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It_ă_s been years since author Thom Mortenson has been back to Garrison, Colorado. As part of the committee who invited the bestselling writer to speak at the library fundraising benefit, Sadie Hoffmiller wants everything to be perfect — right down to the homemade devil_ă_s food cake she baked herself. Certainly, murder was not on the menu.
When Thom_ă_s manager ends up dead on stage, Sadie jumps in to offer her guidance and expertise to investigators. But when the police refuse to take her seriously, Sadie has no choice but to pursue justice on her own. After all, is Sadie to blame if she keeps stumbling over information? Can Sadie turn her back when people intricately woven into the deception keep crossing her path? With her son, Shawn, at her side, her reputation on the line, and a full cast of suspicious characters, Sadie Hoffmiller is once again cooking her way through a case that offers far more questions than answers.
MYRA MAYALL HENRIE
Donna Toland Smart
About the Author
Josi S. Kilpack grew up hating to read until she was thirteen and her mother handed her a copy of The Witch of Blackbird Pond. From that day forward, she read everything she could get her hands on and credits her writing “education” to the many novels she has “studied” since then. She began her first novel in 1998 and hasn’t stopped since. Her seventh novel, Sheep’s Clothing, won the 2007 Whitney Award for Mystery/Suspense, and Lemon Tart, her ninth novel, was a 2009 Whitney Award Finalist. Baked Alaska is Josi’s eighteenth novel and the ninth book in the Sadie Hoffmiller Culinary Mystery series.
Josi currently lives in Willard, Utah, with her wonderful husband, four amazing children, one fat dog, and a varying number of very happy chickens.
Have you seen Thom yet?â Sadie asked, craning her neck to peer into the corners of the temporary stage set up at the front of the ballroom at the Carmichael Hotel. Thom Mortenson was supposed to have arrived by 6:30, but heâd called to say he was running late. Sadie glanced at her watch: 7:05. So much for starting the program at 7:00 sharp. She was trying not to show her annoyance at men with no concept of time. Detective Pete CunninghamâSadieâs date for tonightâwas late too.
âNot yet,â Gayle answered from where she sat at Sadieâs left. Gayle was Sadieâs best friendâand she was dateless tonight, which was a strange occurrence.
âSo, did you two read his book, then?â an increasingly familiar voice asked.
Sadie looked past Gayle to the young woman seated next to herâthe date of Frank Argula. The girl was Frankâs junior by at least thirty years, with thick, brown hair piled on top of her delicate little head. Sadie feared a sneeze might snap the girlâs neck completely as her hair had to weigh twenty-five pounds. Sadie didnât know the girlâs nameâTrixie or Bambi or something like that, she was sure.
âOf course we read it,â Gayle answered coolly, shooting Sadie a look brimming with annoyance. It was the fourth time Trixie-Bambi had cut into their conversation in the ten minutes since Sadie had finally been able to sit down. Frank was currently involved in an animated discussion with a city councilman and was therefore paying no attention to his date.
âIt must be really good,â the girl said with a floating kind of smile as she looked around the room. âI mean, look at all these people who want to listen to him talk about it.â
âIt is good,â Gayle said dryly.
Sadie scraped together the last bite of mashed potatoes from her plate. Truth be told, she hadnât loved Thomâs book, Devilish Details, which had been published a couple years after Thom had moved away from Garrison. While Sadie was very proud of his accomplishment, the book wasnât really her style.
Gayle turned back to Sadie. âI still canât believe he agreed to come,â she said.
âWhy?â Trixie-Bambi cut in.
Rather than being annoyed by this interruption, Gayleâs eyes lit up at the girlâs ignorance. Sadie took a sip of her drink to cover her smile as Gayle turned back to the girl with a very different expression. Here we go, Sadie thought. It wasnât that Gayle was a gossip, per se, but she, well, liked . . . being informed and sharing that information with others. Of course, any time Sadie pointed that out, Gayle turned the tables and recalled all the times Sadie had been the one to spill a story.
A server leaned in to take away their plates. âDidnât Frank tell you about Thom?â Gayle asked once the server had moved away.
The girl shook her head.
âWell,â Gayle said, wriggling in her seat a little bit and leaning close. âFirst, his wife, who was mentally ill for most of their marriage, overdosed, leaving him as a single father. Then his son killed himself and his girlfriend after junior prom ten years ago.â
The girl gasped and put a hand to her mouth. Sadie felt her stomach tighten. Hearing the details laid out so bluntly was a bit of a shock. Even from Gayle.
