Monday, May 1, 2017

Around Our Kitchen Table: Food and Mysteries #giveaway

LUCY: I was reading the first book in Daryl's new series, A DEADLY ECLAIR, (yes, I got lucky and snagged an early copy!), and I started thinking it would be interesting to talk about how and why we use food in our mysteries. Writing the Key West food critic series has really tweaked my interest in food and cooking because I have to think the way that my character, food critic Hayley Snow, thinks. She uses food as a way to connect with people, and to calm herself down, and to seduce the folks she’s trying to get information from that may solve the mysteries.

I like what Hayley wrote for the magazine she works for, Key Zest, at the end of DEATH IN FOUR COURSES: “I’d summed up by saying how important it was to remember that while food did mean life and death in its most elemental form, most often we in the food writing industry were talking about food as the pleasure of connections. When we wrote about simmering a stew or a sauce for hours or days, we were really talking about how much we owed to the folks who came before us and the importance of cherishing their memory. And how much we yearned to give to the people in our present who’d be gathered around our table. We were writing about food as family history, and love, and hope, and sometimes a little splash of guilt.

MLK ladies, I'd love to hear about the role food plays in your books!

SHEILA: I was a big fan of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe books from the beginning of my mystery-collecting career. The idea of a sleuth who sat eating wonderful food while solving mysteries in his own mind was very appealing. I even have a copy of The Nero Wolfe Cookbook, and I've used several favorite recipes many times.

In a way the Orchard Mysteries are the polar opposite. My protagonist Meg Corey moves to an unfamiliar town and finds a body in her back yard--not the best way to meet your new neighbors! But a major theme of the series is community, and that means bringing people together over food. Meg even helps friends launch a restaurant in her town! And since she grows apples, I've used quite a few of the apple recipes I've collected over the years in the books. 

Clearly food matters. It's something we share, especially when we are celebrating important events or holidays. Eating together with friends and family is one of the joys of life.

LESLIE: It really is all about community, isn’t it? My main characters are retailers who love to cook. Food is their business, and their passion. In the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, Erin is committed to raising awareness about local food. Food anchors gatherings with her extended family, and the festivals that are a village mainstay. In the Spice Shop Mysteries, we explore one of the great public markets—Pike Place in Seattle—with Pepper, and learn a lot about herbs and spices. Both women love putting good food in customers’ hands, to enhance their knowledge and pleasure. As sleuths, their occupations give them an entree to the investigation. Erin finds a clue in an old recipe. Pepper uses a delivery as an opportunity to confront a reluctant witness. The amateur sleuth has access to conversations and secrets that law enforcement doesn’t have—and nothing opens those doors like huckleberry jam or a fragrant box of spice tea. 

I’ve said this before, but I believe the role of the amateur sleuth is to restore the social order after the disruption that murder or other crime creates. What does that better than food?

LINDA:  My series features the Culinary Capers Dinner Club, so food is at the core of both the series and their monthly dinners. The group uses real cookbooks anyone can find in bookstores, so I must be sure not to have anyone poisoned! 

Besides bringing them together in a ritual of friendship, it has allowed my protagonist, J.J. Tanner, who is an event planner, to quickly find a place in her new town. She readily admits she's not a seasoned cook however, she has a great passion for cookbooks, with color photos. And she tries hard to improve her skills both in the kitchen, and when scouring the clues for a murderer. And the Culinary Capers gang is more than willing to help on both fronts.

CLEO: Marc and I live in the borough of Queens, New York, one of the most ethnically diverse plots of land on the planet. We may not speak the same languages as our neighbors, or wear the same kinds of clothing, but we absolutely enjoy each other’s foods—from Salvadoran pupusas served out of a family-run truck to the colorful chiffon cakes of a Filipino bakery and the savory kebabs of a Bosnian diner. 

In our Coffeehouse Mystery Holiday Grind, our amateur sleuth Clare expressed our philosophy this way: “A diversity of cultures meant a diversity of foods. Eat with tolerance, I say!” 

Like Clare, we believe food can serve as the most basic first step toward cultural understanding. It's one reason we enjoy putting a diversity of foods in our mysteries: from the bright purple Filipino ube cake (and our favorite carnita recipe) in A Brew to a Kill to the Bosnian burger (pljeskavica) and “poor man’s caviar” in Once Upon a Grind

We loved writing about coffee hunter Matt’s Ugandan chicken stew in Billionaire Blend as much as culinary student Joy’s mini tarte Tatin’s in Dead to the Last Drop—not to mention her mother's cannoli cream cupcakes in Dead Cold Brew“Food is our common ground, a universal experience,” said James Beard. Marc and I agree. We also love to eat, of course, and now we have an excuse. Research! May you, too, eat with curiosity, wonder, and joy!

KRISTA: That's a lovely quote, Lucy. For those who aren't writers, I'll explain that when you start out, all kinds of people spout writing rules at you. I remember someone telling me never to set a scene at a table when people were eating. Now I love to tell new writers to learn the rules and break them appropriately!

The gang in the Domestic Diva Mysteries often discuss murder over food. In my personal life, a lot of the most interesting discussions with friends and family (though happily not about murder) take place around the table, so why wouldn't that happen in mysteries? Do the sleuths always have to be on the run? Of course not. 

Plus, food always shows up at the celebrations of life. Whether it's a birthday or graduation, holiday or job promotion, we celebrate with food. It only stands to reason that our characters would do the same.

And like Lucy, I love it when my sleuths can use food as a bribe. What better way to interrogate, er, meet the new neighbors?

DARYL:  Krista, I remember hearing those same rules. 'No discussions over food and tables!' So I was avid about creating scenes which included food to be about the preparation of food. Moving about the kitchen. Slicing, dicing. Handling hot objects. Not sitting. But people in foodie mysteries seem to gravitate to the table or to the counter or the food stand.  I will say that when I was writing the Cheese Shop Mysteries, I had to learn so much about cheese, that I was often keeping my characters at the cheese counter to taste, share, and discuss. I had to learn to move them about the shop and out of the shop into town and "real life." It was a challenge. Now that I'm writing the French Bistro Mysteries, I have to remind myself to move the characters out of the bistro kitchen. It's a challenge—I love a kitchen!—but I love a challenge.

PEG: My two most recent series--Cranberry Cove and Farmer's Daughter mysteries--represent food at its most elemental--growing it! And obviously growing it and cooking it go hand-in-hand so my characters also spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  Sharing a meal brings people together and it gives my characters an opportunity to gather a diverse group around their tables.

Readers: We'd love to hear--why do you read culinary mysteries? Leave us a comment with your email and you'll be entered in a drawing for Peg's absolutely, brand-new mystery, DEAD AND BERRIED!

Join us at the table!
Leave your comment below...