So what is for dinner?
Not our topic? Oh, well...
I love food. Not just the eating, although my less than svelte outline might suggest otherwise. I love the community of it, the smells, tastes, warmth and celebrations. Food is meant to nourish and isn’t simply artwork. This is hardly an original remark, but the stuff truly feeds body and soul. If in doubt, think chocolate. Food also says something about a society, a family, and a character.
Yep, I am actually getting to the literary.
Meals create action, mood, and develop character in a scene. (It used to suggest the gender of the writer, but male detectives today cook more.) There were lots of meals in the Golden Age mysteries. I liked to see what the sleuth did during a meal, as well as all those potential suspects. The dinner party was a fun place to drop the proverbial red herring, whether or not the meal included herring in cream sauce.
Did that nephew hate soon-to-be-poisoned Uncle Harry or does he always stab his roast slice whenever the man’s name is mentioned? Aunt Josie just gagged when Sleuth mentioned seeing her slip out of the library with a book at midnight. Had she just taken too large a bite or was there a sinister meaning here? And so on around the large dining table where no one was using a mobile device but seemed to spoon up the ginger carrot soup with appreciation.
We think fast food has changed the use of food in mysteries, but Brother Thomas has done his share of sleuthing with a meat pie in hand from a street vendor. (Yes, there was fast food in the Middle Ages.) And in modern mysteries, not all detectives chow down on bacon and cheese hamburgers with super-sized fries before going on a high speed car chase. Joe Pike in Robert Crais’ mysteries is a vegetarian. That unexpected detail tells us something interesting about the nature of this man who kills bad guys.
So if you enjoy food, use it to develop character, create a mood, or bring texture to a scene. If you aren’t so fond of it, especially the cooking part, don’t discount it as a plot detail. After all, maybe that herring in cream sauce, loved by Uncle Harry and made by Aunt Josie, was poisoned by…