âYouâre kidding,â the girl said after lowering her hand. âA ÂŹmurder-suicide? Here?â
Up until last October, when Sadieâs neighbor had been murdered, the Mortenson tragedy had been the most recent homicide in Garrison, Colorado. Damon, Thomâs son, had only been a couple years older than Sadieâs own daughter, so the tragedy had hit close to home. In the weeks following the shooting, the school district brought in grief counselors, and parents no longer hesitated to forbid their daughters from dating the bad-boys. Then Thom Mortenson moved to California, despite the fact that most of Garrison hadnât blamed him for what happened; Damon had been in and out of trouble since he turned twelve, and everyone knew Thomâs wife had had problems as well. Lost in her own thoughts, Sadie didnât realize Gayle was still telling the story.
âYou can imagine our surprise when a couple years later Thomâs name showed up on the cover of a New York Times bestsellerââ
âAnd Thom was on Oprah after it won the National Book Award,â Sadie added. A bestselling novel was one thing, and national awards were amazing, but Oprah? Yeah. That was big-time.
Gayle nodded her acknowledgment, but continued speaking as though Sadie hadnât interrupted. âOf course we all knew heâd been a bit of a closet writer before Damonâs death, but no one expected this, especially after what had happened.â
âWow,â Trixie-Bambi said. She pulled at the top of her strapless gown and looked toward the stage. âHas he written any other books?â
âNo,â Gayle said, shrugging her shoulders. âJust the one. Heâs been saying for years that he has another one in the works, though.â
âMaybe heâll be like Harper Lee,â the girl said. âA common theory in literary circles regarding the fact that she never wrote another book was because sheâd written the perfect novel right out of the gate. How do you compete with your own greatness?â
Sadie and Gayle both looked at the girl in surprise. They hadnât expected her to recite scholarly supposition.
âMaybe,â Gayle said slowly, obviously caught off guard. In fact, she seemed a bit disappointed that Trixie-Bambi might not be as superficial as theyâd suspected.
âI wonder what itâs like for him to come back here,â the girl added. âI imagine itâs hard.â
Sadie was reminded of her own surprise when Thom had accepted the invitation. What was there to come back to Garrison for but to face old ghosts?
Her thoughts were interrupted as a server placed a white dessert plate in front of her. Every thought of Thom or Trixie-Bambi disappeared. In the middle of the plate was a most beautiful sightâa thick, black, gooey piece of devilâs food cake. Sadie grabbed her fork.
âI thought you were on a diet,â Gayle said.
Sadie looked up, fork poised inches from her open mouth, and did her best to feign a scowl at her best friend. Gayle didnât take back the question. In fact she continued to look pointedly at the rich chocolate goodness on Sadieâs fork. The rich chocolate goodness that was going straight to Sadieâs already ample hips.
Trixie-Bambi turned to say something to Frank, and the clinking of silverware and mingling murmurs of a hundred conversations filled the room. Sadie paid no heed to any of it. Instead, she looked at Gayle and, with emphasized movements, put the bite of cake in her mouth and closed her lips around the fork. Sadie shut her eyes and tried not to groan aloud as the decadent chocolate melted on her tongue.
Gayle snickered, and Sadie feared sheâd failed at her attempts to silently appreciate the deliciousness now coursing down her throat. It was just wrong that such an amazing culinary creation should have any calories at all.
âYou should really attempt a little more self-restraint,â Gayle said when Sadie recovered from her chocolate-induced swoon and opened her eyes. âEveryone knows you made the cake, so you look a little arrogant right now.â
No one but Gayle, and maybe Sadieâs children, could get away with talking to Sadie like that. However, after twenty years of friendship, there wasnât much they could do to offend each other.
Sadie used the edge of her fork to cut off another bite. âI have no problem with appearing arrogant when Iâve done something this magnificent.â
In truth, it was a little embarrassing to lose control like thatâespecially in public. Sadie prided herself on her humility, and yet she had no control when it came to dessert. Sheâd returned from England almost six weeks ago and had been existing on salads, fruit smoothies, and baked chicken ever since, hoping to lose not the seven pounds sheâd thought sheâd gained on vacation, but the twelve pounds sheâd brought home with her. Twelve pounds in two weeksâSadie didnât know that was even possible.
