Book Review: Bake, Borrow, and Steal by Ellie Alexander
By Doreen SheridanJanuary 7, 2022
Ashland, Oregon is all aflutter with the upcoming debut of a long-lost Shakespeare manuscript, set to be unveiled at a gala held by the local Southern Oregon Museum of Art. Director Javier de la Garza has contacted our heroine, Juliet Montague Capshaw (Jules, for short) to see whether her bakery-cafe Torte will cater the festivities with food appropriate to the Elizabethan era. In addition, he wants her to create a chocolate replica of the kind of desk and chair Shakespeare might have used, in order to display a confectionery version of the manuscript.
As pretty much everyone in Ashland, Jules included, is big into Shakespeare, she readily agrees. Building a desk out of chocolate proves to be a bigger challenge than she realized, and that’s even before she meets the overworked staff of SOMA and the overly-demanding donor throwing his weight around. But when the night of the gala arrives and Tim, the museum custodian, brings to her attention the fact that the cabinet containing the valuable manuscript looks a bit off, Jules has to drop everything and race to find Javier amidst the crowd. When they open the cabinet together, their fears are confirmed: the manuscript has indeed been stolen!
Jules and Javier are shaken and unsure of what to do next, given that they have a building full of eager patrons ready to take a look at this rare find. Things take a turn for the worse when Tim is found unconscious and someone else is found dead. Javier is swiftly arrested for theft, assault, and murder, putting a serious dampener on the festivities.
Neither Jules nor her stepfather, the police chief she fondly calls the Professor, is convinced of Javier’s guilt. But the evidence is overwhelming. The Professor confesses to her:
[“]As you know, Javier and I have been friends and fellow admirers of the Bard for many years. I wish I could say with complete authority that there’s no chance of his involvement, but for now the evidence says otherwise, and I am bound by duty to follow the evidence, even if it doesn’t lead me where I personally want it to.”
“Doesn’t it seem unlikely that someone with such a high regard for Shakespeare and art in general would do anything to jeopardize a piece as valuable as the manuscript?”
“Without a doubt, but in this line of work, we deal in facts, not supposition.”
When the FBI gets involved, Jules finds herself looking to clear Javier’s name as she and the other employees of Torte try to make the best of the gala disaster. But could a wrong turn in the museum archives put her life in jeopardy… and at the hands of the very man she’s attempting to exonerate?
This was another well-written installment of the Bakeshop Mystery series, with an even greater emphasis on Shakespeare than usual. I’d never heard of the theory that Shakespeare was actually a woman before reading it here, as put forward by SOMA’s assistant director Zoe Joiner:
[“]The clues are there in the pages of the canon. They’re not even subtle. Female power, strong female friendships, a push for equality, and more. I’m writing my dissertation on the subject, and my opening line is from Emilia in Othello. ‘Let husbands know/Their wives have sense like them.’” She removed her glasses and tossed them on her desk. “Shakespeare’s work is rife with heroines, but I challenge you to find many heroes. No, it’s obvious if you open your eyes and start to pay attention. Shakespeare was a woman. The only question I haven’t found the answer to yet is whether she was one woman or many.”
While I’m not personally convinced by this theory—it’s perfectly possible to be a feminist without being a woman, after all—it does provide fascinating insight to themes and motifs common to the Bard’s work. The love of Shakespeare is palpable throughout the pages, as is the love the Torte staff has for their vocation of nourishing the community with love. It’s so great to see Jules and Carlos, her once estranged husband and now co-worker at Torte, be at such a good place in their lives, with Jules already looking forward to taking the next step in their future together. Overall, this was a heartwarming cozy that series fans will not want to miss!