“The Great British Baking Show” meets Knives Out in The Golden Spoon, Jessa Maxwell’s delicious, atmospheric debut.
Celebrated baker Betsy Martin has hosted her popular show “Bake Week” from the grounds of Grafton, her Vermont family estate, for the past decade. This year, change is in the air: The network has foisted a new co-host on her, and Betsy had less input than ever before when selecting which six contestants would compete for the show’s coveted Golden Spoon award. Still, “America’s Grandmother,” as Betsy’s known among her fans, chooses to push ahead with the new season. When the competition gets underway, things start to go haywire. The contestants believe someone is sabotaging their bakes—and when a dead body is discovered, everyone in the baking tent becomes a murder suspect.
The Golden Spoon is impossible to put down, especially for fans of shows like “The Great British Baking Show.” Maxwell expertly unspools her mystery, switching among the perspectives of all six contestants, plus Betsy. The bakers’ voices and observations are a high point of the novel: Each character is distinct and well drawn, with their own motivations for joining the show and secrets to hide. There’s Stella, a former journalist and the most inexperienced baker; Hannah, the youngest contestant, who hails from a small town; Gerald, a rigid teacher who compares recipes to mathematical formulas; Pradyumna, a tech millionaire with nothing to prove; Lottie, a retired nurse with a special connection to Grafton; and Peter, who specializes in the reconstruction of historic buildings.
The novel begins with an eerie prologue from Betsy’s perspective before jumping back in time to when “Bake Week” first started filming. Readers know from the prologue that a gruesome discovery awaits, but most of the book—80%!—is devoted to following the characters through “Bake Week” and getting to know their motivations for competing. It’s not until the last fifth of the book that Betsy’s initial discovery is revealed, and from there, the plot quickly unfolds. Mystery genre fans may find many of the twists easy to spot, but Maxwell’s expert characterization and lyrical prose make The Golden Spoon a delight to devour.