The Baker’s Husband, by Jeannie Sharpe
This is a book I read for a book group. It’s not my genre, so I’ll admit up front that I’m not predisposed to love this kind of story. It’s also the first novel attempt by this author, and it suffers from some pretty serious problems in plot, timelines, facts that don’t make sense, key plot points that materialize out of nowhere, and some very bad copy editing. There’s a sweet and semi-uplifting story here, but you need to overlook a lot to get to the end. My full review follows:
The Baker’s Husband, by Jeannie Sharpe, is a kind of cozy-Christian-romance-mystery. The story follows Chloe, who owns a bakery in a small Maine town. Chloe is struggling to make ends meet after her husband disappeared following a mountain-side car crash two years before the start of the story. Then, Chloe’s car engine bursts into flames and she is rescued by a handsome detective named Mitchell. There is an instant attraction between them, but when Mitchell invites Chloe to his condo for dinner, Chloe tells him that she’s married, and while Mitchell very much wants the romance to progress, Chloe can’t love another man while there is still some chance that her husband is still alive. The rest of the story is the extended search for Chloe’s lost husband, Jake, and Mitchell’s struggle to suppress his desire for Chloe. During the ordeal, Chloe repeatedly calls upon her Christian faith by reciting bible verses and asking for God and Jesus to help guide her through.
The author, apparently writing her first adult novel, gives us Chloe as a tragic, sympathetic character struggling through unimaginable tragedy and stress, but buoyed by her faith. She somehow maintains a positive outlook, even as she manages her inner romantic conflict. The story is intended to be about the power of love, fidelity, and faith. At times, the author does a nice job of describing the Maine countryside and the smells of Chloe’s bakery. The story has some interesting side characters, including Chloe’s bakery assistant, Ben, and Chloe’s dog, Chester. But, as the characters meander through the days, drinking gallons of coffee and eating dozens of donuts, the flaws in the story threaten to overwhelm the sweetness.
The plot points of the main story don’t really make sense, particularly how important evidence materializes without explanation. This evidence, and eyewitnesses, were somehow missed by the police during the original investigation into the car crash and the disappearance of its sole occupant, a well-known and award-winning baker and chef. The author drops in peripheral characters for cameos to make plot points, but what is supposed to be a surprise by the end is pretty obvious, and yet still hard to reconcile with the rest of the facts as presented. The relationship between Mitchell and Chloe is similarly inconsistent, with wild swings of emotional reactions and behavior.
Within the larger story arc, many of the small story points are also poorly constructed. The opening sequence, for example, when Chloe’s car suddenly catches on fire, Mitchell is in his office in the municipal building, sees the emergency, grabs a foam fire extinguisher, and makes it down to the street in time to save the day. We later learn that these events happened at 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday. There are dozens of similar examples where the narration just doesn’t make sense and the time sequence is either confusing or impossible.
The character of Mitchell, Chloe’s handsome love interest, is never fully fleshed out. He’s described as the town’s “newest detective,” but he’s not with the police. He works for the DA’s office, but he’s not a lawyer. He’s some kind of investigator, and yet he is involved in reopening the cold case of Chloe’s missing husband. He’s described as having “employees” who work for him, but we never get any description of what he does, other than show up at the bakery every morning for donuts and coffee (so much coffee). Other than being in love with Chloe, we know very little about Mitchell.
Most of the plot issues, both large and small, could have been solved by a good editor. An editor could also have addressed the numerous problems with formatting, word choice, usage, punctuation, and the one gaping hole in the text where there seems to be several missing paragraphs. While the book has a listed publisher (Foster Embry Publishing, LLC) with a New York City address, the publisher apparently doesn’t provide any editing help to independent authors. These technical issues detract from the overall reading experience, although the writing is sometimes excellent if the reader can overlook the flaws in the story.
The genre here is not my usual type, although a missing person mystery is right up my usual alley. I’m sure there is an audience for this book composed of people who can overlook the technical flaws and plot problems and focus entirely on the sweetness and courage of Chloe and the way that her Christian faith sustains her while she and Mitchell avoid acknowledging their mutual attraction. This is a very G-rated story, and for readers looking for the light of Jesus shining through a noble character, I’m sure it will be enjoyable.