Meet Your Baker
A Bakeshop Mystery #1
St. Martin’s Paperbacks, December 2014
Mass Market Paperback
Juliet “Jules” Capshaw left her hometown of Ashland, Oregon ten years ago, to learn how to be an expert pastry chef, and then to travel the world working on a cruise ship. She had no plans to return to Ashland except for visits to see her widowed mother, but when serious issues arise in Jules’s marriage, her plans change. Jules finds herself right back where she originally started – working at Torte, the family bakery business that her parents began decades before.
I know this book was good for a few reasons. The first is that, whether it’s fair or not, I usually steer clear of cosy mysteries with cute covers and a pun in the title. This book has made me question that policy, because it turned out to be a fine mystery with unexpected twists and turns not only in the plot, but in character development. The second reason is that, although I am normally a tea drinker, I wanted to drink every coffee and latte and espresso shot that was described in the book. Similarly, the third reason is that I generally prefer savoury foods to sweet ones, but as I was reading Meet Your Baker, I wanted to eat every raspberry danish, scone, oatmeal cookie, lime crescent cookie, and lime mint cupcake described in the story, as well as the delicious-sounding chicken pasta salad and turkey havarti sandwiches. Alexander is clearly a strong writer if she could win me over on all those points.
I have never been to Ashland, Oregon, and until I read Meet Your Baker, I hadn’t heard of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which provides much of the employment for the residents of Ashland. Most of the business for Torte comes from the tourists who visit to see the plays in the city’s three theatres, stop in at galleries, and shop in the distinctive stores. Ashland is also home to South Oregon University, and this also plays a part in the story, since a number of the characters are students with various part-time jobs around town.
The setting was probably my favourite part of the book. Although I haven’t visited Ashland, it sounds very similar to Stratford, Ontario, a Canadian city with a similar population that is also home to a Shakespeare Festival. I love going to Stratford, not only to see the great acting and the wonderful plays, but also because everywhere you go during the season, there are actors and people connected with the theatre – you can’t help but bump into intriguing characters and hearing dramatic discussions in every restaurant and cafe.
This was also what I loved about the descriptions of Ashland. The mystery plot revolves around the theatre, and around the constant fund-raising and endless clashes between producing fabulous plays and ensuring the festival remains commercially viable. Because so many of those involved are actors, directors, and producers, they all have larger-than-life personalities – and often exceptional wardrobes, which makes for a fun read. The dependence of the town’s economy on tourism is clearly described here, and I liked Juliet’s practicality and strong work ethic as she tries to help her mother keep Torte on its feet, even during the slower months.
Although the mystery plot itself is maybe a bit convoluted, I thought this was offset by unexpected developments in the characters’ lives. The reason Juliet has decided to leave her job and her marriage was not what I anticipated when I began reading, and I liked being surprised. Although she is struggling with sadness and confusion as the book begins, Jules is not someone to lie around and wallow in her grief. Instead, she gets busy and bakes, and Alexander’s careful and detailed descriptions of Juliet’s cooking were fascinating to read.
To top it all off, this book also includes recipes. I’m not sure that I’ve ever made a recipe from a fictional book before, but Alexander certainly makes it seem like a tempting idea.
Reviewed by Andrea Thompson, February 2016.