Okay, wow, this one is a little different from the previous books. For starters, our heroine Hannah Swensen is not the one to stumble across the body, a habit that her mother Delores despairs of in the context of attracting a marriage proposal (because, in a case of Mom-logic that I find insufferable but intensely realistic, Hannah is totally doing it on purpose).
Instead, it is Delores herself who finds the body in the basement of the house that dentist Norman Rhodes has just bought in order to tear down and build the dream house he and Hannah collaborated on in previous novels. But only for a contest, sadly. Come on, Hannah! Pick Norman!
Anyway, the body belongs to Rhonda Scharf, who’d just sold the house to Norman after inheriting it herself. Since lead detective Mike Kingston (the other of Hannah’s suitors) won’t release the crime scene back to Norman till progress is made on the case, Hannah has a lot of people urging her to investigate. In a departure from previous books, Mike takes her efforts in stride—though he’s quick to remind her that while she may be a talented amateur, she still has to defer to him as a professional.
Also different this time is that it soon becomes clear who the killer most likely is, but you kind of don’t want to believe it because of the killer’s charm and seeming kindness. Right up until that mask falls, it’s hard to believe that this is the person responsible for such cold-blooded viciousness. I’ve noted previously that Joanne Fluke writes to the culinary cozy formula perfectly, but this novel begins to gently break the mold. I’m intrigued by what this signals for the direction of future Hannah Swensen novels.
One thing that stayed exactly the same, however, is the inclusion of eight delicious-looking recipes. I freely admit to not enjoying nuts in desserts, and while I love eating meringue, I don’t necessarily love making it. These factors helped narrow down my selection to this dish:
Pineapple Right-Side-Up Cookie Bars
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, with rack in middle position.
(Another recipe with a no-roll crust—don't you just love it?)
2 cups flour (no need to sift)
1 cup softened butter (2 sticks, ½ pound)
½ cup white sugar
4 beaten eggs (just whip them up with a fork)
½ cup white sugar
½ cup frozen concentrated pineapple juice
½ cup drained crushed pineapple (if you have any left over, freeze it)
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 tablespoons flour (that's ¼ cup—don't bother to sift)
FIRST STEP: Dump pineapple in a strainer and let it drain while you do this step. Cream butter with sugar and add flour. Mix well. (You can also do this in a food processor with hard butter cut into chunks and the steel blade.) Spread mixture out in a greased 9×13 inch pan (that's a standard sheet cake pan), and press it down event with your hands.
Bake at 350 degrees F. for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven. (Don't turn off oven!)
SECOND STEP: Mix eggs with sugar. As pineapple concentrate, drained pineapple, and mix. Add salt and baking powder and stir it all up. Then add flour and mix thoroughly. (This will be runny—it'll set in the oven.)
Pour this mixture on top of the pan you just baked and stick it back in the oven. Bake at 350 degrees F for another 45-50 minutes. Then remove from the oven.
Let cool thoroughly, then sprinkle a little powdered sugar on the top and cut into brownie-sized bars.
First off, it was incredibly difficult for me to find frozen pineapple concentrate for some reason. I wound up freezing pineapple juice then drip-draining it twice to separate the pineapple essence from the water and pulp.
I’m also not sure why I expected these to be more like lemon bars than upside-down pineapple cake. The end product has the portability of lemon bars but is definitely closer to upside-down pineapple cake flavor-wise. Which, admittedly, is not my favorite cake despite my love of most things pineapple (including as a pizza topping. Yeah, I said it).
Once I got over my unreasonable expectations though, this was quite a delicious dessert. The flavors melded together even better the longer the dessert sat. The crust, especially, absorbed quite a bit of delicious tanginess from the pineapple layer.
Next week, I finally make the titular dessert of one of these novels! 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.