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Sadie Hoffmiller believes in her abilities as a cook and as a detective. She believes in the beauty of a perfectly baked pumpkin roll. She does not, however, believe in ghosts.
As Halloween approaches, Sadie is looking forward to spending her favorite baking season of the year making delicious New England recipes in Boston, Massachusetts, with her favorite leading man, Pete Cunningham, as they babysit his three young grandsons. When the boys insist that Mrs. Wapple, the woman who lives across the street, is a witch, Sadie and Pete are anxious to distract the boys from such silly ideas.
Sadie tries to befriend Mrs. Wapple, but when her foolproof plate of cookies fails to work its magic, she is left with more questions than answers. And Sadie has never been one to leave a good question unanswered.
The more she investigates, however, the stranger the answers become. And when Sadie learns the eccentric Mrs. Wapple has been attacked in her home, she knows times is running out. As the unexplained occurrences escalate, Sadie finds herself embroiled in yet another mystery with life-or-death consequences. Can Sadie discover whoever — or whatever — is behind the mystery before anyone else gets hurt? Or will this be the last time Sadie takes the case?
- Size: 5½" x 8"
- Pages: 368
- Published: September 2011
- Run Time: Approx. 10.5 hrs.
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.
That’s it?” Shawn asked on the other end of the phone the next morning, the Monday of what should prove to be a busy week.
“Isn’t that enough?” Sadie asked, annoyed that he was so hard to please. Kalan had wanted to walk the three-quarters of a mile to school so she’d obliged him and was speed-walking her way back in order to work off at least some of last night’s pumpkin roll—and the additional slice she’d had that morning. Calling Shawn, her twenty-one-year-old baby boy, and catching up while she exercised was simply good multitasking. Her breath fogged in the air as she spoke; a cold spell had settled across the East Coast overnight, but she was staying pretty warm due to the exertion. “Exploding lights and drawing pictures in the air is pretty out there, if you ask me.”
“Well, I mean, it’s weird. But you’re in Boston, Mom, and it’s almost Halloween. You’d think you could drum up something a bit more exciting.”
Sadie huffed extra hard to make a point. “I’m not in Boston Boston,” she corrected him. “I’m in Jamaica Plain, a quiet little suburb, and I think the excitement of the last year has completely destroyed any sense of normalcy you ever had,” she said with only slightly exaggerated disappointment. She really did worry that her involvement with five murder cases in the last twelve months had done some kind of damage to her son; he was a little too excited about helping her out with her newly formed PI business—Hoffmiller Investigations. Before he could defend himself, she changed the subject. “How’s that skip trace going?”
“You don’t have to call it a skip trace anymore, Mom. Use the lingo: skip.”
“Fine,” Sadie said, appreciating a turn-of-the-century Victorian home that stood on the corner. It had been beautifully restored—as had many of the historic homes in this area—and she wondered if it was on one of the walking tours the city offered. Sadie would love to see the famous hand-carved woodwork and stained-glass windows of the old colonial homes up close. And yet, while there were $700,000 homes on this street, Jared lived a few blocks away on a tired-looking street full of bland little rental houses.
The front lawn of the next house sported latex zombie hands sticking up from the grass and a giant spiderweb that stretched from the eaves of the framed porch to the bottom of the steps. A very large, though realistic-looking, spider hovered just above the front doors. Sadie preferred the zombies.
A gust of wind blew a swirl of fallen leaves around her ankles, and she picked up her pace, imagining the cream cheese filling melting off her backside with every step. She tuned back into the conversation with her son. “How’s the skip going?”
“His mom’s neighbor saw his car leave early in the morning. I’m pretty sure he’s at least sleeping there. I’ve got a process server set up to go at eleven o’clock tonight.”
“Excellent,” Sadie said. “And you’re keeping good notes, right?”
“Perfect notes,” Shawn said.
Sadie could tell he was proud of himself and it helped her feel better about giving him some of her investigation work while she was out of town. She’d been an official private investigator—though Colorado didn’t require an actual license other than the basic business license—for almost five weeks. On the one hand, most people would find what she’d done so far pretty boring work: locating parents who had skipped out on child support or heirs who needed to be found to fulfill the requirements of a will. She’d had one case of a cheating husband. On the other hand, however, Sadie loved the work! Most of her information hunting could be done over the phone or via the Internet, which made it infinitely flexible. And there was just something invigorating about unraveling a mystery—even a boring one.
During the first few weeks of being open for business, Shawn had helped her research a detail here and there, but when three full cases came in the day before Sadie was supposed to catch a plane to Boston, Shawn had said he would handle them himself. She had planned to supervise him, but he had hit the ground running and had done an impressive job so far without her.
“The other two cases are coming along as well,” Shawn continued. “I have a lead on the deadbeat case that looks pretty good—I should know this afternoon. Do you have more for me to do?”
“I don’t think so,” Sadie said.
“But something new came in, didn’t it?”
Sadie considered her options for a moment but couldn’t deny that she had her hands full with three little boys and an inexperienced grandfather. Even if she wanted to do some of the work herself, the time simply wasn’t there. Not this week. And she hated putting people off if she didn’t have to, especially when she was still establishing her business. “I did have something else come in last night. It’s a woman looking for an ex-boyfriend from fifteen years ago.”
“Why does she want to find him now?” Shawn asked.
“She has a fourteen-year-old daughter,” Sadie replied, with no need to elaborate. “I’ve already scanned the social networking sites. I found nothing, which leaves us with only her last known information about him.”
“I see. Fifteen years is a lot of time to dig through.”
“I know.” Sadie began taking deeper breaths as her exertion caught up with her. “I have to tell myself not to wonder whether or not it’s the right thing to find him. If he’s a mess, I . . .” She paused for a breath. “I might tell her we didn’t find anything. We might not be able to find anything anyway.”
“Maybe you should give it to Jane,” Shawn suggested. “She’s good at the outdated stuff.”
Sadie frowned. While it was true that she’d used Jane Seeley, a reporter she’d met several months ago, to find bits of information she hadn’t been able to locate on her own, she had yet to feel completely comfortable with the younger woman. Shawn had made peace with his poor opinion of Jane from the past—her investigative skills had him in awe—but Sadie couldn’t quite get to that point. Her own reluctance made her question her misgivings. Was she simply holding a grudge?
Yes, she and Jane had gotten off to a rocky start, and Jane had followed it up with an article that Sadie was still recovering from, but Jane had also been invaluable in Portland and nothing but helpful and encouraging since then.
“She’s never taken an entire case,” she said out loud, pretending that was her only concern.
“Well, give me the case, then, and if I need her, I’ll ask.”
Sadie bit her lip and slowed her pace, taking in a bit more of the holiday decorations. Not all homes were in the holiday spirit, of course, but most of them displayed some type of tribute to ghosts and ghouls. Of course, just being located in New England meant that every home was decorated for the season with vibrant colored leaves. Even living in small-town Colorado, with its rich foliage that made autumn a treat, didn’t compare to the sheer number of trees here in Massachusetts and the celebration of colors that exploded this time of year.
Jared’s house was on the next street and she was ready to cool down. “I’ve already given you three cases,” she said. Part of her hesitation was concern that Shawn was overcommitting himself, but part of her also felt the itch of wanting to take this case herself. No, she didn’t have time, and, yes, she’d committed to not make this a working vacation, but . . .
“I’m caught up in all my classes,” Shawn said, driving to the heart of her objections. “I promised you I wouldn’t take your stuff on if I couldn’t do it, and I won’t, but fall soccer is over and basketball registration isn’t until next week so I don’t have much to do this week.” Shawn worked at a local youth recreation center in Michigan. “I can do this, and I could use the money. I’ve got to get my hands on the new Xbox—it’s awesome.”
“Okay,” Sadie said with a laugh. Such a big man, and yet such a little boy at the same time. She needed to trust him to manage his own time. “I’ll e-mail you what I’ve got, but use Jane only if you have to, okay?”
“Deal,” Shawn said, his tone both relieved and lighter. Sadie wondered when he was going to tell her that he’d changed his major from sports medicine to criminal justice. She’d figured it out about three weeks ago, thanks to her new skills at uncovering information, but Shawn had yet to tell her, and she was content to wait him out. “I better head to class,” he continued. “We’re still on for Saturday?”
