I enjoy crafts in fiction and, though owning ten thumbs, grew up appreciating the art involved. But I’ll concentrate on food here, a subject I like far too much, but the “eat” part of “eat, drink, and be merry” became part of my philosophy when I arrived in San Francisco in 1962 and discovered ethnic restaurants.
What people eat or how they do so says much about character without any other commentary.
The detective, who lives on hamburgers, fries, and black coffee served in thick mugs, probably smells of greasy diners and, I am willing to bet, never mentions washing his clothes or only changes his shirt between books. He is obsessively focused and is probably a happy loner. Think of many older, noir detectives in particular.
Then there is the detective who likes to cook. The meals may be simple, but they sound yummy. He may even be vegetarian or find the art of preparing food a form of meditation. In the background, he probably plays music. He also changes his shirt at least once in the course of the book, forms deeper relationships (although they can be troubled and eventually end), and actually remembers to feed his cat. He has a cat! He is the somewhat reluctant loner, rather intuitive, and often bends the rules. Kind of Harry Bosch or Joe Pike or Elvis Cole.
Then there is the detective who adores food, eats out at his favorite restaurant where the owner stays open just to serve him dinner, and takes all his female suspects or witnesses out for a good meal while judging their veracity by how they react to the food. He may enjoy solitude, but so does his girlfriend of many years. He may not have a cat, but he weeps when his favorite ancient tree is cut down to build some modern thingie. He may even try to save dying seagulls. He pretends to bend rules, but actually just puts a new spin on them. A bit along the lines of Salvo Montalbano.
The other great thing about food in a book is dialogue. People usually talk when they are eating, a mulling over or collection of clues. If the dining companions are silent, there is a good reason.
And how better to add all those senses: color, smell, taste, sounds? All possible in the course of the meal, and all can punch up atmosphere.
Is there a downside to food in books?
Yep. I get hungry….