New York Times Bestseller
It promises to be a busy week for Hannah Swensen. Not only is she whipping up treats for the chamber of commerce booth at the Tri-County fair, she's also judging the baking contest; acting as a magician's assistant for her business partner's husband; trying to coax Moishe, her previously rapacious feline, to end his hunger strike, and performing her own private carnival act by juggling the demands of her mother and sisters.
With so much on her plate, it's no wonder Hannah finds herself on the midway only moments before the fair closes for the night. After hearing a suspicious thump, she goes snooping–only to discover Willa Sunquist, a student teacher and fellow bake contest judge, dead alongside an upended key lime pie. But who would want to kill Willa and why?
Now Hannah needs to crank up the heat, hoping that Willa's killer will get rattled and make a mistake. If that happens she intends to be there, even if it means getting on a carnival ride that could very well be her last. . .
"Yummy. . .Fluke has developed a charming supporting cast who all feel like friends by the time the murder is solved. The dozens of tempting recipes Fluke includes are an added treat." Publishers Weekly
About the Author
JOANNE FLUKE is the New York Times bestselling author of the Hannah Swensen mysteries, which include Double Fudge Brownie Murder, Blackberry Pie Murder, Cinnamon Roll Murder, and the book that started it all, Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder. That first installment in the series premiered as Murder, She Baked: A Chocolate Chip Cookie Mystery on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel. Like Hannah Swensen, Joanne Fluke was born and raised in a small town in rural Minnesota, but now lives in Southern California. Please visit her online at www.JoanneFluke.com
Read an Excerpt
KEY LIME PIE MURDERA HANNAH SWENSEN MYSTERY WITH RECIPES
By JOANNE FLUKE
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Joanne Fluke
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAt precisely eight forty-five on the second Monday morning in June, Hannah Swensen took a number from the deli-style dispenser mounted on a pole next to the secretary's desk and plunked herself down in one of the nondescript chairs in the nondescript waiting room to wait her turn.
It was hot and muggy, standard fare for this time of year. While other states boasted of fish that jumped, living that was easy, and cotton that was high, summertime in Minnesota was just the opposite. The muggy heat caused fish to lurk at the bottom of the lake, totally unmoved by even the tastiest bait, and the living was far from easy, especially if you owned a family farm. The corn might be knee high by the Fourth of July, if it was a good year, but the only thing that was high in the second week of June was the humidity.
A low rumble made Hannah frown. She hoped the sound came from one of the big trucks she'd seen delivering carnival rides to the midway and not from gathering storm clouds. This was the first day of the Tri-County Fair and the gates opened at noon. The coming week would be like a holiday, with hundreds passing through the turnstiles to look at the exhibits, enjoy the rides on the midway, and attend the rodeo that was held every afternoon.
Hannah brushed several orange cat hairs from her tan slacks. They landed on the seat of the orange plastic chair next to her. Although she vacuumed every weekend, it was a losing battle. Her orange and white tomcat, Moishe, contributed twice as much hair as she collected in the bag of her vacuum. There were times when Hannah seriously considered installing an orange and white carpet, buying orange and white furniture, and eating only orange and white food during the shedding season. It wouldn't cut down on the cat hair, but it would be camouflaged. At least she wouldn't be aware of how many strands she was walking on, sitting on, and ingesting.
This type of chair would work. Hannah couldn't even see where the cat hairs had landed. But spending more time in a chair like this was something to be avoided. It was a clone to every other molded plastic chair in every other waiting room in the state. Perhaps it was true that form followed function, but in this case it was horribly uncomfortable and as ugly as sin.
Rather than glance at her watch for the third time in as many minutes, Hannah thought about why so many businesses bought these chairs for their waiting rooms. The plastic was impervious to spills and scratches, and they did add a splash of color to an otherwise drab room. The chairs were bolted to rails that conjoined them as sextuplets. Hannah supposed that this was meant to discourage theft, but she seriously doubted that anyone would want to steal them anyway.
