Detectives and policemen in classic mystery stories usually love their food, if it's mentioned at all. Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot fusses over his tisanes as much as over his mustache. Robert Parker's Spenser has very refined taste, though he also likes a donut. Tony Hillerman's Joe Leaphorn sometimes eats at the southwestern chain Lotaburger, and he also loves his wife's Indian stew. Mysteries set in Italy by Dona Leon and Andrea Camilleri, and in France by Martin Walker abound with descriptions of local food.
|Tana French, In the Woods.|
First novel in the series Dublin Murder Squad.
Each novel features a different detective.
While suspense and detection are the important elements of the book, I was amused by the nonconformist food descriptions. For example, unpleasant sandwiches seem to be a frequent topic of Detective Ryan's disgust. Some examples of food in quick shops or pubs or at home with his flatmate Heather:
"'I said I’m not hungry,' I said, hearing the whine in my voice, but I opened the sandwich anyway: Cassie had a point, it was likely to be a very long day. We sat on the curb, and she pulled a bottle of lemon Coke out of her satchel. The sandwich was officially chicken and stuffing, but it tasted mainly of plastic wrapper, and the Coke was warm and too sweet. I felt slightly sick." (In the Woods, pp. 59-60).
"They were eating toasted sandwiches; the salty, chemical smell made me feel sick. Outside the window the rain bucketed down a gutter." (p. 288).
"I went into the kitchen and started making myself a sandwich, ham and Heather’s low-fat cheese— I’d forgotten to go shopping. The Guinness had left me bloated and uncomfortable." (p. 282).Other people in the novel sometimes try to please Ryan with food including his mother and a potential witness named Mrs. Fitzgerald. They don't succeed:
"That weekend I went over to my parents’ house for Sunday dinner. ... 'Where’s Cassie today?' my mother asked after dinner. She had made macaroni and cheese— she has some idea that this is my favorite dish (which it may well have been, at some point in my life) and she cooks it, as a small timid expression of sympathy, whenever something in the papers indicates that a case of mine isn’t going well. Even the smell of it makes me claustrophobic and itchy." (p. 277).
"We stopped at Lowry’s and bought Mrs. Fitzgerald a tin of shortbread, to make up for the fact that we still hadn’t found her purse. Big mistake: that generation is compulsively competitive about generosity, and the biscuits meant she had to get a bag of scones out of the freezer and defrost them in the microwave and butter them and decant jam into a battered little dish, while I sat on the edge of her slippery sofa manically jiggling one knee until Cassie gave me a hairy look and I forced myself to stop. I knew I had to eat the damn things, too. ... "'Ah… turned out badly, did he?' Cassie said confidentially. 'Could I take another scone, Mrs. Fitzgerald? These are the nicest ones I’ve had in ages.' They were the only ones she’d had in ages. She dislikes scones on the grounds that they 'don’t taste like food.'" (pp. 300-303).Just once, under special circumstances, Cassie manages to give Ryan some comfort food:
"Cassie rummaged in the wardrobe, passed me a bottle of brandy and a glass. 'Have a shot of that while I make food. Eggs on toast?'...Tana French is also good at poking a little fun at food fads and snobbery:
"She turned from the frying pan to look at me, a wooden spoon in her hand. ... She switched off the stereo, popped the toast and piled the eggs on top of it. 'Here.' The smell made me realize how hungry I was. I shoveled the food down in huge mouthfuls, barely stopping to breathe; it was whole-grain bread and the eggs were redolent with herbs and spices, and nothing had ever tasted so richly delicious." (p. 396-397).
"Heather disappeared back into the kitchen, presumably to add horse-sized capsules of vitamin C and echinacea to her frenetically balanced diet. I went into my room and closed the door. I poured myself a drink— I keep a bottle of vodka and one of tonic behind my books, to avoid cozy convivial 'drinkies' with Heather." (pp. 104-105).
"At 8: 17 p.m., according to the computer printout [of a phone tap], Andrews had ordered lasagna with smoked salmon, pesto and sun-dried tomato sauce. 'Jesus Christ,' I said, appalled." (pp. 417-418).
"It had been well over a week since I had eaten an actual meal, with food groups and everything." (p. 433).I'm aware that beyond the more traditional, suspenseful police procedurals and detective stories by authors like Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, Martin Walker, Tony Hillerman as well as Tana French, there is a more recent genre of cozy mysteries. These often feature food to the extent that recipes are included, and frequently include characters who are in the food business as well. I am not much of a fan of cozy mysteries, so this blog post is not in any way about them. However this blog post IS copyright © 2020 by mae sander for this blog: maefood dot blogspot dot com, and if you are reading it elsewhere, it's been pirated.