Several months have elapsed since the emotional cliffhanger ending of the previous book in the Hannah Swensen series. Fortunately for Hannah, that unreformed cad Bradford Ramsey has had sense enough to stay out of her way—despite now teaching at the local college—so Hannah can concentrate on the rest of her life without him. Which, as summer begins, includes getting roped into a charity event run by the mayor’s wife, Stephanie Bascomb.
When Stephanie shows up at The Cookie Jar to solicit donations, Hannah’s quick-thinking partner Lisa Beeseman suggests that they make apple turnovers for volunteers to toast and sell over the course of the three-day charity gala instead. Stephanie accepts and provides Lisa with even more good news: one of the gala nights will feature a talent show! Lisa quickly volunteers her amateur magician husband (and town patrolman), Herb. When his usual assistant has to withdraw due to illness, Hannah is asked to step in, leading to a humorous subplot involving the cursed purple dress she had to wear the last time she took on the role.
But all humor is forgotten when Hannah discovers that Bradford is hosting the talent show—and that he’s finally made the connection between her and her younger sister, Michelle, who shows all the signs of having fallen for Bradford’s charms herself. An angry Hannah threatens him with violence if he doesn’t leave her family alone. So it’s super awkward when she discovers him dead right after the intermission—with one of her apple turnovers in his hand.
Fortunately, her sometimes-boyfriend Deputy Sheriff Mike Kingston doesn’t consider her a suspect and instead recruits her to help him find the murderer. Apparently, plenty of people—from discarded lovers to their angry exes—had reason to want Bradford dead. Hannah agrees to help but is distracted by the fact that her other boyfriend, Norman Rhodes, has been acting really oddly recently. While Hannah does solve the case—at great peril to herself—it’s really Norman’s bombshell that provides the greatest surprise of the book.
It’s weird, with most mystery series where stuff like this happens, I’m kinda mad that the crime-solving is clearly taking a backseat to the love triangle. But I really liked the new perspective Joanne Fluke brought to the romance, with Mike’s admission that he’s no good for Hannah (believe him when he says it, Hannah!) and Hannah’s own struggles with loving and feeling loved. I really care about these characters, and that’s a testament to Ms. Fluke’s ability to make them feel life-like, flaws and all.
Anyway, there were 21 recipes included in Apple Turnover Murder, and I could not resist this one (which came with a little lecture from Hannah on how she wasn’t about to let some lowlifes ruin a perfectly good name):
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F., rack in the middle position.
1 box graham crackers (I used Nabisco Honey Maid)
2 sticks salted butter (1 cup, 8 ounces, ½ pound)
1 cup brown sugar (pack it down when you measure it)
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (12-ounce package)
Line a 10-inch by 15-inch cookie sheet with heavy-duty foil. If you have a jellyroll pan, that’s perfect. If you don’t, turn up the edges of the foil to form sides.
Spray the foil with Pam or another nonstick cooking spray. (You want to be able to peel it off later, after the candy hardens.)
Line the pan completely with a single layer of graham crackers. Cover the whole bottom. (You can break the crackers in pieces to make them fit if you have to.) Set the cracker-lined jellyroll pan or cookie sheet aside while you cook the toffee mixture.
Combine the butter with the brown sugar in a saucepan. Bring it to a boil over medium high heat on the stovetop, stirring constantly. (A full boil will have breaking bubbles all over the surface of the pan.) Boil it for exactly five (5) minutes, stirring it constantly. If it sputters too much, you can reduce the heat. If it starts to lose the boil, you can increase the heat. Just don’t stop stirring.
Pour the mixture over the graham crackers as evenly as you can.
(Hannah’s Note: If it doesn’t cover the crackers completely, don’t worry—it’ll spread out quite a bit in the oven.)
Slide the pan into the oven and bake the cookies at 350 degrees F. for ten (10) minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top. Give the chips a minute or two to melt and then spread them out as evenly as you can with a heat-resistant spatula, a wooden paddle, or a frosting knife.
Slip the pan in the refrigerator to chill.
When the pan has chilled, peel the foil from the cookies and break them into random-sized pieces.
This was sooooo good. It really was like making a perfect (for me) candy bar with chocolate, cookies, and toffee, and it was super easy to assemble as well! If it had any drawbacks, it’s that I felt that the chocolate part was actually a little too sweet despite having used only semi-sweet chocolate chips. I’ll probably have to look up an even less-sweet alternative (though I much prefer milk to dark, so this will take some research).
Next week is our last in Lake Eden for a bit, and we’ll be baking with butterscotch as we prepare to leave for warmer climes. Do join me!
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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.
Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.