Food: What Do Sleuths Eat and When Do They Eat It
Food. Fight and flight requires fuel. The pursuit of murderers requires strength. Those who investigate must feed their appetites. What will my detectives, Erik Jansson and Deb Metzger, consume so they can dodge death’s harvesting?
Noir private eyes, the Sam Spades and Philip Marlowes, survive by downing hard liquor and bad coffee. Hardboiled doesn’t refer to eggs, though the hardboiled may shove down eggs as flipped at a greasy spoon. Suspects and clients, like Lauren Bacall as Vivian Rutledge in the film version of The Big Sleep, drink their high-proof lunch. The genre takes corruption to the gut.
British sleuths across the pond enjoy fine wine, fine dining, and tea. Readers might prefer the dinner setting of the well-to-do with Dorothy Sayers’ gourmand, Lord Peter Wimsey. There is The Lord Peter Wimsey Cookbook with recipes for tomato sandwiches, genuine English grass (?), and steak-and-kidney pie.
Rex Stout in his Nero Wolfe series is acclaimed for fusing the hardboiled investigator with the armchair sophisticate. Dining matters enormously to the enormous Wolfe. Menus as created by in-house cook Fritz Brenner include terrapin stew, planked porterhouse steak, vitello tonnato, and beer to clear the mind. Meanwhile, Wolfe’s field agent Archie Goodwin drinks milk for his muscles, eats pie and more pie, and tosses back the occasional highball. There is a cookbook, The Nero Wolfe Cookbook by Rex Stout. By the way, a number of people in the Wolfe series die by ingesting poison.
Where to eat becomes a problem not merely of hunger but of justice when there’s discrimination. Walter Mosley, creator of the Easy Rawlins mysteries, writes of the desegregation dining counters and his African-American father finally enjoying a taste of “freedom” and a tuna melt at a formerly whites only café.
It’s challenging to read a Louise Penny novel without becoming hungry every third page. Her Inspector Gamache, a big man with the girth that accompanies middle age, goes to the Quebec village of Three Pines not only to solve murders but also to savor croissants and delicious coffee, and later wine and homemade stews at Olivier’s Bistro. Neighbors have potlucks with crusty bread. French Canadian Pea Soup, yum!
In Venice, Donna Leon’s Commisario Guido Brunetti eats well. He doesn’t generally need energy to run hard or scale walls, but while on the case he meets people for meals and coffee, including caffe corretto, black coffee and grappa. Brunetti’s mouth-watering evening dinners (liver and onions, golden polenta) are prepared at home by his wife Paola, a Henry James scholar and as expected in Italy, an accomplished chef. There is a cookbook, Brunetti’s Cookbook.
Side note: I have a Soren Kierkegaard cookbook: either the recipes are good or not.
What will my detectives eat? Erik Jansson and Deb Metzger are Americans in a to-go culture. They’re employees and not employers, so Nero Wolfe’s nearly inviolable meal schedule is right out. They eat on the run, in a car, when they can. They’re surrounded by fast food options. However, they were Iowa-raised on wholesome goodness (high fructose corn syrup is a local product), and the Twin Cities offers inventive tasty choices, from steakhouses to vegan delights. Betty Crocker was “born” here, thanks to Washburn-Crosby milling which evolved into General Mills. Big Ag and small farms spread throughout Minnesota. Corn, soy, rhubarb, heirloom tomatoes. Hot dish. In many things the detectives are Midwestern modest, but not in their appetite: they move often, they move fast. Will Erik and Deb be daring in their culinary pursuits or play it safe? What will they eat?