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When did mystery writers begin including recipes and/or useful tips for readers in their novels? These extras are so common now that it’s hard to pinpoint when the trend started.
Food has always been a favorite means of delivering poison, but it also figures prominently in traditional mysteries because this type of story usually has a domestic setting. Characters often drink tea, gnosh on cake or cookies, and sort out the facts of the case. What's different now is that readers expect to be given the full recipe for any food consumed in the book.
When I asked on internet mystery lists if anyone knew when recipes began appearing in novels, I received a lot of guesses and approximations but no definite answers. Several people said Dianne Mott Davidson was among the first to include recipes and that she had to talk her publisher into allowing it. Liz Zelvin and a couple of others pointed out that Virginia Rich included recipes in the front and back of her mysteries, which debuted with The Cooking School Murders in 1982. Nero Wolfe was a gourmand, and Rex Stout’s novels have a lot of food in them. The Nero Wolfe Cookbook, giving recipes for dishes featured in the novels, was published in 1973 and remains a favorite of many cooks, but the recipes were not included in the novels.
As for craft cozies with patterns, one avid mystery reader said that Crewel World by Monica Ferris, published in 1999, was the first novel she remembered seeing that included a needlework pattern. All craft cozies now feature patterns or tips, and the trend has expanded to include cleaning and decorating tips and advice of every kind. If a protagonist has a special skill, she must share it with readers.
Why? It’s a marketing ploy, of course, and primarily an American one. (Although the cozy was born in Britain, few mysteries of that type are produced by British authors now. M.C. Beaton writes cozies, but she doesn’t include recipes in her Agatha Raisin books. Considering Aggie’s ineptitude in the kitchen, that’s probably just as well.) Mystery lovers buy books for the stories and characters, but in a crowded market, the extras may entice readers and persuade them that they’re getting more than a good mystery for their money.
Here are a few recent cozies that have distinctive characters and settings but follow the trend toward giving readers something extra.
Turn Up the Heat (hardcover 2008, paperback 2009) by Jessica Conant-Park and Susan Conant, is part of the Gourmet Girl series and has 22 pages of recipes, some of them contributed by professional chefs. The heroine, Chloe Carter, is helping her chef boyfriend get his new Boston restaurant off to a good start when one of the waitresses is found dead in a fish truck. Booklist recommends Turn Up the Heat to “fans of foodie crime” and Publishers Weekly, in the language typically inspired by this kind of mystery, calls it a “delectable dish of detection.”
Death Takes the Cake, in the Della Cooks series by Melinda Wells, has 14 pages of recipes, most of them for cakes that sound delicious and look easy. Della Carmichael is owner of a cooking school and star of a new cable cooking show. In an attempt to boost her ratings, Della enters a televised cake competition sponsored by Reggi-Mixx, which happens to be owned by Della’s old college nemesis. When people warn her that competitive pastry-making is a blood sport, they’re not kidding, as Della discovers when someone is drowned in a bowl of cake batter. Because a friend’s husband is suspected, Della is determined to solve the crime and clear his name.
Fatal Flip is the March 2009 entry in Peg Marberg’s Interior Design Mysteries. No recipes here, but at the back of the book you’ll get tips on living in an old Victorian house and decorating a house to make it more attractive to buyers. The whole book is an education in “flipping” – the business of purchasing fixer-uppers, restoring them, and selling them. Marberg’s heroine, Jean Hastings, is a small-town decorator who is recruited by the local Fast Flippers to decorate one of their projects. Soon enough, one of the Flippers turns up dead and Jean sets out to find the culprit.
In Corked by Cabernet (2009) and A Vintage Murder (2008), author Michele Scott includes recipes between chapters as well as at the end of the books, and recommends wines to go with the dishes. The heroine, a former actress named Nikki Sands, is manager of a Napa Valley vineyard, and the reader learns something about wine-making while Nikki is solving some inconvenient murders.
Eggs in Purgatory (December 2008) by Laura Childs is the first book in the Cackleberry Club series by an author already popular for her tea shop and scrapbooking mysteries. The Cackleberry Club is a cozy café created by friends Suzanne, Toni, and Petra after they all lose their husbands to either death or divorce. Not long after the café opens, Suzanne’s lawyer is found murdered out back. The murder exposes a scandalous secret involving Suzanne’s late husband and brings a refugee from a cult into her life. At the back of the book you’ll find recipes for the dishes Suzanne serves her customers while she’s trying to find the link between her dead husband and the cult.
Suzanne Price's Notoriously Neat (April 2009), third in the Grime Solvers series, contains the kind of tips I desperately need but am too lazy to use. The protagonist, Sky Taylor, is a professional cleaner in the town of Pigeon Cove, and throughout the book excerpts from Sky Taylor's Grime Solvers Blog offer advice for cleaning up all those nasty little messes that clutter our lives. The plot centers on the murder of Dr. Gail Pilsner, a popular Pigeon Cove veterinarian, and Sky's efforts to clear the animal hospital lab tech she believes is innocent.
If you’d like to enter a drawing for a free copy of one of these books, post your answers to the questions below in the comments section. If you have a strong preference for one or two of the books, let me know. Come back tomorrow and you’ll find the names of the winners posted at the top of this blog entry in red. After you look over the 2008 covers Liz will post tomorrow, scroll on down to find this entry.
Now my questions for you:
1. Does the inclusion of recipes or tips of various kinds make a cozy more attractive to you?
2. Do you look at the recipes and/or tips before you buy a book?
3. Have you ever bought a book because you wanted a particular recipe? If so, share! What recipe was it? And did you enjoy the mystery too?