On the Trail of Culinary Crime Novels
Few things go together better than reading and eating, so it only seems natural to put them together. Food, being the sustenance of life, and death, being, well, the anti-sustenance, so to speak, make food and murder the perfect duo for a crime story.
Virginia Rich is credited as the culinary crime pioneer in America for including recipes in her mysteries, her series beginning with 1982’s Cooking School Murders.
In 2002, authors brought murder back into the kitchen, among all the sharp knives, skewers, and mysterious extracts, when Diane Mott Davidson published Catering to Nobody. The novel was the first in her mystery series featuring catering Goldy Bear. Each book in the 11-novel series contains recipes served by the caterer in the story. This practice has become a standard in culinary mysteries.
However, rarely in culinary mystery series is the chef/cook/caterer the victim or villain. They’re almost always the protagonist. In these novels, no one has a greater motive to solve the crime than the one who created or catered the food. Poison in the petit fours or DEET in the demitasse is simply bad for business. Of course, food isn’t always the weapon. Often, where the food is prepared or served gives our protagonists a reason for getting their hands in the mix.
Today, there are many cozy culinary mystery series to choose from, including Leslie Meier, Debra Goldstein, Ovidia Yu, Joanne Fluke, Vivien Chein, Laura Childs, Lucy Burdette, Jemm McKinlay, and Mia P. Manansala. My favorite brownie recipe is from the second novel in Davidson’s culinary series, Death by Chocolate. Scout’s Brownies are my go-to recipe for these delicious chocolate treats. It’s no mystery why they’re a family favorite!
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3 ½ oz best-quality unsweetened chocolate (recommended brands: Callebaut or Valrhona; available at Williams-Sonoma)
3 Tbsp. dark European-style unsweetened cocoa (recommended brand: Hershey’s Premium European-Style)
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour (high altitude: add 2 tablespoons)
½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips (recommended brand: Mrs. Fields)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees (high altitude: 375 degrees). Melt butter with unsweetened chocolate in top of a double boiler, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool.
Sift together cocoa, flour, baking powder, and salt.
Beat eggs until creamy, then gradually add sugar, beating constantly. Add vanilla and cooled chocolate-butter mixture.
Stir in dry ingredients just until combined.
Spread batter in a buttered 9-by 13-inch pan. Sprinkle chips over the surface. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the center no longer jiggles when shaken. Cool, then cut into 32 pieces.
*Editorial note: I always add pecans to mine.
Excerpt from Dying for Chocolate Copyright 1992 by Diane Mott Davidson. Reprinted by permission of the author and the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency