Though I have a profound love for well-written police procedurals or crime dramas, I am lukewarm on mysteries that feature a cook or caterer, or a lot of cooking right up there with all the angst and gore.
I do like a well-plotted and absorbing mystery in which good food is of importance to the protagonist, however. Nero Wolfe comes immediately to mind. He was not a great cook himself, but his personal Swiss chef, Fritz Brenner, was. Wolfe was a great detective and a knowledgeable and enthusiastic eater.
Kinsey Millhone, Sue Grafton’s heroine in her A-B-C mystery series, is someone you want for your best friend, or at least someone to have at your back in a fight. Grafton frequently has Millhone digging into a Hungarian dish at her favorite restaurant and moaning in pleasure. She makes the same sounds when she bites into her favorite sandwich, sliced hard-cooked eggs, still a little bit warm, with lots of mayonnaise and salt.
I also liked writer Phyllis Richman’s dining critic/amateur detective series simply because Richman was a long-time food critic herself. Her character, Chas Wheatley, rang true most of the time, including her struggle to remain able to fit into her clothes.
[amazon-product]0307377032[/amazon-product]If you are a die-hard mystery fan and a foodie, I suggest checking out the book, “Still Waters” (Pantheon, $23.95). I picked up a a well-used copy at a bookstore last weekend and finished it in short order. Then, I headed to Google to see if the author, Nigel McCrery, had written another book about the protagonist, Detective Chief Inspector Mark Lapslie.
McCrery, a Londoner and former police officer, has written a number of other series, including the best-selling, five-book Samantha Ryan detective stories. To my delight, his second in the DCI Lapslie series is due out in the United States in February.
Lapslie has synaesthesia, and it’s a somewhat more fascinating disability than TV detective Monk’s obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Lapslie tastes sounds. The sound of his fellow officers chattering away in the squad room brings an unpleasant taste of blood to his mouth. The memory of a murderer he interviewed years ago brings back the sensation of too-sweet, rotting lychees. The voice of his assistant, police sergeant Emma Bradbury is, fortunately, a citrus taste, lemons and limes.
McCrery is a disciplined writer. The disability isn’t allowed to take over the narrative, but it is ever-present, just as it is for Lapslie.
[amazon-product]0307377024[/amazon-product]Synaesthesia has played havoc with his job and his personal life. His wife and children had to move away because the constant mingling flavors of their noise and voices drove him to distraction. Though a talented and relentless detective, he was sidelined from his job for the same reason, but is brought back to pursue an unusual but exceedingly sly serial killer: a little old lady.
As the book jacket blurbs say, the book does bring to mind “Arsenic and Old Lace,” but on steroids. And, as you might suspect, Lapslie’s synaesthesia can be both a disability as well as an unusual super-ability for a police detective.
“Still Waters” is a page turner. Some of its charm for me, though, was amusement at various descriptions of the detective’s tastes of sound — children playing at a distance “sounded” like the faint flavor of warm vanilla; the chief pathologist’s voice tasting like “brandy and soda.”
Amusing, but ever so often the author uses the disability to send a cold trickle of fear down the reader’s spine. I’m looking forward to reading McCrery’s new book, “Tooth and Claw.”