She refilled Moishe's food bowl and poured the rest of her coffee into the car carrier Bill Todd, her brother-in-law, had given her two Christmases ago.
"'Bye, Moishe. Be good while I'm gone," Hannah said, giving him a scratch under the chin and then slinging her saddlebag-sized purse over her shoulder. "I may be condemned to lettuce for supper, but I promise that you'll get a big bowl of..."
Hannah broke off in mid-sentence as the kitchen wall phone rang. It had to be her mother. No one but Delores would call her this early. For a fleeting second, Hannah thought about letting the answer machine pick up, but her mother would just track her down later, perhaps at an even more inconvenient time. There was no sense in delaying the inevitable.
The phone pealed a second time and Moishe turned his back on it, sticking his haunches in the air and flicking his tail. Hannah laughed, amused at his antics. Delores was not one of Moishe's favorite people. She was still laughing as she grabbed the phone and answered, "Hello, Mother."
There was silence on the other end of the line and then Hannah heard a chuckle, a male chuckle. "I'm not your mother."
"Norman?" Hannah plopped her purse on the kitchen table and sat down in a chair. Norman Rhodes was one of her favorite people and she dated him occasionally. "What are you doing up this early?"
"I always get up this early. I wanted to catch you before you left. Hannah, I need a favor."
"What is it?" Hannah asked, smiling as she pictured Norman. She could hear water running and she knew he was making coffee in his mother's kitchen. Norman wasn't what most people would call handsome, but Hannah liked his looks. He had the kind of face people instinctively trusted.
"Will you reserve a big table at the rear of The Cookie Jar for me at nine-thirty this morning?"
"I can't," Hannah said with a grin.
Hannah laughed outright. "Because I don't have any big tables. They're all the same size. How about if I push two together for you?"
"That'd be fine. I've got some exciting news, Hannah."
"Really?" Hannah glanced up at the clock. She was running late, but that was all right. The pies wouldn't take long. She'd baked the crusts before she'd left work yesterday, and all she had to do was cook the filling and put on the meringue. She wanted to talk to Norman. She'd just work a little faster when she got to her cookie shop.
"I made an offer on a house and it's been accepted."
"You bought a house?" Hannah hadn't had an inkling that Norman was in the market for a house.
"That's right, and I want to sign the papers this morning before the seller changes her mind. I got a really good deal on the Voelker place."