Sadie smiled, remembering the plans they had made when she announced she’d be traveling to his neck of the woods. Michigan was still several hours away, but closer than Colorado. He had school and some work meetings on Friday, but when he finished he would drive to Boston, probably arriving just a few hours after Heather and Jared got back from Dallas. They planned to all go to Salem on Saturday for a day of Haunted Happenings—an encompassing title of events hosted in the City of Witches every fall. Shawn and Sadie could then spend Sunday together before Shawn had to leave. She wished they could have more time together, but she didn’t want him to miss school for it. She had developed a continual fear that he might drop out of college altogether and didn’t want to tempt such thoughts.
“I am so excited to see you!” Sadie said. “It’s simply breathtaking here this time of year. Remember when we came with Bre—what, seven years ago?”
“How could I forget?” Shawn said. “It was humiliating to tell people we’d gone all the way to Boston to see yet another zoo. I hated it when it was her turn to choose the family vacation.”
Sadie laughed. “As opposed to your choice of Ohio so we could visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame?”
“Um, that’s practically a religious study, Mom.”
Sadie laughed some more. “You’re a silly boy.”
“But at least I’m not an animal freakazoid,” he said, referring to the name he’d made up for Breanna when he was little. Sadie hadn’t seen her daughter in months, not since she left for London on an internship with the London Zoo. It was hard coming to terms with the fact that Breanna might live the rest of her life in England. Sadie felt sad every time she thought about that, but now was not the time to feel sorry for herself. She was seeing her boy this weekend in the most beautiful place in the world this time of year—two reasons to celebrate.
“I got your e-mail with the MapQuest map, by the way,” Shawn said. “You keep forgetting I have GPS on my phone.”
“It’s always nice to have a backup,” Sadie said. She’d had her phone for months and could barely figure out how to set the alarm, let alone use the fancy-Nancy apps Shawn had downloaded for her. “I also signed us up for the after-dark Ghosts and Gravestones tour that goes over the famous haunting of the city. They talk about the North End tunnels and the Lady in Black; it sounded like something right up your alley.”
“Sounds great,” Shawn said. “You got us in the Saturday night before Halloween?”
Sadie smiled, quite pleased with herself. “It was the first thing I did once I knew we were coming. I’d heard about it from people who had taken the tour before and didn’t want to miss it. I just hope it’s not too scary for you.”
Shawn laughed. “As long as you’re there to protect me, I’ll be okay. I better get going, though, I’ve got class in ten minutes. Enjoy those grandkids of yours!”
Sadie nearly corrected him but realized he was teasing her about how close she and Pete were getting. He also knew how much she wanted to be a grandma, rather than Aunt Sadie, and the thought that these boys might one day be her grandsons made her smile. “Alright, I love you, my boy.”
“Love you too, Mom. I’ll look for that e-mail about the long-lost boyfriend-father deal.”
Sadie ended the call and put her phone in her coat pocket before pulling the collar up as a stiff wind came at her from the north. It had been nice weather when she and Pete arrived in Boston, but it had gotten colder every day since. Despite the temperatures, however, she loved autumn, loved New England, and was glad to be out of Garrison, Colorado, for a little while. Things had been changing for her over the last year, ever since the discovery of her neighbor’s body in the field behind her house, and whereas she once felt perfectly accepted and comfortable in her small town, she now felt as though she were growing out of it. Most of her investigative work was from Fort Collins, an hour west of Garrison, but she’d even had a couple from Denver hire her; her world was so much bigger than it used to be.
She let out a breath and wondered where life would take her next. It wasn’t that she regretted the changes—she’d always been open to adventure—but she missed the easy comfort she used to feel living in Garrison. It wasn’t fair to give other people all the blame, though; she knew she approached them differently too, unsure what gossip they had heard or what decisions they’d made about her.
That’s how she felt about even the people she’d been friends with for the last twenty-five years. Cautious was uncomfortable.
She looked up to see that she was only a few houses away from her destination. Instinctively her eyes moved to the house across the street from Jared and Heather’s—Mrs. Wapple’s.
