Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Eating Up Mystery (Guest Blog by Vinnie Hansen)

Today I’m happy to present this guest blog penned by Vinnie Hansen, whom I met last March at the Left Coast Crime mystery writing conference, “Calamari Crime.” We hit it off immediately—not just because Vinnie lives in Santa Cruz, but also because she possesses that combination of warm and witty that I so enjoy. Here's her blog post:

On another blog, which shall remain nameless, they had a discussion of mysteries without food! You may as well have food without mystery—no secret ingredients, no surprising bursts of flavor, no heat that creeps up from the back of the throat.

To me, food and mystery go hand in hand, literally and figuratively.

Vinnie enjoying a good read and a hot beverage

I recently read Cindy Sample’s Dying for a Daiquiri (set on the Big Island) and enjoyed the food references, from the informational description of an imu pit for kalua pig to the amusing riffs on Donkey Ball snacks.

Besides informing us of the cultural setting, food is a great way to characterize. Think of Martha Grimes’ Aunt Agatha scarfing down all of Melrose Plant’s petit fours. What a quick, efficient way to show her avaricious, grasping personality. Think of Kinsey Milhone slapping together a peanut butter and pickle sandwich—the lone wolf with the empty refrigerator and peculiar tastes.

S.J. Rozan goes beyond simple characterization and uses food to show the subtle undercurrents in the relationship between her protagonist Lydia Chin and her mother. After the mother scolds Lydia for taking an extended trip to California, Rozan gives us the following:

I made congee. There may be enough for two.”
Detouring into the kitchen, … I lifted the lid from a steaming pot and found enough congee for an army. The table held bowls of chopped spring onions, pickles, and dried fish.
My mother’s never liked fish in her congee. But I love it.
With this exchange, the reader knows that for all the surface fuss, Lydia’s mom is glad that her daughter is home.
There’s also food as a vehicle for murder. In Murder, Honey, the first book in my series, the deadly dose is delivered via honey.

In this book, recently re-released from misterio press, baker/sleuth Carol Sabala investigates after a reviled head chef collapses into her lebkuchen dough. Sometimes, the food itself can be the method. Remember those peanuts in The Da Vinci Code?

To illustrate the strong connection between food and mystery, in the recently released Cozy Food, editor Nancy Lynn Jarvis has compiled over 200 recipes from 128 cozy mystery writers! You are apt to find a contribution from one of your favorite writers, whether you read K.B. Owens, Juliet Blackwell, Kaye George, or Camille Minichino. My lebkuchen recipe is among them.

I’m sure mysteries without food exist, but for my taste, what a lost opportunity!

VinnieHansen is the author of the Carol Sabala mystery series: Murder, Honey; One Tough Cookie; Rotten Dates; Tang Is Not Juice; Death with Dessert; and Art, Wine & Bullets. She was a 2013 Claymore Award finalist for her upcoming Carol Sabala mystery, Black Beans & Venom. She has also written numerous short stories, including “Novel Solution,” which will appear in the Guppy anthology Fish or Cut Bait. Vinnie lives in Santa Cruz, California, with her husband, abstract artist Daniel S. Friedman.


  1. No wonder you found The Way We Live Now to be at times a slog, Vinnie. No food to provide commentary on character.

    Leslie, Vinnie and I as well as your old friend David W. all just spent a good portion of May reading Trollope for a little once a year reading group. So I'm coming at this post from two directions!

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Seana. Yes, I would have liked something besides brandy and water to sustain me for the 825 pages of Trollope. The food may have been the only thing I liked better about Smollett.

  3. Totally agree, Vinnie! Sorry I missed meeting you at Left Coast Crime. Now I look forward to reading Murder, Honey, especially as my sister and brother-out-law were beekeepers and I used to go up to Quebec to help them. (I have two recipes in Cozy Food, too.)

  4. I keep seeing your name and look forward to meeting you, Edith. Are you going to LCC 2015 in Portland?

  5. Fab analysis, Vinnie! Food is a very effective way of showing all sorts of cool things about character in a nuanced way. A perfect reminder as I write my draft. Thanks!

  6. Ya gotta love Santa Cruz, eh Seana and Vinnie? Such a small community of like-minded readers! (Though I'm still surprised DW didn't want to join our Finnegans Wake group...)

  7. The fact you live in Hawaii, Leslie, but still choose to spend half your time in Santa Cruz says a lot about what a great place it is!

  8. I think he didn't suspect how much fun it would be, Leslie.

    Vinnie, well, at least it was made up for by our host's provisioning...