Food that we consume is said to be the first and the last of human pleasures. Well-prepared foods accompanied by favorite drinks, and served in attractive settings are part of our celebrations of major life events. Food and drink have great symbolism, and are associated with religious services. Preparing food and drink, and serving it are daily duties in the home. Food brings people together, as family and as friends. Preparing and serving food is an act of love in the home and a source of revenue for groceries, restaurants, bars, and shops.
Food is necessary for survival and for good health during life. Some foods are valued for special contributions to a person's well-being, such as fruits and vegetables. Foods are also associated with cultures. Learning about foods and wines, and how to buy and prepare a variety is part of contemporary life. Chefs demonstrate on television, small shops specialize in wines or desserts. Enjoying fine food and drink is symbolic of the good life.
There is another side to the symbolism of food. In the Bible story Eve began human problems by eating of the forbidden apple and then enticing Adam to do as she did. Food and drink are tempting. Unfortunately for many victims, food and drink can be dangerous, even deadly killers. There are many poisons, often hard to detect. Using poison in food and drink to kill is therefore an excellent weapon for a murderer. Poisons have been the murder weapons in mysteries from historical novels to sinister tales where arsenic slowly destroys the victim.
Poisons which come in many forms such as shaggy cap mushrooms have been quiet killers in mystery stories from the early days of the genre. Dorothy Bowers in 1938 published her first novel, Postscript to Poison. Scotland Yard is called in to help solve a murder by poison. Bowers' book is available today due to its re-publication by The Rue Morgue Press in 2005. Food as pleasure also has a long background in the mystery genre. Rex Stout's series of mysteries features the gourmet detective Nero Wolfe whose master cook Fritz Brenner prepares foods frequently described in the stories. Many authors today write about food and drink. In keeping with contemporary life, characters enjoy a wide range of foods and drinks in various settings. Private investigators may be owners of food establishments, experts in wine making, frequent visitors to coffee or tea shops. A great deal of background information reflects the pleasure and the difficulty in operating a small business. Often the owner is a woman who also happens to be good at solving crimes. She has a girl friend, and usually a man friend, often connected with law enforcement. Some novels contain recipes. Culinary mysteries reflect the wide choices of food and drink from around the world available to people in contemporary communities. Food and drink are entertaining ingredients in modern mysteries. The novels contain food word play, beginning with titles. Some authors include recipes so that readers who wish to enjoy the real thing can do so. Following is a list of entertaining culinary mysteries.
Savory Tales of Culinary Crime. 2000. He speaks of the love affair we all have with food. This collection of short mystery stories by well-known authors is a good way to begin enjoying culinary mysteries. There are 18 tales, each author has included a recipe.
Albert, Susan Wittig. An Untimely Death 2003 This is the title of the first story in a collection of short stories about herbalist China Bayles, a former criminal defense attorney who now lives in Pecan Springs, a small town in Texas. Over 40, she has settled down with husband, Mike McQuaid, a former homicide detective who becomes a professor of criminal justice in Central Texas State University. Mike's teen-age son lives with them. Owning a small business is part of the background. China owns a shop aptly titled Thyme and Seasons Herbs, and her best friend, Ruby Wilcox, owns the Crystal Cave a New Age shop. The short stories are each followed by recipes that contain herbs. Herbs can contribute to good taste in food, to good health, and some can cause serious illness, even death. This book is listed also as a garden mystery.
Lavender Lies This is a full length novel, one of the series by Susan Wittig Albert featuring Texas herbalist China Bayles. China just put her upcoming wedding on the back burner when a murder investigation entangles her friends. This book is also a gardening mystery.
Balzo, Sandra. Grounds for Murder Maggy Thorson, owner of the coffeehouse Uncommon Grounds, is talked into becoming the head of the 2nd annual Barista competition when the original leader is murdered. A barrista must demonstrate how adept she/he is at making excellent coffee based drinks. Maggie is hard-pressed to find time due to the many duties she has as a small business owner who gets small profits for long hours, pressures from employees, teaching how to make a good espresso, and competing with chain stores. She has to understand quickly how a barrista competition works, how each has to prepare an espresso, a cappucino and a signature drink for each judge. That is 12 drinks in 15 minutes for the 4 judges each get 3. Despite the many things she has to do, Maggy manages to escape danger, solve the crime, and oversee a successful competition.
Carter, Sammi. Chocolate Dipped Death 2006. Subtitled "A Candy Shop Mystery", this novel begins with a flurry of action because Abby Smith, a former corporate attorney who owns the Divinity candy shop is busy getting ready for the Tenth Annual Confectionary Competition, a big event in the small town of Paradise, Colorado. When after years of being away, the beautiful Savannah arrives to compete, Abby is warned that trouble will happen. Abby ignores the warnings, but the naysayers turn out to be right and Abby has near brush with death. She can call on her police detective friend Pine Jawarski for assistance. Recipes for such delights as Srawberry Bonbons and Cappucino Divinity are included in the book.
