If your reading habits alternate between curling up with a good mystery or with a good cookbook, you ought to know about Joanne Fluke.
Fluke is the best-selling author of the Hannah Swensen mysteries – a series that falls into the genre of “cozy mysteries,” which combine murder with domestic arts, such as cooking or scrapbooking. Fluke’s books weave recipes into the sleuthing of her cookie-baking heroine.
Fluke’s main character, Hannah Swensen, is a 30-something owner of The Cookie Jar bakery and coffee shop in the fictional small town of Lake Eden, Minn. Apparently, Lake Eden is an idyllic setting except for the crimes that give Swensen something to do during her non-baking hours. In the latest installment, Swensen gets help from her two G-rated love interests – the local detective and the local dentist.
Fluke has just released the 16th book in the series, “Red Velvet Cupcake Murder,” and will appear at book events in Charlotte and across the Triangle this week. In a recent phone interview, Fluke talked about her culinary beginnings as well as her start as a writer.
Like her heroine, Fluke grew up in a small town in Minnesota called Swanville, two hours north of Minneapolis and with a population of 217. Fluke said her father, who was once the mayor, would often joke: “They probably had to count the cats and dogs to get to that number.”
Her mother and grandmother were excellent, resourceful cooks – relying on the root cellar more than the supermarket, which was 17 miles away. And both women excelled at baking. In fact, many of the cookie recipes that appear in the Hannah Swensen mysteries are her mother’s. Fluke says she grew up in a home where there always fresh baked desserts ready for the unexpected visitor.
“If somebody came over for coffee, it was considered impolite not to offer something,” Fluke said.
Fluke tries to pick simple, accessible recipes for her novels. She has plenty of material, with 27 shoe boxes full of handwritten recipes inherited from friends, relatives and even fans who now send her their favorites. She’s even published a cookbook, “Joanne Fluke’s Lake Eden Cookbook.”
Fluke didn’t start out writing cozy mysteries. She had written a couple of Regency romances – a subgenre of romance novels set in Britain during the early 19th century – and several psychology thrillers. While writing those suspense novels, Fluke said she would get so involved with the characters that she would wake up screaming in the middle of the night. Finally, her husband suggested a change.
“After the ninth book, he said, ‘Why don’t you do something else?’ ” Fluke said.
And the Hannah Swensen series was born, eventually landing her on The New York Times’ best-sellers list.
As Fluke explained, “My son says it took 30 years for me to become an overnight success.”