Unfortunately, the diet hadnât been as effective as sheâd hopedâpossibly due to the fact that despite her strict meal regimen of protein and leafy greens, sheâd been baking scones and crumpets a few times a week. She didnât count that as breaking her diet because perfecting the recipes was actually research. Gayle, of course, knew this.
But then Sadie had been asked to supply the dessert of her choice for the library fund-raiser. Before sheâd even hung up the phone, sheâd known what she wanted to makeâdevilâs food cake. Since it was commonly understood that diets were left at the door of events like this, she knew it was a perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stoneâsheâd make a fabulous contribution to the dinner and sheâd get a piece of cake otherwise forbidden.
âI swear this is the best cake I have ever made in my life,â Sadie said reverently after taking her second bite.
Gayle chuckled, and Sadie couldnât help but join her, knowing that she was being a little ridiculous. She put a hand on Gayleâs arm and leaned in toward her friend. âItâs a good thing youâre sitting next to me,â she said, giving Gayleâs arm a squeeze. âIâd be liable to embarrass myself otherwise.â
Gayle laughed again and cut a bite from her own piece of cake. She paused for a moment after putting it in her mouth and then turned to Sadie. âThis is incredible.â
Trixie-Bambi turned toward them both and nodded, her jaw rhythmically moving as she also chewed her cake. They were now bonded in the devotion to chocolate.
Sadie smiled at them both, glad to be sharing the moment with people who could appreciate it. She took yet another bite and was able to keep from moaning this timeâbut just barely.
âHow many did you end up making?â Gayle asked, pulling her plate closer as if the cake might disappear at any moment.
âEighteen,â Sadie said. âThank goodness Shawn arrived last night so he could help me finish up today.â
Gayle nodded, but Sadie noted the distracted look in her friendâs eyes. Eyes that were green tonight. Gayleâs real eye color was mudâGayleâs word, not Sadieâsâso she usually wore colored contacts. Green was Gayleâs favorite since it went so well with her curly red hair, and her eyes looked particularly good tonight with the green evening gown Gayle had chosen.
âShawn didnât want to come?â Gayle asked once she swallowed yet another bite.
Sadie shook her head. âHe thought spending a Saturday night with his mom at a library fund-raising dinner sounded boring. In fact, I think his exact words were âdead boring.ââ
Gayle huffed in feigned offense.
Sadie chuckled and lifted another morsel to her lips.
The rich chocolate was threatening to make her swoon when her eyes caught movement on the stage. Thom had finally arrived and was fiddling with his wireless microphone, trying to clip it to the lapel of his suit jacket. Another man, shorter and balding, was trying to help. Sadie, however, was intoxicated by chocolate to the point of no longer feeling annoyed by Thomâs tardiness.
âOh, there he is,â Gayle said, pointing at the stage with her fork. âIâm guessing the other man is Thomâs manager? Mr. Ogreski?â
âI assume so,â Sadie said, watching the men with an air of distraction as she cut another bite.
âThom looks good,â Gayle continued in an appraising tone. âHeâs still single, you know.â
Sadie rolled her eyes but couldnât help but smile at the same time. After Gayleâs divorce five years ago, the merest hint that she might want to date again had been met with thinly veiled malevolence directed at whoever dared suggest it. And then, about a year ago, Gayle accepted a neighborâs invitation to attend a singles dance at her church. That night, Gayle was officially introduced to ÂŹmiddle-age single life and sheâd never looked back. Sadie was gladâa woman like Gayle needed people, and people needed women like Gayle.
Gayle opened her mouth to say something, but then straightened, dropped her chin coyly, and looked over Sadieâs head. âSpeaking of single men,â she said, then smiled brilliantly and cocked her head to the side.
Sadie swiveled in her seat, then sat up straight as Detective Pete Cunningham entered the ballroom and headed toward their table. If only sheâd been able to fit into her black velvet formal. Instead she was in her navy blue sparkle-dress, which was nice, but not nearly as elegant as the flowing dress Gayle was sporting.
Sadie stood and smiled as Pete approached their table. He undid the button of his tux jacket so it wouldnât wrinkle when he sat down. The man looked downright dapper in his patent leather shoes and bow tie. His well-trimmed silver and black hair and beard were a perfect complement to his formal attire, and for a moment Sadie thought he might kiss her hello; on the cheek if nothing else. Instead he gave her a quick hug. âSorry Iâm lateâpaperwork.â
âNot a problem,â Sadie said as she sat back down. He helped push her chair in. He was always such a gentlemanâtoo much of one sometimes. In the three months theyâd been officially dating, he had yet to kiss her even once. It was beginning to give Sadie a complex.