Childs, Laura The Silver Needle Mystery 2008 Theo Browning is the owner of the Indigo Tea Shop in beautiful, historic Charleston, South Carolina. At the opening of the Charleston Tea Festival, the shop has a great deal of business. Customers enjoy the teas and desserts that Theo serves in the shop and in the affairs that she caters. But the opening is a shock when the director is shot in front of the audience. Theo becomes involved in finding who did it. Recipes and tea time tips are included.
Cohen, Jeffrey. Some Like It Hot Buttered 2007. Death by popcorn becomes evident when a corpse is found in row 5, seat 18, of a movie theater. Characters include Elliott Freed, the movie theater owner, and police officer Levant (a lady).
Conant-Park, Jessica and Conant, Susan. This daughter (Jessica) and mother (Susan) write about Chloe Carter who is interning at the Boston Organization Against Sexual and Other Harassment in the Workplace. Getting a graduate degree is the only way Chloe can come into an inheritance. She spends a good deal of time with her friend, Chef Josh who is preparing the food for the opening of a restaurant in downtown Boston. Crime intervenes. Buying and preparing food are part of the action in this lively and entertaining mystery. Recipes included. A note: Susan Conant has a series of canine mysteries.
Coyle, Cleo. Decaffinated Corpse 2007. This coffeehouse mystery features Clare Cosi who owns and operates a coffeehouse. Action centers around a possible discovery related to coffee beans that could be valuable enough to induce someone to commit murder. This novel presents a good deal of information about coffee, both caffeinated and decaffinated, the brewing process and the history of this favorite drink that became known in the west through smuggling. The skills of the barristas, and the pleasures of the drink are part of Murder Most Frothy, a 2006 novel by the same author.
Crawford, Iris A Catered Valentine's Day 2007 has recipes for this holiday. Sisters Bernadette and Libby Simmons own a Little Taste of Heaven where the food is cooked with care and only the best ingredients are used. They team up with the owners of Just Chocolate to do a benefit for a charity but trouble interferes. After the mystery is solved, and the story is over, the reader finds the last pages have recipes for readers with a sweet tooth.
Crosby, Ellen. The Merlot Murders 2006 is, as the title indicates, a wine mystery. Lucie Montgomery, who was injured in a car accident, manages to get around as she tries to return her family land to productivity and so earn income from wine. Murder interrupts her plans. A second Wine Country Mystery, the Chardonnay Charade 2007, continues the local history and tells of such dangers as exposure to methyl bromide. Relationships with workers and with other landholders are the source of problems.
Davidson, Diane Mott Dark Tort 2006. Goldie Schulz, caterer and amateur PI, finds a body, in fact, she trips over it while she is supplying food for a boutique law firm in Aspen Meadow, Colorado. This grim opening leads to action and explanations of procedures from husband and Homicide Investigator Tom. The catering background allows for information about the organization and presentation of food. The legal background brings up questions about how fair the system is. Descriptions of paintings of food and how difficult catering is add to the background. Work pressure and danger are difficult for Goldie. Recipes include a faithful version of a pioneer food, Johnnycake.
Doherty, P.C. The Poisoner of Ptah, 2008. Set in ancient Egypt, the action in this novel originates in a possible peace treaty with a neighboring country. But three of Egypt's leading scribes die violently, leading to grave suspicion of poisoning. Ameratke, Chief Judge of the Halls of Two Truths, must investigate.
Fluke, Joanne Blueberry Muffin Murder 2002. This novel is set in Lake Eden, a small town in Minnesota at the time of the annual Winter Carnival. In 1988 the state adopted the blueberry muffin as its official muffin. Hannah Swenson makes them along with other items for her bakery and small items shop, The Cookie Jar. She has an assistant, Janie, and a male friend, Mike Kingston, head of the county sheriff's detective division. Relationships are important in this small town, including Hannah's own family interactions. The local color, ice fishing, food, snowmobiling make a good background as Hannah must solve a mystery made more difficult by the dark, the ice and the cold.
Gamascoli. Joseph with Allen C. Kupper A Meal to Die For 2006. The subtitle of this mystery is A Culinary Novel of Crime . Tough and crooked guys who use tough language and tough tactics, and New York Police are characters in this story. The main character is Benny Lacoco, a talented chef whose menus show how skilled he is. Each one of the chapters is named appropriately, Chapter 1 is Appetizer, Chapter Chapter 2 is Soup, and the last chapter is The Just Desserts. Benny's cooking helps him survive in a criminal environment. The author, Joseph Gammascoli, is a chef and an actor who played the part of a hitman in a series. Allen Kupper teaches at Nasau Communty College in New York.
