(B)umpkin Pie

I... Where do I even start with this one? I knew that starting an enterprise in which I select essentially random pop culture to consume was brimming with the possibility of disappointing properties. I had no idea just how much crap my usual system of selecting things filters out. But I'm getting ahead of myself. For the second chapter of the ABC Project, I went to my local library, and pulled down the first "B" book that looked even the slightest bit interesting - Batter Off Dead by Tamar Myers. It was published in 2009, and hooked me with the following phrase on the cover: "A Pennsylvania Dutch Mystery With Recipes". Huh? What a strange assortment of descriptors. That oddity carried with it the promise of something new and interesting.

I should have been sufficiently warned by the flap description:

"At the Beechy Grove Mennonite Church's annual pancake breakfast, Minerva J. Jay, known for her prodigious appetite, slumps over dead after ingesting stacks and stacks of hotcakes. Police Chief Chris Ackerman wonders whether the serving of the fatal flapjacks is a case of assault and batter. Magdalena has her own bun in the oven, but that doesn't stop the chief from asking for her help with the investigation.

Before Magdalena can begin, however, she has to make a special delivery of her own....

But being a new mother doesn't mean Magdalena is going to quit her sleuthing - and it won't stop her from grilling the members of the Men's Club, who organized the breakfast as a fund-raiser. And just when she thinks she's found her number-one suspect, he turns up dead, squished flatter than a pancake by a driverless cement truck. Now, to stop the killer from cooking up another crime, Magdalena has no choice but to jump from the frying pan into the fire."


Or the acknowledgement page, which makes sure to single out a friend of hers for helping to come up with the title. Yes, this woman needed help coming up with a stupid food-related pun, when the one that heads this blog post took me about seven seconds. Have I mentioned that this is her seventeenth book in the series, all of which have food-related puns?

But perhaps I'm being unfair. I mean, it's not as if I can judge this book yet - I haven't read a single word of the actual story. I should really give it a chance before I start ragging on it. Yeah, I was tired of it by page 3. I know I'm prone to hyperbole, so you'll have to take my word for it when I say that this is easily the worst book I've ever read in my entire life. I almost can't even detail the reasons, because there are so, so many. Let's give it a whirl, anyway.

1) All of the characters speak with the identical voice. There is absolutely no tone differentiation between old Mennonite ladies, young gay policemen, middle-aged Jewish men, or anyone else.

2) The protagonist is an idiot. In most mysteries, the suspects are intelligent, and the hero/heroine has to be that much smarter in order to outfox them and crack the case. In this book, the problem of the idiotic heroine is solved by having everyone else be stupid to the point of brain damage. They may as well carry clubs and say nothing but "Duuuuuuh," so that Magdalena looks even somewhat capable by comparison.

3) The unbearably twee writing style. What's that? Don't believe me?

"I nodded reluctantly. We'd actually made a killing on breakfast, no pun intended. The mixes were generic and had been about to expire, so I was able to pick them up for a song at Pat's IGA in Bedford. I mean that literally. When I saw the dates on the boxes, I took them up to Pat and began to sing the opening aria by Aida from the opera by that name (it is something the Babester has forced me to listen to after you-know-what). At any rate, my singing voice has been compared to a cross between nails on a chalkboard and a basset hound in heat. Pat gave me not only three cartons of pancake mix, but as much generic syrup as I wanted as well."

The entire book reads like that. Let me reiterate that. This character uses fake swear words and calls her husband "The Babester" for the whole...fucking...book.

4) As alluded to in #1 up there, Myers attempts to write about Jewish and gay people, and fails miserably at both. She is inept almost to the point of being offensive.

5) Did I mention that Magdalena is a raving idiot? Well, it bears repeating. I haven't even gotten to the part where a character talks to her from up on the roof and she thinks she's hearing the voice of God.

6) It doesn't work as a mystery. Or as any kind of story. Apart from not being able to write people in any sort of believable way, the plot is so thin as to be see-through.

7) There isn't a single sentence devoted to Magdalena's newborn that would not look entirely at home on STFU Parents.

8) And it would be one thing if all of this was meant as a joke or satire. Nope. We're meant to be rooting for this adorably plucky woman instead of finding her completely insufferable.

In a way, this book is to literature what The Room is to cinema. It's so terrible that it works its way around to being kind of horrifyingly fascinating. If Mystery Science Theater 3000 covered books in addition to movies, this would be number one on the riff list. I was committed to immersing myself in this property, though, so I decided to try one of the pancake recipes strewn throughout the pages. These recipes were mined from a pre-existing cookbook that Myers dug up, just in case you thought she was too busy double-checking flour ratios to devote any time to stupid things like character development or a plot based in any kind of reality. I chose the Sour Cream Banana Pancakes with Cinnamon Maple Syrup.

They weren't bad. Nothing I couldn't have gotten from Allrecipes or a halfway-decent cookbook. As to Batter Off Dead, what's left to say? The fact that this series sells to actual people is gobsmacking to me, but there's no accounting for taste. If you take nothing else from it, take a newfound sense of hope if you're an aspiring author. If crap like this somehow gets published, then there's no reason on Earth you can't get your story out there.

Batter Off Dead: F


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