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The Golden Spoon

A Novel

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About The Book

“This delicious combination of Clue and The Great British Bake Off kept me turning the pages all night!” —Janet Evanovich, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Only Murders in the Building meets The Maid in this darkly beguiling locked-room mystery where someone turns up dead on the set of TV’s hottest baking competition—perfect for fans of Nita Prose, Richard Osman, and Anthony Horowitz.

Every summer for the past ten years, six awe-struck bakers have descended on the grounds of Grafton, the leafy and imposing Vermont estate that is not only the filming site for “Bake Week” but also the childhood home of the show’s famous host, celebrated baker Betsy Martin.

The author of numerous bestselling cookbooks and hailed as “America’s Grandmother,” Betsy Martin isn’t as warm off-screen as on, though no one needs to know that but her. She has always demanded perfection, and gotten it with a smile, but this year something is off. As the baking competition commences, things begin to go awry. At first, it’s merely sabotage—sugar replaced with salt, a burner turned to high—but when a body is discovered, everyone is a suspect.

A sharp and suspenseful thriller for mystery buffs and avid bakers alike, The Golden Spoon is a brilliant puzzle filled with shocking twists and turns that will keep you reading late into the night until you turn the very last page of this incredible debut.

Excerpt

Prologue: Betsy Prologue BETSY
Betsy presses her cell phone to her ear, trying to hear. The wind and rain howl at the windows, rattling the glass. “We’re stuck out here. We won’t be able to come back for a while,” Melanie’s voice crackles with static. “This weather has taken down a bunch of trees. We’re waiting for emergency services to get them out of the road, but there’s no sign of them yet. We won’t be—”

“You’re cut off from Grafton?” Betsy can feel the panic rising in her chest. The whole crew has already left for the day, packing up quickly and going into town to avoid driving in the storm, and now it’s just her and Archie and the contestants alone in the manor. The thought fills her with dread. She shudders and pulls her thin cashmere sweater closer around her.

“What? The line keeps cutting out. Someone is going to have to go check on the tent. There’s a ton of camera equipment out there. I know the tech stuff isn’t your domain, but could you just go outside and make sure the flaps are sealed? I am just praying that tent is sturdy enough to make it through the storm. They’re saying it’s going to get worse tonight before it gets better. I’m sorry to ask you but there’s no one else. I tried calling Archie, but he didn’t pick up. Maybe you could—”

“I’ll do it,” Betsy snaps. There is no way she is going to ask anything of that man after what he’s done. “But this is really… unacceptable.” She feels a surge of anger as she hangs up. In the ten years she has been the host of Bake Week, she has never had to do any of the grunt work. Checking on the tent in the dark in the middle of a torrential downpour is not in her job description. She takes a deep breath. It was partly her fault, she realizes, for making the crew stay in town. She could never bear the thought of them traipsing through Grafton Manor with all their equipment and dirty shoes.

There’s a flash of lightning at the window followed by a violent bang of thunder. Betsy goes into her walk-in closet and reaches for her father’s heavy yellow rain jacket. As she slides her arms into it, she is disappointed to find it no longer smells of his cigars, only of the slightly mildewy musk that comes with neglect. It’s a smell and a state she is constantly battling at Grafton Manor. She feels a pang of guilt. Richard Grafton would be devastated to see this place so down at the heels. He was always devoted to the manor. He’d have found a way to keep it going, no matter the cost. She sighs, stretching to get an old metal flashlight off the shelf.

Betsy makes her way through the corridor and out into the main stairwell. Rain taps frantically on the two floor to ceiling windows in the foyer. She hurries down the steps to the front door, already feeling vulnerable. She pulls her hood up and forces the heavy wood door open, struggling against the wind. The tent is only ten feet away at most, but the rain is so heavy it appears as a white blur. She steels herself and steps outside. The wind drives the rain sideways, nearly blinding her as she descends the front steps, flanked by two stone lions. Their heads rest wearily in their crossed paws, as if they’ve given in to the storm. She crosses the short patch of gravel drive to the lawn, the rain pelting her in sheets. As soon as her feet hit the lawn, the heel of her right shoe descends into the fresh sod. It sticks there, making her nearly lose her balance. She hops on one foot, pulling the shoe up from the mud with a sucking sound and shoving her wet foot back inside. She is already drenched. She angrily anticipates the cleanup they’ll have to do before filming resumes. It will delay everything. It will cost money, lots of it. This season is turning into a horrible mess.

“Their chemistry is lacking,” that’s what The Post wrote recently after the footage from the first day was leaked. It was under the headline “What Will Happen to Bake Week?” As if somehow the press believes that the problem is both of them. No one ever complained about her chemistry before he got here. There was no problem with anything until he got here.