Hyzy, Julie State of the Onion 2008. Olivia Paras, who is 5 ft.2in. tall, is part of the staff who prepare meals for the White House. She is one of the only 5 permanent staff, The big question is will she be chosen for head of the staff, she would be the first female for the position. She has a secret service man friend, which is fortunate because danger lurks outside, in the grounds. The high-powered food is suitable for the important people Olivia prepares food for. Menus, and the recipes for a complete meal fit for a president are included.
King, Peter. Dying on the Vine 1998. The PI is a business consultant, not a professional investigator, but a man who seeks out rare wines and food ingredients like exotic spices on commission. The setting is Provence, the descriptions of the beautiful land, the village, and the wine-making and of The French police force, made up of the Police Nationale that handle civil matters and the Gendarmie that take care of criminal matters are very well done. A murder has different interpretations, locals blame sangliers (wild boars) for a man's death. The PI reads the old mysteries about Poirot and Maigret which he finds in the auberge where he stays. He finds the universal advice - savor the local cuisine. He must understand the local history, the background of the caves, good hiding places in the hills around the area.
Malmont, Valerie S. Death, Lies and Apple Pies 1997. Lickin Creek, a town in the Appalacian mountains, is small it has only one traffic light, but it has a goodly number of historic structures with white gingerbread trim. A government proposal to build a nuclear waste dump site stirs up action. Tori Miracle, who is romantically involved with the handsome police chief, investigates trouble. Old country herbs are part of the town culture.
McKevett, G.A. (pseudonym of Sonja Massie) Murder a la mode 2005. Savannah Reid, in her forties, is a private detective who heads the Moonlight Magnolia Detective Agency. She has an assistant, Tammy Hart, and a best friend, Detective Dick Coulter of the San Carmelita Police Department. Southern California is an area where it is not surprising to find tryouts for a TV show. Savannah's career as an investigator continues, in 2007, she is in Poisoned Tart.
Myer, Tamar. The Crepes of Wrath 2001 Excellent crepe recipes are included in this mystery, one of a Pennsylvania Dutch series. Plain-dressing, blunt Magdalena Yoder, an Amish Menomite, does not believe in evolution. She runs a profitable inn located in Hernia, PA, pop. 2000. She becomes involved in crime investigations when she assists local police chief Melvin Stolz who is inept but is the only person who will work for the salary the small town will pay. This is a funny and adventurous tale with lots of local color.
Pence, Joanna. Red Hot Murder 2006. Angie Amalfi is an expert cook whose food reflects the culture of the Jackpot, Arizona setting, such as tortilla crisp and bourbon pecan chocolate pie. Her good friend San Francisco Homicide Inspector Paavo Smith is her resource when she investigates a crime. Police work is not easy; trying to get accurate information when interviewing relatives and friends of those involved in a crime, it is curious that "Murder victims and killers become saints." Interest in solving mysteries is high. The local Catholic priest, Father Armand. has to close his book, "an often-read collection of Chesterton's Father Brown stories."
Stanley, J.B. <1>Chili con Corpses 2008 Each chapter of this " upper Club Mystery" has a food title, beginning with "Turkey Bacon Ranch Wrap" and ending with "Glazed Mini Cake Crullers." The members of the supper club live in the small town of Quincy's Gap in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. When the opportunity comes, they happily enroll in a series of classes in Mexican cooking. The food is great, but trouble comes when corpses are discovered. The recipe for Milla's Vegetable Paella, a main course with lots of vitamins is provided in the book.
Temple, Lou Jane The Spice Box 2003. Bridget Heaney is the young immigrant Irish girl who learned to cook when she was placed in a New York City home for children with nowhere to go. The novel opens in 1864 when Bridget is on her own, starting a job in the home of the wealthy Gold family of the Gold Department Store. Bridget finds a body in the house soon after she begins to work. As she is involved in finding the truth, she moves about in the kitchen of the big house, and in various settings in New York, which makes a very interesting background. Descriptions of Bridget's cooking are provided.
Wright, Nancy Means. Poison Apples 2000. Trying to overcome their grief after the death of their daughter, Moira Earthrow and her husband Stan move to rural Vermont and become owners of an apple orchard. Orchards present problems, such as worries about the Jamaican pickers. Environmental issues, religious differences, dangerous spray for the trees, and ripe, juicy apples make a colorful backdrop for the mystery solving in this novel.