The “Mrs.” meant she was, or had been, married. Where was her husband? The yard was unkempt, the grass long and matted in places, and the front flower beds that bordered the small Cape Cod house were bare dirt—no flower stalks or landscaping remnants anywhere in sight. The hole from last night was filled, though a faint layer of dirt remained on the sidewalk. There were no Halloween decorations, and even from here, Sadie could see where real spiderwebs clogged the corners of the recessed doorway and had caught stray leaves. A portion of rain gutter had broken away from the eaves on the east side and hung across the front window; the first heavy snow of the upcoming winter would likely rip it off completely.
The house was painted a medium-gray, but water stains had given it a mottled look. Jared and Heather’s house, along with most of the houses on the street, had a hip-high chain-link fence. Mrs. Wapple’s front yard was fence-free, though a six-foot-tall wooden fence with an additional foot and a half of latticework on top jutted out from the sides of the house and wrapped around the back half of the property, completely hiding the backyard from view. Sadie wondered what required that much privacy. She still stuck by what she’d told the boys last night, though—that Mrs. Wapple was just a silly old lady. She was intriguing, however, Sadie had to admit that.
The front gate of Jared’s house creaked when she opened it, and she made a note to add “Oil the gate hinges” to Pete’s list of household projects. All the houses along the street had an alley running behind them that led to single-car garages, or sometimes a carport. With garages in the back, the houses were even closer together. There was no street parking allowed overnight, which kept the street uncluttered.
Heather had decorated the front door with a ghost made of several layers of gauzy fabric. It had silent black eyes and an O-shaped mouth. As Sadie headed up the walkway, she watched it swing gently in the wind and had an idea about how to satisfy her curiosity about the witch across the street. That her plan involved baking—her favorite autumn pastime—was merely all the more reason to follow through.
Josi has done it again!!
by Evelyn - reviewed on November 03, 2011
I loved this book! I have loved the entire series, as well, and each one seems better than the last! If you are looking for a book to sweep you away into a mystery, then this is for you! I also love having new recipes to try out!!!
Loved the mystery!
by Joyce - reviewed on June 19, 2012
I appreciate that Josi Kilpack keeps sharing her many talents with us. I have thoroughly enjoyed the books that I have read of hers. In "Pumpkin Roll" she keeps you guessing all the time and adds a lot of fun twists and turns, with a surprise ending that leaves you wanting more. I highly recommend Josi's books.
Perfect for Fall!
by Heather - reviewed on September 26, 2011
Don't ask me how I have gone so long without reading one of Josi Kilpack's culinary mysteries, but I have obviously been missing out on all the fun. Pumpkin Roll is absolutely perfect for Fall and Halloween! Set in Jamaica Plain, a small township of Boston it is close to heart of the Salem Witch Trials. Things get spooky fast for Sadie and boyfriend Pete who are on vacation together while watching Pete's grandchildren. Between light bulbs exploding, strange faces in the window, night time visitors and the witch across the street who is always digging in her yard, Sadie is sure there's a mystery to be unraveled. In her nosy neighbor way she offers a plate of cookies to Mrs. Wapple and is determined to figure out why she's so strange. But danger lurks around the fence! With mouthwatering recipes for cookies, whoopie pies, clam chowder and cinnamon twists, Pumpkin Roll is one you don't want to read while hungry! Sadie will have you itching to bake and trying to put together all the little clues behind this who done it. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to all readers as a must have before Halloween. The atmospheric creepy tone is topped off with lots of comfort foods for a perfect combination. Now that I've discovered The Sadie Hoffmiller Culinary Mystery Series I can't wait for Banana Split coming in Spring 2012. Thanks so much to Deseret Book for sending me Pumpkin Roll! Content: some violence and creepiness
Fun. Suspenseful. Great for Halloween.
by Lu Ann - reviewed on February 10, 2013
The first part of the book I feared Josi had ran out of creativity for Sadie and her mysteries. I was pleased in how the suspense and mystery steadily built. The last two thirds of the book kept one constantly guessing on 'Who did it? and Why?'. Once again she didn't disappoint and it is a great book to read at the beginning of the holiday season - before Halloween.