Angrily, she pulls open the flap at the back of the tent, switching on her flashlight. The rain hits the tent in noisy bursts drumming at the peaked canvas ceiling. She sweeps the flashlight around the open space. Each table is immaculately arranged, as is usual after the crew cleans them at the end of the day, before the bakers will return in the early morning to dirty every surface imaginable with dustings of flour and gobs of dough. Now every stand mixer is perfectly aligned with the next, each carefully arranged colander of baking utensils on display. It’s an optimistic scene of pastel colors and light woods. One that lends itself well to the show’s folksy niceness. And generally it’s true that the bakers, chosen and vetted to within an inch of their lives, are also nice. Betsy makes sure of it. Some of them can be a bit curmudgeonly. But they try so hard, they want so desperately to be perfect, to win, so you have to give them that. Betsy knows she hasn’t ever had to work so hard as some of them. This group is no different. Sure, there have been… challenges. It certainly hasn’t been easy this time around.

There’s another crack of lightning, a violent bang as it connects to something nearby. Betsy shudders and makes her way up to the bank of cameras on the right. They look secure enough. The ground around them is dry.

She swings the flashlight around the tent one last time, ready to go back inside and warm herself up with a glass of port. To try to forget today ever happened. But then she notices something at the front of the tent. There is an object sitting on the judging table. She trains the flashlight on it, approaching slowly. It looks like a cake. Someone must have left it there from today’s baking challenge, which is odd. Usually everything is cleaned up after filming. As she moves forward, she can see that it’s already baked, a slice cleaved neatly from it. Cherry red liquid dribbles from the stand, down the back of the table where it mingles with a deep puddle of water. The rain has found its way inside. She steps closer, her heart sinking. A mess this big will cause a delay in filming. It will be expensive and taxing.

A drop of water lands on her face and she jumps. She reaches her hand up to wipe it away. The liquid feels smooth and slippery. Reaching her fingers in the beam of the flashlight, she is shocked to find they are streaked with bright red. It feels like—

She turns her flashlight up. Its spotlight trails into the peaked roof of the tent until it stops on something. Before her eyes even make sense of the horror above her, she starts to scream.


1. Gerald GERALD
I wasn’t surprised when I got the call, though my heart rate did accelerate rapidly. I know this because my watch lit up and gave me one reward point for exercising. And I wasn’t surprised at all when they told me I’d been accepted as a contestant on Bake Week because I am an excellent baker. Anyone can be an excellent baker if they’re disciplined enough. It’s just chemistry. To make a perfect cake, all you need are the right equations. Measurements must be precise to yield a crispy mille-feuille, a lacy Florentine, a perfectly chewy pie crust. Temperatures must be controlled and deliberate, if you want to make a soufflé rise or chocolate glaze shine like glass. You can find equations everywhere in life, if you look in the right places.

Say you want to take public transportation all the way from your apartment in the Bronx to a country estate in Vermont for a televised cooking show, as I am doing now. You just need to be fully acquainted with the timetables. You’ll take the D subway line to 34th Street, exiting out of the northwest entrance and coming out onto 34th Street. Then you’ll walk two avenues west to the northeast entrance of the Moynihan Train Hall, leaving you exactly eleven minutes to wait for the Vermonter train, which departs at 8:15. That will get you into Brattleboro at exactly 3:45. There, you’ll have time for a coffee at a café across from the station before you hop on the shuttle you’ve scheduled to drive you out to the entrance of Grafton Manor.

I’ve mapped Grafton Manor out using blueprints I downloaded from the Vermont Historical Society’s online database. It’s an enormous house, but I feel like I know the place now, which brings me some comfort as I do not generally enjoy being in new places, particularly not with strangers and for an entire week. I’ve memorized routes from the guest rooms to the dining room, the dining room to the tent, and calculated the length of time it will take me to get to each.

I’ve gone over the variables of my journey so many times that I barely need to look at the schedule I’ve made up for myself as I get off the subway car with my bags and walk briskly down the platform. A man is playing the violin on the platform, Bach. I recognize it immediately as Violin Sonata No. 1 in G minor. As I was able to get an express train, I allow myself two minutes to listen. I close my eyes. The music carries me away from the filthy station back to my childhood kitchen table. I remember every detail, every nick in the wood, every tear in the vinyl-backed chairs my mother would make me sit at until I finished my homework. She would switch on the radio, filling the tiny kitchen with grand symphonies. Classical music was good for studying, she said. While I solved mathematical equations, she would bake, the air becoming thick with the fragrance of cakes in the oven, melted chocolate, sugary fruit reducing on the tiny stovetop.

My mother was an immigrant from Grenada. She’d been trained as a chemist, but when she came to the United States she was unable to use her degree, so she took a job cleaning for a rich family in Manhattan. When the wife got wind of her cooking ability, she was tasked with providing meals for them as well. It was her cakes that garnered her the most attention. Soon all the families in Tribeca were asking for my mother to make treats for their children’s school birthdays or their evening cocktail parties. My mother took baking very seriously and practiced at home, and often in the middle of the night I would wander out and she’d give me a glass of warm milk and a taste of whatever she was cooking. Finally, the year I turned fifteen, after nearly two decades of patiently practicing and saving, she opened her own bakery. I begged to work there instead of going to school, but she never relented. My baking education was to be done after schoolwork if time allowed. I explained all this in the application video, plus my expertise in hand-ground flours.