Pete had met Gayle twice before and said hello before Sadie introduced the other people at their table, including Trixie-Bambi, whose real name turned out to be Michele. Apparently she was Frankâs niece and an English literature major. Who knew?
Pete shook hands with the people at their tableâsome of whom he already knewâbefore finally taking his seat. Sadie was nearly bursting with pride to be the girl on his arm. âIâm sorry you missed dinner,â she said. She should probably offer him some of her cake, but she wasnât sure their relationship was at that level. Certainly a little lip-locking was a prerequisite to sharing devilâs food cake, right? Instead, she waved to get the attention of one of the servers and then pointed at Pete. The server nodded and headed toward the doors leading to the kitchen. Sadie pulled her plate a bit closer to herself in hopes that Pete wouldnât get any ideas before the server returned with his food.
âTheyâre getting your dinner,â Sadie said.
âOh, good, Iâm starving,â Pete said. He looked toward the stage. âI havenât missed the main event, have I?â
Sadie shook her head and looked to the stage as well. Thom was still fiddling with the microphone. They had someone from the hotel helping him now. It was weird that they were having problems with it. The microphone had worked fine for Sadieâs introduction forty-five minutes earlier. She knew the hotel had a wooden podium with a detachable wired microphone off stage right as a backup. She wondered how long they would keep trying to make the wireless system work before they gave up and moved to plan B.
âHe doesnât look much different, does he?â Pete commented, nodding toward Thom.
âDid you know Thom when he used to live here?â Gayle asked, leaning toward them and speaking in a high, sweet voice.
Sadie felt a flash of jealousy that surprised her. Was it her imagination that Gayle was being flirtatious? Or was she just feeling insecure about the no-kissing-for-three-months thing?
Pete looked from the stage to Gayle. âI was one of the detectives on his sonâs case,â he said.
âOh,â Sadie and Gayle said at the same time. Sadie wondered why Pete hadnât told her that before now, but she wasnât about to ask in front of Gayle.
âMaybe you should remind them about the wired microphone?â Sadie heard herself say to Gayle.
âMe?â Gayle said in surprise, dropping her smile for a moment.
âI think theyâve forgotten about the backup,â Sadie said, giving her friend a pointed look. Sheâd like a few minutes alone with Pete to catch up on the day. Surely Gayle could understand that. And maybe Gayle would have a chance to say hello to Thom in the process. Sadieâs motives werenât totally selfish.
Gayle was silent, but put down her fork, correctly interpreting Sadieâs look. âWell, I guess I could,â she said. Sadie smiled a thank-you. Gayle stood up and put her napkin on her chair before heading toward the front of the room. As she stepped away, a server set down both a dinner and a dessert plate in front of Pete. By the time Sadie looked up again, Gayle had disappeared behind the curtain to the right of the stage. Sadie owed her one.
Michele also stood and excused herself to use the ladiesâ room.
Sadie nodded toward Peteâs dinner. âItâs worth the hundred and fifty dollars,â she said. âI promise.â She only wished she could say sheâd made it herself. Feeding the people she cared about was one of her favorite things to do.
Pete smiled and winked at her before using his knife to cut off a piece of prime rib.
Sadie looked up at the stage in time to see Gayle roll the podium out from the curtains on the right and Thom walk offstage left, looking frustrated. The manager must have been backstage as well. A hotel worker helped Gayle plug a wire from the floor into a port on the side of the wooden podium. Sadie took another bite of cake to distract herself from the guilt of making Gayle go up on stage. She wasnât even on the library board this year. Sadie was the one who should be helping out.
Suddenly the stage area was cleared except for the manager and the podium. An expectant hush fell over the crowd, and the manager looked out at the room of people as if just remembering they were there. After straightening his suit coat, he made his way to the podium, which was so tall that the microphone pointed over his head. He reached up both hands to adjust the snakelike microphone holder so that he could speak into it. However, when his mouth moved, the microphone failed to pick up the sound.
Is there a problem with the entire sound system? Sadie wondered. After all their work to pull off this dinner, she would be really, really mad if it all fell apart now.
