Plot: Eden Lake, Minnesota is the kind of small town where everyone knows everyone, but especially everyone knows Hannah (Alison Sweeney). She owns and operates The Cookie Jar, a beloved local bakery where Hannah serves up delicious, creative baked goods to the delight of the townsfolk. As in any small town, gossip runs rampant and while Hannah’s business acumen is talked about, her relationship status is often the more popular topic. Her mother and her friends want to see her meet someone and settle down, but Hannah wants to focus on her work…and her cat. A new attempt to set her up with a potential beau is derailed however, when Hannah makes a tragic discovery and finds a deliveryman dead inside his own truck. The small town police aren’t used to murder cases and Hannah wants to see justice, so she begins her own investigation, with unexpected results…

Entertainment Value: Murder, She Baked was based on a book series and turned into quite the franchise for Hallmark, leading to several sequels that find Hannah in various murder mysteries. A Chocolate Chip Mystery is the first in the series, but for the most part, these movies are episodic, so you are safe to jump in at any point and you won’t feel out of the loop. Of course, this first installment has some light exposition and fleshes out Hannah’s character, but since all the movies follow a similar formula, you’ll be able to keep up regardless. The narrative here is passable, but the focus is on Hannah and her social life, which means the mystery itself is rather simple and predictable. So if your interest is solely in the murder case, you might be let down, as the twists and turns are not that memorable. But Hannah is likable and the mystery is at least given a decent amount of screen time, so while it has that Hallmark vibe throughout, it isn’t as driven by the romance as most of the network’s movies. But if you’ve seen Hallmark’s other “citizen investigates” type movies, then you know about what to expect here, for better or worse. I think this first Murder, She Baked is a passable mystery with light romance, one that Hallmark fans will likely appreciate.

This movie and the series as a whole is anchored by Alison Sweeney, who brings our baker turned detective to life in Murder, She Baked. I wasn’t bowled over by her performance here, but it was solid and I think she falls in line with similar Hallmark leads, which is what matters. This movie is aimed at the network’s built in audience, so it feels a lot like Hallmark’s other citizen detectives, but as I’ve said in other reviews, that formula is tried & true. Sweeney is likable and has good screen presence, which goes a long way with this kind of material, as it depends more on the social elements, rather than the crime aspects. I like that she’s given a character that isn’t just a generic romantic interest however, so while she doesn’t get much depth to work with, Sweeney is a capable lead and carries the movie well. The cast also includes Pauline Egan, Cameron Mathison, Barbara Niven, and Lisa Durupt.

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