Filming falls during my school’s summer break, so I am not bound to my teaching job right now. Of course, I still have a routine I adhere to when school is not in session. I’ve broken down the benefit-to-detriment ratios, though, and the numbers always come out in favor of going. If I win, which I have at least a one in six if not higher chance given my expertise, I will have proven to myself that I am what I think I am, that my calculations are correct. If I lose, I will return to my normal schedule in just a week’s time.

I give the violinist ten dollars and carry on to the exit, emerging into the bright New York morning. I make my way down 34th Street, jostling with tourists and pedestrians, dodging men on the sidewalk selling knockoff sunglasses and flavored ices. I’ve allotted time for them in my schedule. Finally, I arrive at the northeast entrance to the train station. I check my watch: 8:04.

I feel the warm assurance of being on time, of having gotten it right. I carry my bags into the central hall, scanning the timetable to be sure, though I know it by heart.

I look for the Vermonter, but it is not listed where it should be, right between the Northeast Regional and the Acela service to Washington. I instantly scan and find it farther down the list flashing in red: Delayed, stand by for more info.

A cold dread descends on me. Things never go well when they don’t go according to plan.

About The Author

Stephanie Ewens

Jessa Maxwell is the author of The Golden Spoon and I Need You to Read This. She is also the author and illustrator of five picture books for children. Her comics and cartoons have been published in The New Yorker and The New York Times and her writing has been published in Slate, Marie Claire, and many others. She now lives in Jamestown, Rhode Island with her husband, two cats and three-legged dog. 

Why We Love It

“Over the past two years, I have been on the hunt for a book that would just sweep me away. Jessa Maxwell’s stunning debut, The Golden Spoon, had all the right ingredients (pun intended!) to capture my attention after turning the very first page. Filled with all the details and drama of the competitive baking world, along with the unforgettable and eccentric characters that often populate it, The Golden Spoon is an absolutely delicious and enjoyable puzzle. It will please you and whisk you away, leaving you desperate for a warm slice of freshly baked cake...and her next book. This debut mystery is to die for!”

—Lindsay S., VP, Editorial Director, on The Golden Spoon

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (March 7, 2023)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781668008003

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Raves and Reviews

"Fans of The Great British Baking Show, rejoice! This cozy whodunit is for you." —NPR

“Two things I love are great food and a great mystery—and The Golden Spoon has both. This delicious combination of CLUE and The Great British Bakeoff kept me turning the pages all night!" —JANET EVANOVICH, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Recovery Agent

"Clever, atmospheric, and creepy, with a spooky mansion, the kind of quirky, reality-TV-ready ensemble you can't help but adore, and storylines as expertly interwoven as a blue-ribbon challah. I can't wait for whatever Maxwell bakes up next." —ANDREA BARTZ, New York Times bestselling author of We Were Never Here

The Golden Spoon is as addictive as bingeing your favorite culinary competition and as satisfying as a piece of your favorite cake. It’s a complex, layered mystery featuring an unforgettable cast of characters who could be either America’s next great baker or its next most famous cold-blooded killer. Jessa Maxwell has crafted a debut that’s mouth wateringly good.” KELLYE GARRETT, Agatha, Anthony, and Lefty Award winning author of Like a Sister and Missing White Woman

"Jessa Maxwell's debut is a deliciously entertaining whodunit—charming characters, baking mishaps, and a mouthwatering murder mystery. Readers and baking enthusiasts will savor every bite of The Golden Spoon." —SARAH PENNER, New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Apothecary

"At last, a baking show with a murder; cleverly constructed so we not only wonder who is the murderer, but who will be the victim. A delightful bake." —CHRISTOPHER MOORE, New York Times bestselling author of Lamb, Noir, and A Dirty Job

"A delicious confection—in this multi-character CLUE meets the British Bake Off everyone is suspicious, and the solution will surprise you. I ate it up." —CATHERINE MCKENZIE, USA Today bestselling author of Have You Seen Her

"Who knew that the one thing to make me love the Great British Bake-Off even more was to add a (fictional) dead body? Take a cozy setting like Grafton, add in a diverse cast with their own hopes and dreams and hidden agendas, and toss in a couple of hosts who are not as perfect as they'd like you to think, and you've got a foolproof recipe for a great read. If you're a fan of character-driven mysteries and delicious bakes, you absolutely have to check out The Golden Spoon" —MIA P. MANANSALA, author of the Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity Award-winning Arsenic and Adobo

"Sweet and savory turns deadly sour in this fast-paced, entertaining romp...Maxwell is off to a great start." Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A fantastically fun mystery with a perfect setting. It's Knives Out meets Agatha Christie. I was delightfully surprised throughout." —SARAH LANGAN, author of Good Neighbors

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