Sitting up straight didn't help to relieve the strain on her back, so Hannah tried slouching. That was even worse. A little notice stamped on the back of the chair in front of her said that it had been designed to fit the average body. And that brought up another question. Was anybody truly average? Average was a statistical tool that took tall people over six feet, added them to short people under five feet, and came up with an average of five and a half feet. Hannah knew from bitter experience not to buy slacks marked average. They were too short for tall people and too long for short people. Perhaps somewhere there might be a handful of people the slacks would fit, but Hannah had never met them. And if these chairs were designed for an average body, it was clear that the model the manufacturer had used bore little resemblance to Hannah. Looking around her, Hannah suspected that she wasn't alone. Everyone who was waiting to see the secretary at the Tri-County Fairgrounds looked just as uncomfortable as she did.
"Swensen?" the secretary called out, and Hannah walked over to take the seat in front of the secretary's desk that had been recently vacated by a man in work clothes and a hardhat. "I need some information from you before I can issue your pass."
Hannah waited while the woman opened a drawer and pulled out a book of bound and printed forms. She flipped it open, retrieved her pen, and looked up at Hannah. "Your full name please?"
"Hannah Louise Swensen."
"Thirty." Hannah gave a little sigh. This was June and her thirty-first birthday was in July. When did a woman become a spinster? Had it happened last year when she hit thirty? Or would the women's movement grant her a reprieve so she wouldn't enter the old maid's category until she reached forty? This was a question she could ponder by herself, but she certainly wouldn't discuss it with her mother! Delores Swensen wasn't reticent about reminding her eldest daughter that her biological clock was ticking.
"Forty-six thirty-seven Maytime Lane," Hannah replied, smiling a bit as she gave the address of her condo complex. Maybe she was a spinster but she owned her own home and business.
"City and state?"
"Lake Eden, Minnesota."
"And your reason for applying for a pass?"
As usual, she'd probably bit off more than she could chew. But what else could she have done when Pam Baxter, the Jordan High Home Economics teacher, had called her in a panic at six o'clock this morning to say that Edna Ferguson had been taken to Lake Eden Memorial Hospital for an emergency appendectomy? Pam had practically begged Hannah to fill in on the judging panel, and of course she'd agreed. "I'm a last-minute replacement on the panel to judge the baked goods at the Creative Arts Building," she said.
"Lucky you!" The secretary looked up with a smile that instantly humanized her.
"You'd better believe it! That's a job I wouldn't mind having. I love desserts and I need to lose a few pounds."
Hannah blinked. "You want to judge the baked goods contest because you need to lose a few pounds?"
"That's right. My aunt lost thirty pounds when she took a job at a chocolate factory. They let her eat all the candy she wanted, and after the first couple of days, she stopped eating it. She's been retired for ten years, and she still can't stand the sight of chocolate."
"That wouldn't work for me," Hannah told her.
"How do you know?"
"I own a bakery and I still love desserts."
The secretary sighed as she handed Hannah her pass. "It probably wouldn't work for me, either. Say ... is your bakery called The Cookie Jar?"
"Then I'm almost positive you're going to win blue!"
"A blue ribbon. I don't mean you personally, but the man who took your picture for the photography exhibit. I saw it last night and it's the best in the show."
* * *
Less than five minutes later, Hannah was staring at the entry that the secretary thought would take first place in the photography exhibit. It was a candid picture, she hadn't even realized it was being taken, and it was undoubtedly the most flattering photo anyone had ever taken of her.
Hannah felt the smile begin in her mind, spread out to her face, and flow right on down to the soles of her feet. She felt as if she were smiling all over as she gazed at the photo. It was a wonderful picture, and she could hardly believe that she was the subject! First of all, her hair wasn't sticking up in wiry curls the way it usually did, and it looked more auburn than red. And if that weren't enough to please her, she appeared at least ten pounds thinner than she actually was. Both of her eyes were open, her pose wasn't awkward or contrived, and the half-smile on her lips was intriguing. This photo was a miracle, and Hannah knew it. Any photographer who could make her look good deserved a blue ribbon and then some!
