Welcome to another Friday, book people. I hope everyone is staying cool during this global heat wave. As usual, I’ve been doing quite a bit of re-reading (hey, I re-read whenever I have difficulty reading other new-to-me books). One of the books I re-read included a recipe for a Krispy Kreme Doughnut Bread Pudding. I’m not a cook or baker by any stretch of the imagination, but this is one recipe that I may actually make, calories be damned. I don’t often read about meals in books and crave the foods mentioned, but that particular recipe piqued my interest. Food, drink, and reading seem to go quite well together in my opinion. Today’s guest, Leslie Wheeler, is the author of the recently released Wolf Bog. Ms. Wheeler will be sharing her thoughts on food in fiction. So grab something to eat and drink, sit back, and let’s learn about the uses of food in mystery fiction from one author’s perspective. Thank you, Ms. Wheeler, for stopping by and sharing with us today.
The Uses of Food in Mystery Fiction
By Leslie Wheeler
Food and drink figure prominently in some mysteries, especially cozies, but thrillers too—I’m thinking of the mouth-watering meals served up at the Three Pines café in Louise Penny’s books. But not so much in my books—that is, until my latest novel, Wolf Bog. Why, I wondered, is there so much eating and drinking in this book? Is it simply that my characters have become hungrier and thirstier over time? The thirst I can understand, because it’s August in the Berkshires of my story and very hot, but not the hunger. This got me thinking about the role meals can play in mystery fiction.
One obvious function is to give characters something to do while they have a Q and A. An example of this in Wolf Bog is the scene where my main character, Kathryn Stinson, questions the former girlfriend of a teenager, whose body is found in a bog after disappearing more than forty years ago. They meet for lunch at a restaurant called “The Laughing Cow” in Vermont. Kathryn is impressed by how well the ex-girlfriend—now in her sixties—has aged, which she attributes to a healthy diet. So, when the woman orders a vegan burger with a side salad, Kathryn orders the exact same meal. And since “We are what we eat,” as the saying goes, the meal in this scene also reveals something about the character who orders it.
Another function of food—whether consumed or simply observed—is to offer comfort to characters at difficult times. Because the teenager found in the bog was someone she loved and lost, Charlotte Hinkley is especially shaken by the discovery. She finds peace in her vegetable garden with its perfect Big Girl tomatoes. But when a pesky rodent—or so she thinks—takes a bite out of not just one tomato, but all of them, that peace is destroyed. Charlotte has to ask a friend to get her the fruit from a local store, so she can make Tomatoes Provencal for a party she’s having. Yet the trouble doesn’t end there. The party itself is ruined when a friend’s dog that’s been staying with Charlotte accidentally eats the poison put out for the rodents and has to be rushed to the local veterinary hospital. In this instance, a comfort food creates unexpected complications for several characters.
With the addition of poison, food and drink become weapons. But there are less obvious ways of weaponizing food and drink. An example of this is the dinner party that Wally, Charlotte’s estate attorney and longtime friend, throws for her and Paula, a middle-aged woman who claims to be the daughter Charlotte gave up for adoption years ago. Wally is a gourmet cook with a state-of-the-art kitchen and a sophisticated palate. The menu he plans is calculated to appeal to Charlotte and him, but not necessarily Paula, whose palate is more plebian. When he offers runny Brie and pate for appetizers, Paula tells him to put the Brie back in the fridge. She mistakes the pate for cold meatloaf, doesn’t like the taste of it, and washes it down with another daiquiri. As for the meal itself, the butterflied leg of lamb and the roast potatoes go down okay, but the arugula salad stings her mouth like nettles. Nervous and out of her depth, she eats and drinks too much, including two servings of chocolate cake that Wally himself describes as “positively decadent.” By the end of the evening, Paula has made herself sick and loses her dinner. The whole meal is Wally’s way of getting back at Paula, who he believes is trying to take advantage of Charlotte. It’s also meant to add a bit of humor to the book, depending on how you view Paula, who can be pretty obnoxious at times.
Returning to the role of food in Q and A scenes, it can be used to show how stressed one or more of the participants in these sessions becomes. This is evident in a scene where Kathryn’s lover’s mother invites her to a ladies-night-out at a local tavern. Although the purpose of the get-together is for the lover’s mother to confess to doing something she shouldn’t have, she becomes so uncomfortable that she cuts her burger into tiny pieces that she lifts to her mouth, but almost immediately puts back on the plate, leaving most of her dinner uneaten.
Yet if food can be used to show distress and other negative feelings, it can also be used to express love. Every weekend when Kathryn Stinson returns to the Berkshires, she finds her romantic partner, Earl Barker, making dinner—one night he’s grilling a beautiful piece of salmon, another night, it’s a fat, juicy round of kielbasa.
Readers, what are some memorable meals in books that you have either read or written? ♦
by Leslie Wheeler
July 1-31, 2022 Virtual Book Tour
It’s August in the Berkshires, and the area is suffering from a terrible drought. As wetlands dry up, the perfectly preserved body of a local man, missing for forty years, is discovered in Wolf Bog by a group of hikers that includes Kathryn Stinson. Who was he and what was his relationship with close friend Charlotte Hinckley, also on the hike, that would make Charlotte become distraught and blame herself for his death? Kathryn’s search for answers leads her to the discovery of fabulous parties held at the mansion up the hill from her rental house, where local teenagers like the deceased mingled with the offspring of the wealthy. Other questions dog the arrival of a woman claiming to be the daughter Charlotte gave up for adoption long ago. But is she really Charlotte’s daughter, and if not, what’s her game? Once again, Kathryn’s quest for the truth puts her in grave danger.
Praise for Wolf Bog:
“Wheeler’s deep sense of place—the Berkshires—illuminates a deftly woven plot and a quirky cast of characters that will keep you glued to the pages until the last stunning revelation. It’s always a pleasure to be in the hands of a pro.”
Kate Flora, Edgar and Anthony nominated author
“When a long-lost teenager turns up dead, a cold case turns into hot murder. A deliciously intriguing Berkshire mystery.”
Sarah Smith, Agatha Award-winning author of The Vanished Child and Crimes and Survivors
Genre: Mystery/Amateur Sleuth/Suspense
Published by: Encircle Publishing
Publication Date: July 6, 2022
Number of Pages: 336
ISBN10: 164599385X (paperback)
ISBN13: 9781645993858 (paperback)
ASIN: B0B57VTWS2 (Kindle edition)
Series: A Berkshire Hilltown Mystery, #3
Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: IndieBound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Barnes & Noble | BookDepository.com | Bookshop.org | Goodreads
An award-winning author of books about American history and biographies, Leslie Wheeler has written two mystery series. Her Berkshire Hilltown Mysteries launched with Rattlesnake Hill and continues with Shuntoll Road and Wolf Bog. Her Miranda Lewis Living History Mysteries debuted with Murder at Plimoth Plantation and continue with Murder at Gettysburg and Murder at Spouters Point. Her mystery short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies. Leslie is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, and a founding member of the New England Crime Bake Committee. She divides her time between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Berkshires, where she writes in a house overlooking a pond.
Catch Up With Leslie:
BookBub – @lesliewheeler1
Twitter – @Leslie_Wheeler
Facebook – @LeslieWheelerAuthor
Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!
ENTER TO WIN:
This is a giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Tours for Leslie Wheeler. See the widget for entry terms and conditions. Void where prohibited.