On these days when we are shut down because of the weather, it has some advantages. I always go looking for a good book and a glass of wine and then let it snow.
My choice is usually a mystery because they are created to entertain, to challenge your puzzle solving chops and to delight. It is not there on your shelf to educate or enlighten, although those things may happen.
I know you are interested in food because you are reading Chow Town, so I suggest you enjoy some culinary mysteries this winter.
Now lots of mystery writers use food in some way in their books. The late Robert B. Parker, in his “Spenser” series, would time and again have Spenser cooking dinner for his girlfriend while he talked over the problems of the case. And he would really describe the process of cooking.
Donna Leon, in her fabulous “Venice Police Commissario Guido Brunetti“ series again uses the meal to discuss the plot points. In this series, the Commissario, his wife, a college professor and their school age children always go home to a three-course lunch that the working mother whips up. And these lunches are described in mouth-watering detail.
These authors use food as a place to contemplate the bad guy, to gather the hero’s wits about him. But culinary mysteries go farther.
In culinary mysteries the food is actually essential to the plot. The protagonist is a food professional and the food carries the plot forward in some fashion. For folks interested in food and who like a crime caper, these books are fun.
Perhaps some of you see this as a sneaky ploy because I have published nine culinary mysteries. But my books are out of print and hard to find so there is no hidden motive in this suggestion. If you can find one you will enjoy the fact that are set on 39th Street in Kansas City. It is fun to read about your hometown in fictional circumstances.
Here are some other suggestions that will be easily available in bookstore or on-line:
• Diane Mott Davidson is probably the best selling and the best-known culinary mystery writer. Her protagonist is a caterer, Goldy Schulz, who lives outside Denver. Some of her many titles are “Chopping Spree,” “The Last Suppers,” “The Grilling Season” and “Tough Cookie.” Just reading through the titles on Amazon can make me laugh.
• The woman who many think wrote the first culinary mysteries is the late Virginia Rich. “Nantucket Diet Murders,” “Cooking School Murders” and “Baked Bean Supper Murders” have a “Murder, She Wrote” quality to them. Kansas City author Nancy Pickard has written two more mysteries in conjunction with Mrs. Rich’s notes.
Bakeries and baked goods are very popular places for setting a culinary mystery.
• “Killer Cupcakes,” the Lexy Baker Bakery series by Leighann Dobbs.
• “Sweet Suspects,” Book 12 in the Donut Mysteries by Jessica Beck.
• “Cookies and Scream,” a Cookie Cutter Shop Mystery by Virginia Lowell.
These are just a sampling of the baked goods selections, not at the grocery but the book store.
Men write culinary mysteries, too. How about “Slow Cooked Murder” by Tim Myers or “Gazpacho and Revenge: Best Served Cold” by Dennis Quinn and Fritz Knecht?
You say you want something a little more serious. There are excellent biographies of James Beard and Julia Child. Also, Ruth Reichl has two volumes of her three-volume memoir out.
And if you want to dab your toe into “literary culinary,” try “Food Tales,” a compilation of writing by people like John Steinbeck and W. Somerset Maugham or “A Literary Feast,” an anthology with pieces by Thomas Pynchon, Ernest Hemingway, M.F.K. Fisher.
Whatever you choose, reading about food is almost as much fun as eating it.
Lou Jane Temple’s road to food has been a long and winding one. First as a rock n roll caterer back stage to the stars, then with her own Kansas City based catering company, Cafe Lulu, food writing, novelist, private chef. Lou Jane has written and had published nine culinary mysteries and one cookbook. She recently moved back to Kansas City and eagerly awaits the next chapter of her food career.