Mr. Ogreski continued to wrestle with the microphone, which seemed to be stuck. He pulled it free from the holder, but the wire, which should feed through the hole in the podium didnât have much give and he couldnât seem to hold the microphone close enough to his mouth. After a few more seconds, Mr. Ogreski clenched his jaw, adjusted his grip on the microphone, and yanked it toward him, presumably to free the cord that seemed to be tangled within the wooden podium. It didnât budge. He took a breath and planted his feet, poised to pull again.
Sadie let her eyes drift closed, grateful to give herself up to the chocolate ecstasy in her mouth instead of focusing on what was happening onstage for the moment. There were only a few bites left.
In the next instant, a shotgun blast echoed off the walls of the ballroom. Sadie choked on her cake as the people in the room screamed in horror.
Devilâs Food Cake
1 cup sour milk (1 cup milk + 2 teaspoons white vinegar or lemon juice OR use 1 cup buttermilk)
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon baking soda
For sour milk, mix milk and vinegar in a small bowl. Set aside for five minutes.
In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients except the water and baking soda. Mix until batter is smooth. Add the soda to the boiling water (kids love this part because it bubbles). Add soda/water mixture to batter. Mix wellâbatter will be thin.
Pour batter into a greased and floured 9×13-inch pan and bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes or until middle is set.
If using round cake pans, grease pans very well and cut a round of wax paper to fit inside the bottom of the pans to prevent cake from sticking when removed. Let cake cool five minutes in pans before turning out onto a wire rack.
*âShawn (i.e. Mint-aholic) likes a teaspoon of mint extract added to the batter.
by Heather - reviewed on April 17, 2010
Sadie Hoffmiller is at it again! But of course it's not her fault she just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bestselling author, and former resident of Sadie's hometown, Thom Mortenson arrives to give a presentation for the library fundraiser. When Thom's manager is mysteriously shot while getting the microphone ready on the stage, Sadie is right there to uncover all of the clues. No, she didn't actually see the shot blast because she was savoring--eyes closed--a delicious bite of her very own Devil's Food Cake. But that fact would never deter Sadie's spry involvement. As the whirlwind night unfolds, Sadie is drawn into a complex web of information, each turn more surprising than the next. But the only caveat is that she must follow the trail of clues without the police, which takes a bit of navigation on Sadie's part. Sadie Hoffmiller is a delightful character, quirky, funny, and never fails to disappoint. Devil's Food Cake is another Kilpack classic, and like the other books in this culinary mystery series, the "whodunit" comes at a surprise. If you haven't read any of Kilpack's Sadie Hoffmiller series, you need to catch up! Previous volumes are Lemon Tart, and English Trifle, with Key Lime Pie coming Fall 2010. They are fun to read in order but not entirely necessary!
They just keep getting better
by Mary - reviewed on April 05, 2011
This is the third of the Sadie Hoffmiller series and they just keep getting better. I like a good murder mystery and Josie Kilpack writes good ones. Sadie Hoffmiller,of course, manages to be right in the middle of this newest mystery. Even though the police don't want her help, she manages to uncover evidence they might not ever think to look for, and to solve another mystery. A bonus of these books are the recipes included for the goodies Sadie manages to find time to cook, while solving the mystery.
Sadie did it again and served Chocolate to boot!!
by Barbara - reviewed on March 02, 2010
Josi Kilpack is one amazing author. How she can come up with the amazing mysteries that she does amazes me each time I read one of her books. I have really enjoyed her culinary mysteries with Sadie Hoffmiller serving up the solutions to the murders. Devils Food made me realize they are getting better and better. oh yeah let us not forget the YUM Factor!!!!!
by Jackie - reviewed on March 09, 2010
I loved this book, couldn't put it down. Definitely a keeper. I love Sadie and I hope Josi keeps up the series!
In a word, WOW.
by Cheri - reviewed on February 21, 2010
If Sadie Hoffmiller's other adventures (Lemon Tart, English Trifle) were enjoyable romps, Devil's Food Cake is an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride. The events of the book all happen over about a 15 hour period--in a 350 page book, you can well imagine the wildness of the ride. We're introduced to a few new characters, and it's a real test to figure out who is the real villain. And, to top it off, there's a teaser in the back of Key Lime Pie--Sadie's next adventure. That tantalizing tidbit is going to haunt me for months!