In short, this is the Great British Bake-Off with bite. (And no, that is not a baking pun. Well, okay, maybe it is.)
In The Golden Spoon by Jessa Maxwell, it’s the tenth season of the hit show Bake Week, which is hosted on the sprawling grounds of Grafton estate in Vermont, the home of kindly chef judge Betsy Martin. When the contestants arrive, they expect it to be a normal season. But the new judge Archie has brought a strange new mood on set, and the bakers aren’t sure what to think. Then, as the challenges begin, bizarre things occur: the jar that should have held sugar is found to contain salt, a fridge is left open, and a burner is turned up to high. Someone seems to be sabotaging the show, but who? And at least one of the contestants is keeping a secret… But when a body is found, everyone on the estate is a suspect.
I admit I was initially concerned that this would be a difficult book to follow, until I found out that there were only six baking contestants. I was imagining something like Bake-Off’s cast of a dozen, which would have been an untenable number of characters. This was much better, and it was a lot easier to learn who was who. The only issue was that sometimes the narrators voicing Hannah and Stella sounded really similar, so that confused me at first.
Because yes, I listened to another audiobook. I’m on a roll, but when it’s a work perk, and this one had eight narrators, I couldn’t resist. I love a large cast for audiobooks!
Anyway, I thought the characters were pretty good. Each has a unique personality, and their different outlooks on the show—especially as its filming progresses and tensions escalate—are really interesting to watch. The interplay between everyone was pretty fun, and as secrets get revealed and motivations shift, things get complicated in an intriguing way.
I think one of the most fascinating characters was Betsy. She’s obviously inspired by Mary Berry, but only vaguely (I assume…). I thought the scenes that dealt with her past and upbringing were cool, and gave perspective to the woman she has become. Her journey overall is pretty impactful to the story, and was quite engaging. As for the other judge, Archie, I liked him less, but considering he’s likely inspired by Paul Hollywood, that isn’t entirely surprising. (Paul is my least favorite Bake-Off person, and I doubt I’m alone in feeling that way.) I do think what Maxwell did with the character was interesting, though, and the way he impacted the plot was great.
Also, it’s so hard to talk about mystery novels without spoilers sometimes.
Anyway, one thing I didn’t love was that one of the contestants barely impacted the plot. He might as well have not been in the book at all. I was half-expecting him to have some dramatic reveal during the last act, to be a kind of plot twist, but nope. It was kind of disappointing, and I wonder what the point of him even was. Just to have an even number of bakers?
I also thought the ending was not the best. Sure, everything is explained and arguably pretty clever and entertaining, but I also was confused. Is there supposed to be a sequel? Because it didn’t feel like the usual thriller ending (that is, slightly ambiguous to leave the reader thinking); it felt much more like setting up for another installment. Who knows, maybe there will be a follow-up novel. I wouldn’t be opposed to reading it, honestly.
In the end, The Golden Spoon was a more than decent mystery. The setting is familiar, if you know Bake-Off, but with a dark twist that gives it some depth. The way the characters’ stories interact is clever, and the unfolding of the mystery is intriguing. A couple plot points were easy to guess, but others weren’t, and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride this novel took me on. It’s a satisfying debut novel—nothing super extraordinary, but worth a read.
Content note: There is a scene where a character recalls the night she was sexually assaulted; though there isn’t much detail, it’s clear that that is what happened. It’s a brief scene, but her fear is significant and might be upsetting to some readers.
The Golden Spoon is available now!