Norman Rhodes had taken it, of course. Hannah's sometimes boyfriend divided his time between his vocation of dentistry, his avocation of photography, and his habit of being a prince of a guy Hannah knew she should probably marry. Unfortunately, she couldn't seem to do it, even though her mind told her it was the smart choice. She'd come to the conclusion that she simply wasn't ready for marriage, and reminders from her mother about biological clocks shouldn't force her into walking down the aisle until the time was right for her.
Hannah shook herself mentally and glanced at her watch. It was nine-thirty and she had to meet Pam and her teacher's assistant, Willa Sunquist, at ten. She didn't have time to think about marriage now.
She turned her attention back to the photograph. It was huge, two feet by three feet, and Norman had taken it at The Cookie Jar. The sign painted on the window was clearly visible in the mirror behind the counter, and that must be the way the secretary had recognized her. Hannah was standing behind the counter, looking off into the distance, and there was a very loving, almost beatific expression on her face. It was clear she was thinking about someone or something she loved, and Hannah wished she could remember who or what it was.
There was a calendar on the wall to the left of the counter, and Hannah noticed the date. Norman had taken this photograph when Ross Barton and his movie crew were in Lake Eden. The clock on the wall told her that it was almost noon, the time when Ross and his crew arrived to have lunch at The Cookie Jar. Hannah guessed she could have been thinking about Ross, her old college friend who'd turned out to be much more than that.
Then there was Mike Kingston. She could have been thinking of Lake Eden's most eligible bachelor, the best-looking detective in the Winnetka County Sheriff's Department. Thoughts of Mike always put a smile on her face and made her heart race harder in her chest. Or perhaps she'd been thinking of Norman. While he wasn't heart-stopping handsome, he was kind, and sweet, and sexy, and gentle, and ...
"Good heavens!" Hannah exclaimed under her breath. Since she didn't remember why she'd been smiling, her smile would just have to remain a mystery. She gave one last look and turned to head for the Creative Arts Building, reminding herself that no one knew why the Mona Lisa had been smiling, either.
Hannah took a shortcut through the food court, an area with picnic tables that was ringed by food and snack stands. Some of them were getting ready to open, and Hannah stopped in front of a sign that read, DEEP-FRIED CANDY BARS.
One glance at the description that was written in smaller type near the bottom of the sign and Hannah's mouth started to water. The candy bars were impaled on sticks, chilled thoroughly, dipped into a sweet batter that was a cousin to the one used for funnel cakes, and then deep-fried to a golden brown. The booth was called Sinful Pleasures, and that was entirely appropriate. There should have been a warning sign that read, NO REDEEMING NUTRITIONAL MERIT WHATSOEVER, but Hannah doubted that would stop anyone from ordering. The choices of candy bar were varied, and she was in the process of debating the virtues of a Milky Way over a Snickers Bar when she heard a voice calling her name.
Hannah turned to see her sister Andrea running toward her across the food court. Her face was pink from exertion, and wisps of blond hair had escaped the elaborate twist she'd pinned up on the top of her head. She was wearing a perfectly ordinary outfit, light blue slacks with a matching sleeveless blouse, but she still looked like a fashion model.
"Amazing," Hannah muttered under her breath. "Totally amazing."
"What's amazing?" Andrea asked, arriving at her side.
"You look gorgeous."
"You need glasses. I'm wearing my oldest clothes and my hair's a mess."
"It doesn't matter. You still look gorgeous."
"It's nice of you to say that, but I don't have time to talk about that now. I tracked you down because I need your help and I'm in a real rush." Andrea stopped and stared as someone opened the shutters on the fried candy bar booth from the inside. "I read about those deep-fried candy bars in the Lake Eden Journal. You're not going to order one, are you?"
"They're not really open yet," Hannah hedged. "None of the food booths open until noon."
