Working Stiffs welcomes back L.J. Sellers!
Are Crime Writers Food Freaks?
by L.J. Sellers
Discussion groups often talk about sex scenes in mysteries, with readers weighing in on both sides of the “necessary or not?” question. But what about food scenes? This subject rarely comes up in book discussions, yet I’ve come to realize there is a significant amount of food in crime novels! I don’t read enough in other genres to know if this is true across the spectrum, but I suspect it’s not.
What is it about food and crime fiction?
First, you have all the great cozy series built abound food themes, chefs, and recipes. To name a few, there’s Julie Hyzy (White House chef mysteries) Denise Deitz (Strangle a Loaf of Italian Bread and others), Diane Mott Davidson (features a Colorado caterer), Joanne Fluke (whose murders are all named after a dessert) and Isis Crawford (with recipes in every book). You can find more of these authors—and their food— at a collective website called Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen.
But even private investigator series and police procedurals often feature food as a distinctive element of the character and/or story. In fact, my most vivid memories of the detective stories I read in high school involve the food consumed by the protagonists.
Nero Wolfe had a Swiss cook named Fritz who created amazing food I’d never heard of at the time (eggs au beurre noir, lamb shish kebab, shad roe). Wolfe had such a finicky palate (only fresh picked and roasted corn for him) and such a love of food, the character inspired his own cookbook and eventually, the annual Black Orchid Banquet, featuring those recipes.
My most vivid memory of Edward Delaney (of the Deadly Sins series) is seeing the detective standing over the sink, eating a sandwich made of rare roast beef, red onion, beefsteak tomato, and garlic-spiced mayonnaise. He stood at the sink because his creations were messy, despite being carefully crafted, and he was a man on the move.
More currently, medical examiner Kay Scarpetta often stops in the middle of investigations to create elaborate and delicious Italian meals, while Stephanie Plum eats a lot junk and comfort food on the fly.
All these food preferences serve as a cornerstone to the character’s development, but I believe they tell us even more about the authors. Having read most of Lawrence Sanders’ work, I feel safe in assuming he was a foodie and, mostly likely, a very sensual man. And Patricia Cornwell has produced a cookbook called Food to Die For. I think it’s safe to assume she enjoys cooking and regularly takes time to do so.
On the other hand, I’m not a foodie and you can tell by the way my poor character eats. Wade Jackson is a dedicated homicide detective who works nearly around the clock while he’s on a case, and he often skips meals or eats something quick and easy. Like his creator, for him food is a time-consuming activity and he’s a busy man. He always has good intentions though.
I’ve had several readers tell me Jackson needs to eat better or least take vitamins. It’s good to know they care that much about him, but I worry that they think I’m not a healthy eater.
Do you make assumptions about the author based on the food her character eats? What are your favorite character/food connections?
L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist and the author of the Detective Jackson mystery/suspense series based in Eugene, OR. Her first three books, THE SEX CLUB, SECRETS TO DIE FOR, and THRILLED TO DEATH have been highly praised by Mystery Scene and Spinetingler magazines, and the fourth Jackson novel, PASSIONS OF THE DEAD, will be published in 2011. L.J. also has two standalone thrillers, THE SUICIDE EFFECT and THE BABY THIEF (coming soon). When not plotting murders, L.J. enjoys performing standup comedy, cycling, social networking, attending mystery conferences, and editing fiction manuscripts. She’s also been known to jump out of airplanes.