Sometimes, a book’s premise is so bang-on perfect that you know instantly that it’s something you have to read, whether it is a story that’s set in your usual lane as a reader or not. Truth be told, I’m not usually much of a cozy mystery person—I tend to prefer thrillers, the more feminist and subversive the better. But as soon as I read the description of Jessa Maxwell’s The Golden Spoon, I knew this was a story that was laser targeted at me, specifically.
A delightful, multi-POV mystery full of charmingly rendered characters, The Golden Spoon essentially posits the question “what if a murder suddenly happened in the middle of The Great British Baking Show?” The answer is as utterly delightful as you might have guessed, and the story that results manages to find a perfect blend of baking details (these amazing-sounding cakes and pies!), character backstories, and on-set intrigue.
Yes, much like the show that this novel takes the bulk of its inspiration from, there’s a familiar formula at work in The Golden Spoon. Many of its twists are the sort that few readers will find genuinely surprising, and none of the characters are reinventing the wheel when it comes to the specific archetypes they’re fulfilling. But, again also like the Baking Show itself, there’s something tremendously comforting about the formula this story follows, making the end result a deeply satisfying, if not particularly groundbreaking, one.
Set at a Vermont estate called Grafton Manor, the story follows the story of six contestants chosen to compete on a show called Bake Week. There’s Hannah, a young pie maker from small-town Minnesota; Peter, a handsome, flannel-wearing restoration expert; Pradyumna, a bored millionaire; Stella, an anxious former journalist; Gerald, a fastidious and somewhat neurotic scientist, and Lottie, the fluffy grandmother type. And, of course, there’s Bake Week’s famous host Betsy Martin, a posh cookbook legend struggling to deal with the fact that the network has not only foisted a male co-host on her after ten successful years of running the show on her own, they also chose Archie Morris, star of the more cutthroat reality competition The Cutting Board. And his love of drama and harsh critiques don’t exactly reflect the kinder, softer vibe Bake Week is most often known for.
But as production on the new season begins, strange accidents begin to take place, from switched ingredients to tampered equipment. And readers already know from the book’s opening pages that we’re hurtling toward a body turning up—-but whose? And who did the killing? That’s the story that unfolds over the course of The Golden Spoon, interspersed with some genuinely enjoyable moments from the show’s actual competition. (Obviously, the season gets derailed by the whole murder and possible sabotage thing, but part of me can’t help but wonder who would have won if they’d finished it!)
The story is split between POVs from each of the Bake Week contestants, as well as Betsy herself, and each voice is crisp and distinct. Their individual chapters give us valuable peeks into each character’s history and life before arriving in the tent, as well as their motivations for embracing both the art of baking and the show itself. There are several characters (Peter, particularly) who don’t get nearly as much depth as some readers (read: me) might like, but the bonds that develop between several unlikely pairs are charming and often quite unexpected.
And the bakes! Maxwell indulges in multiple rich descriptions of most of the contestants’ show entries, so much so that you may end up either horrified (a mushroom pie sounds truly awful to me), or disappointed that you can’t actually eat these treats yourself. (Lottie’s blueberry crumble thing!)
All in all, while The Golden Spoon may not break any new ground in its genre, it goes down like the best kind of chocolate cake: Deeply familiar, but surprisingly tasty anyway. It’s exactly the sort of book you expect it to be, and there’s honestly something to be said for that. Make some tea, grab something sweet, and settle in.
The Golden Spoon is available now wherever books are sold.
Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.