"Well, that's a relief!" Andrea fanned her face with her hand. "I don't have to tell you that they're loaded with calories, and you still haven't lost the weight you put on over Christmas, do I?"
"Absolutely not," Hannah said. Wild horses wouldn't get her to admit to Andrea that she was sorely tempted to come back when the fair officially opened and order one. "Why do you need my help?"
"Let's sit down and I'll show you."
Andrea led the way to one of the picnic tables that sat in the shade of a huge elm. She brushed off the top and opened the file folder she was carrying.
"Photos for the Mother-Daughter contest?" Hannah stated the obvious as Andrea laid out four different poses of her and Hannah's oldest niece, Tracey.
"That's right. Norman dropped them off last night and I can't decide which one is the best. I have to turn it in at ten this morning," Andrea frowned as she glanced at her watch, "and I've got only twelve minutes to take it to the secretary's office."
Hannah looked at each photograph in turn. They were all good, but one was a smidgeon better. "This one," she said, pointing it out.
"Why that one?"
"Because your heads are tilted at exactly the same angle."
"That's true," Andrea said, but she didn't look happy. "How about the one on the end?"
"It's a good picture, but the resemblance isn't as striking. Tracey's looking straight at the camera, and you're looking off to the side."
"I know. I noticed that. It's just ..." Andrea's voice trailed off, and she gave a little sigh.
"It's just what?"
"My hair looks better in the picture on the end."
"True, but it's not a beauty pageant. It's a mother-daughter look-alike contest."
"You're right, of course." Andrea gathered up the photos and put them back in the folder. "I'll use the one you picked."
Hannah's sisterly radar went on full alert. Something was wrong. Andrea was worried about how she looked, and she'd mentioned her hair twice in the past three minutes. "What's wrong with your hair?" she asked, forgetting to even try to phrase the question tactfully.
"I knew it!" Andrea wailed, and her eyes filled with tears. "You noticed and that means everyone in town will notice. Bill said he couldn't see any more, but he must have missed one."
Andrea took a deep breath for courage and then she blurted it out. "A gray hair! I'm going gray, Hannah, and I'm only twenty-six. It's just awful, especially since Mother isn't even gray yet!"
She would be without the wonders of modern cosmetology, Hannah thought, but she didn't say it. She'd promised Delores she'd never tell that an expensive hair color called Raven Wing was partially responsible for her mother's youthful appearance. Wishing for the wisdom of the Sphinx, or at least that of a clinical psychiatrist, Hannah waded in with both feet. Her goal was to make Andrea feel better even if it took a little white lie to accomplish it. "Oatmeal," she said, remembering the extra bag of cookies she was carrying in her large shoulder bag. "What?"
"Mother swears oatmeal prevents aging. She eats it every day."
"I know it's supposed to be good for your cholesterol, and some people use it for facials." Andrea looked thoughtful. "Does Mother really believe that it keeps her from going gray?" "Absolutely. But whatever you do, you can't mention it to her."
"Because we're not supposed to believe she's old enough to have gray hair. If we mention it, she'll take it as an insult."
Andrea thought about that for a moment. "You're right. I'll never mention it."
"So are you going to try it?"
Andrea made a face. "I hate oatmeal. Remember how you used to try to trick me into eating it by sprinkling on brown sugar and making a face out of chocolate chips on the top?"
"I remember. And it worked because you always cleaned your bowl."
"You only thought it worked. I ate off the brown sugar and the chocolate chips, and then I gave the bowl to Bruno when you weren't looking."
"You did?" Hannah was disillusioned. She thought she'd been so clever in getting her sister to eat oatmeal, and the Swensen family dog had gotten it instead.
"Maybe I shouldn't have told you," Andrea said, watching the play of emotions that crossed Hannah's face.
Excerpted from KEY LIME PIE MURDER by JOANNE FLUKE Copyright © 2007 by Joanne Fluke. Excerpted by permission.
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