Book Review: “Coconut Layer Cake Murder” by Joanne Fluke

Warning: This book review contains spoilers for “Coconut Layer Cake Murder” by Joanne Fluke.

Cover of "Coconut Layer Cake Murder" by Joanne Fluke.
Cover of “Coconut Layer Cake Murder” by Joanne Fluke.

I’m back with another book review, and this time I’m reviewing the book “Coconut Layer Cake Murder” by Joanne Fluke! I’ve read many of her books before, and I thought it was time to pick up and review another one. Here’s the summary so we know what it’s about:

“When Hannah learns that her sister Michelle’s boyfriend, Detective Lonnie Murphy, is the prime suspect in a murder case, she goes straight from a movie studio sound stage to the Los Angeles airport.
Back in frigid Minnesota, she discovers that proving Lonnie’s innocence will be harder than figuring out what went wrong with a recipe. Lonnie remembers only parts of the night he went out to a local bar and ended up driving a very impaired woman home. He knows he helped her to her bedroom, but he doesn’t recall anything else until he woke up on her couch the following morning. When he went to the bedroom to check on her, he was shocked to discover she was dead.
Hannah doesn’t know what to believe—only that exonerating a suspect who can’t remember is almost impossible, especially since Lonnie’s brother, Detective Rick Murphy, and Lonnie’s partner, Chief Detective Mike Kingston, have been taken off the case. Before everything comes crashing down on Lonnie like a heaping slice of coconut layer cake, it’ll be up to Hannah to rack up enough clues to toast a flaky killer . . .”

Plot Development: 3 out of 5 stars

The main mystery was interesting to read overall. However, I felt that the leadup to revealing Cassie as the murderer felt random. I understood her motivations after she had her big confrontational/confession scene to Hannah while trying to kill her. Despite this, there could have been more clues leading up to Cassie’s reveal as the murderer. I also was disappointed with Hannah not having much of a chance to defend herself other than just keep Cassie talking until Mike showed up to arrest Cassie. That climatic scene felt underwhelming.

As for sideplots, the main sideplot was the love triangle between Hannah, Mike and Norman, but I’ll discuss that more in the romance development section. Other than the love triangle, there were no other sideplots. This is fine, but I wished there was more substance in the main plot to keep things going, because it was on the slow side this time.

Character Development: 2.5 out of 5 stars

I enjoyed reading Lonnie’s character in this book. The flashback sequences portrayed with Lonnie retelling his side of eventually finding Darcy dead helped give him more depth. Unfortunately, the rest of the main characters and other people involved in the mystery had little to no development. The same went for the revealed murderer. However, I did also enjoy reading the backstory put into the murder victim. I also enjoyed reading how that backstory was uncovered throughout the investigation in this book.

Romance Development: 2.5 out of 5 stars

There wasn’t much development in either of the romances between Hannah and Mike, or Hannah and Norman. However, I think I finally realized what’s really wrong with this love triangle between Hannah, Mike and Norman. And it’s not because of a lack of chemistry (though that doesn’t help the romance development at all). It’s the fact that Hannah essentially avoids any huge romantic relationship progress whatsoever. Mike and Norman want answers to answering the bigger questions in the relationship (settling down, future plans, etc.). However, Hannah actively avoids addressing those subjects.

For example, Mike asked about him and Hannah potentially getting married. Hannah immediately changes the subject rather than take the opportunity to discuss that topic. I understand that Hannah herself doesn’t want to be pressured into marrying too soon. She did express this sentiment repeatedly in this series. However, she can also only avoid talking about those questions for so long.

Granted, I haven’t read every single book in the Hannah Swensen mystery series, and certainly not in order. However, this love triangle will (and can) actively harm not just Mike, Norman, and Hannah herself if they keep going on without touching on the bigger questions. As I mentioned in a previous post, I doubt that the author will drop the romance triangle unless Hannah ends the triangle herself or finally chooses one of the love interests, Mike and Norman move on and find better love interests, or if any and/or all of them die. That point still stands here, at least during the time of this book.

The ending of this book implies that Hannah is starting to look towards potentially settling down with Norman. I’m interested in reading whether Hannah is finally making a decision on who she might end up with, and what consequences will happen. I hope that future books explore this idea.

Overall, I’m rating this book 2.5 out of 5 stars!

What did you think of “Coconut Layer Cake Murder?” Do you enjoy reading the love triangle in this series, or do you feel differently? Let me know in the comments below!

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