I’m taking a bit of a break from the series I just started, to do an addition to another topic that I beg a while ago. A couple of months ago, i wrote a post on some of my favourite fictional detective figures where food plays a significant roles in either the stories or character development.
On a whim, when I tweeted the post I tagged Ian Rankin, creator of Rebus, my favourite detective, lack of food narrative notwithstanding, Surprisingly, he answered back my tweet, and even included a couple of other notes. One was making note of Hamish Macbeth, and Agatha Raisin, by MC Beation, and the other was that there exists a whole sub-genre of, largely American, writers whose mysteries include recipes at the end of each chapter.
One of the writers that came up in the comments to the last post was Martin Walker, and his Bruno Chief of Police series. I have started reading that series and I will be writing about him, but I intend to give Bruno his own post, which I’m going to connect to the idea of French Cuisine. For now, all I’ll say is, if you can get your hand on the Bruno books make sure you do.
One character I left off the list is Jim Qwilleran, from Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who series. Although the cats are the main focus of the series, Qwilleran proves himself to be quite adept in the kitchen.
Baking, Catering, and Crime Solving
It was reading Diane Mott Davidson’s Catering to Nobody, that got me started on this crime and cuisine jag. I don’t know if she is the start of the genre, but she is clearly marked out as one of the best in the genre. Joanne Fluke is another author who has achieved a great deal of success in this genre.
The basic theme of this sub-genre, is that the amateur detective uses their cooking/baking skills to insinuate themselves into the lives of the victims or suspects. Apparently, the promise of free baking is all it takes for most people to spill their deepest, darkest secrets. On the whole though, the part of these stories that’s hardest to deal with is the idea, is that protagonists are able to run a small business and still have time to solve the crimes.
One way this is overcome is that each of these characters has at least one employee who is devoted to them. Usually this is because the employee is trying to escape a bad marriage or is a single parent. Along with that the police force in the case of both Davidson land Fluke happen to be headed by males, who liked the heroines are damaged but available.
Still, these novels tend to be a nice bit of escapist reading. Plus, the recipes included in these books tend to be of the fairly simple sort that the reader should be able to replicate fairly successfully. I don’t have any covers to show here.
I mentioned in my previous post that my familiarity with the Inspector Montalbano series was primarily through the fine RAI series. However, I decided I’d like to give the books a try, and the library happened to have the first three books together in one volume. So, I decided to read my way through them.
The novels are slightly out of order with the TV series, however that wasn’t too much of a difficulty. One of the things that I like about the books is that they describe the food Montalbano eats in a more thorough fashion.
The other thing that this book featured was a bit of commentary from Andrea Camilleri, the series author. Among the things I learned was that Camilleri had been involved in the production of the Bruno Kremer Maigret series. Also, I learned that Montalbano’s name had in part been inspired by Manuel Vázquez-Montalbán.
Vázaquez-Montalbán was a Spanish writer whose main period of writing was from the 1970s to the 1990s. Pepe Carvalho is his detective creation. Like Montalbano Carvalho is a gourmand. Unlike Montalbano is also a gourment cook. In this he’s more like Bruno than Montablbano.
As a character, Carvalho is a rather coarse inidividual, who despite his elevated appreciation of food, I find difficult to like. However, I did enjoy the way in which the book brings to life the world of the Spain of Franco. The stories are based in my childhood years, when my only knowledge of Franco was that he appeared on all the Spanish stamps in my stamp collection. I will definitely though, take the time to read more of these books
Hamish Macbeth, Agatha Raisin
Hamish Macbeth and Agatha Raisin are two characters created by MC Beaton. Beation, whose real name is Marion Chesney, has written a great many detective stories, but started here career writing what are known as Regency Novels. This doesn’t have a whole lot of bearing on her detective fiction, but I found it interesting, because in the Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen novels, a Regency reading group features on a recurring basis.
The two characters are quite different both in character and in their approach to food. Raisin falls into the category of city fish out of water in the British countryside, while Macbeth is a child of the land, highland born and bred.
Both series contain romance. In the case of Raisin it’s her neighbour across the road, and for MacBeth it’s the daughter of the local Laird. She returns his affection, but station keeps them apart.
As a fish out of water. Raisin’s culinary activity tend to be either disasters, or she relies on outside help to provide the food. She also deals with compulsive eating, and trying to eat healthy with very unsuccessful results. Below is the trailer for the first episode of the first series. A second series is coming this year.
While Agatha Raisin is a city-dweller trying to adjust to the country and do some amateur sleuthing along the way. Hamish Macbeth is a member of the constabulary, although one who skirts the law in his off-duty life. He’s notoriously soft on poachers, because he’s one himself. The term lovable rogue seems to have been invented
Despite having an acerbic tongue, a quality he shares with Ms. Raisin. He reminds me of an old line that I read in one of Allan Fotheringham’s books. Although I don’t remember who the line was written about, it went like this. “He was unfailingly kind to his subordinates, barely tolerated his peers, and was openly contemptuous of his superiors.” This is a good thing as most of Macbeth’s superiors are as incompetent as they are smug.
However he always gets his man or woman. Along the way he enjoys many good meals. He’s a bit of a mooch, which puts him in the bad books of his true love’s parents, but his kindness means he usually gets a little something because most of the servants like him.
He also keeps a few animals and a garden in behind the police station. As a result when his love visits, or unexpected guests drop by he can rustle up a decent meal in just a matter of minutes.
A couple of other things in relationship to food. One I like and one I don’t. The thing I like, is that while Macbeth’s a mooch he is generally a generous host. In particular, when he wants to get cooperation from some of the lower ranked police officers, he’s not afraid to ply them with good quality scotch
The bad thing is that he believes that a steak should be served well-done. When I read that for the first time I almost threw the book away. I prefer my steak as close to rare as possible. and overcooked really annoys me. However, I’m glad I stick with the books, because this is one of the more entertaining series I’ve read.
Stay tuned to this blog, for more writings on Detective Fiction, particularly Bruno.