Thursday, June 09, 2016

Guest Post: Jeanne on "Mystery on the Menu"

Please welcome back Jeanne of the Bookblog of the Bristol Public Library with a follow-up to her recent post about food in mysteries.  While I do notice what folks are eating in mysteries, I don’t seek out the food themed mysteries. Apparently a lot of folks do and there are suggestions in the piece if you like to seek those kinds of books out….

Mystery on the Menu

As I said in an earlier post, my first introduction to food in mysteries was with Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe.  Wolfe was a gourmet whose table boasted exotic dishes such as shad roe, roast duckling, squab, oysters, and so forth. Stout wasn’t averse to including Archie’s taste for more plebian dishes on occasion, usually corned beef sandwiches and some sort of pie.  Food revealed character, and at least once a murderer.
(You should never try to fool Nero Wolfe in a taste testing.) I wasn’t surprised to learn that Rex Stout had actually compiled a Nero Wolfe Cookbook but it would never have occurred to me to try to find recipes. (Note: There are a number of sleuth-inspired cookbooks, including The Lord Peter Wimsey Cookbook by William Eakins and Elizabeth Bond Ryan, Food to Die For: Secrets from Kay Scapetta’s Kitchen and Scarpetta’s Winter Table by Patricia Cornwell, and the recent Goldy’s Kitchen Cookbook by Diane Mott Davidson.)

The next time I noticed food in a mystery it was actually in a note from the author.  In one of the delightful Sarah Kelling mysteries, there was an author note from Charlotte MacLeod to the effect that readers had been asking Ms. MacLeod for Sarah’s recipes.  Ms. MacLeod seemed a bit bemused by this as was I: I’d noticed that in one book Sarah hastily threw together some hors d’oeuvres for her boarders, but it never occurred to me that anyone would ask for a recipe.

Boy, was I short sighted.

The first truly food-themed mysteries I can remember were Virginia Rich books, starting with The Cooking School Murders.  Nancy Pickard’s site says that Rich was the pioneer who made food a centerpiece of the story and included recipes, and I have no reason to disbelieve this.  Rich was a food editor and excellent cook, so the marriage of food and mystery was a natural for her. She died before completing the fourth book in the series, and Nancy Pickard was tapped to finish The 27 Ingredient Chili Con Carne Murder.  Pickard has since added to the adventures of widowed chef Eugenia Potter.

From then on, it seems, the practice of marrying mystery to food and recipes has become almost a clich√©.  Some might even say there’s no “almost” to it.  In fact, the field has grown so crowded that authors are specializing: tea shop mysteries, coffee mysteries, food truck mysteries, candy mysteries, cake mysteries—you get the idea.  As for the readers, some of our patrons are only interested in the recipes.  I know we have inter-library loaned several books for one patron who simply takes them to the photocopier and prints off the recipes.  Others are more interested in the plot and puzzle, and some demand quality in both aspects.

The genre is so popular that we created a bibliography for folks.  As the new series kept on coming, we’ve had to revise that bibliography and turn it into several different ones, dividing them up by type of edible.  Here are some examples:

“Sweets and Treats” features those mysteries in which candies, cakes, pies, pastries, and/or cookies form the backdrop.  Authors include JoAnna Carl (Chocoholic Mysteries), Jessica Beck (Donut Shop), Ellery Adams (Charmed Pie Shoppe), Gayle Trent (Daphne Martin, who bakes cakes), Joanna Fluke (Hannah Swensen who owns The Cookie Jar), and Jenn McKinlay (Cupcake Bakery).  The ”Tasty Mysteries” list includes Diana Mott Davidson with caterer Goldy Schulz, Laura Child’s Cackleberry Club, Julia Hyzy (White House Chef), Chris Cavender’s pizza parlor owner Eleanor Swift, Avery Aames (Cheese Shop), and J.B. Stanley  (Supper Club.) We’ll be adding a Beverage Bib in the future so we can include Child’s Tea Shop Mysteries, Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse, and the various wine related mysteries.

This is just a taste (pun intended) of the number of food themed series out there.  Bon appetite! Or, if you prefer, bone appetite!

1 comment:

Patricia Stoltey said...

I love the series by Diane Mott Davidson. I also love Susan Wittig Albert's China Bayle series. There's a tea shop associated with the herb garden and shop. That's where I found the lavender scone recipe.