Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mysteries with Extras

The winners of the free books are Sobaka, Margaret Franson, Sandra, Daryl a.k.a Avery, Kim, Lesa Holstine, and Gail Hueting. Please send your mailing address to Congratulations, and I hope you enjoy the books!

Sandra Parshall

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 whe
n 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 coz
y 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, conta
ins 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?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for looking up the date for the Nero Wolfe Cookbook. I read most of the books in the 70s and drooled a lot, and I've had the cookbook nearly that long--and use it.

But while I love food, and love to read about it, neither has anything to do with my choice of a book. I will admit to having made more than one of Diane Mott Davidson's recipes, but I didn't know they were there when I picked up the book.

So the answer is no to all three of your questions.

Peg Cochran said...

I've enjoyed a number of cozies that contain recipes most recently the Diva Runs Out of Thyme by Krista Davis.

The inclusion of recipes doesn't spur me to buy the book but it does signal to me that it's going to be a certain *kind* of book. I might skim the recipes before buying out of curiosity but it doesn't impact my decision (I already own dozens of cookbooks and what I don't have can be found on the internet).

I've never bought a book for the recipe although I might drool a little while reading!

It might be worth mentioning that food always played a huge role (although sans recipes) in Simenon's Maigret series. Mme. Maigret was always cooking delicious meals. They did put out a cookbook of the recipes at one point, too, although they were never included in the mysteries themselves.

Kait said...

I think the first recipe cozies I remember were those by Katherine Page Hall, but I didn't get hooked until the Diane Mott Davidson series came out. My favorite brownie recipe (Scout's Brownies) came from one of her books.

Although I don't look at the recipes before I buy the book, I find I feel cheated if I buy a cooking themed book without them! Ultimately though the writing is the only thing that will bring me back for a second book by the same author - no matter how yummy the food!

It might be worthwhile to point out that recipes aren't limited to cozy mysteries. One of my crab cake recipes came from an early Pat Cornwell/Scarpetta book - well before the cookbook came out.You had to read between the lines and devise your own measurements, but all the parts were in the story.

Sandra Parshall said...

The Rumpole series also features food, but not in an enticing way. She-who-must-be-obeyed never seems to cook anything Rumpole likes, and at one point she took a cooking class and every night presented Rumpole with some new culinary catastrophe.

Anonymous said...

1. Does the inclusion of recipes or tips of various kinds make a cozy more attractive to you?

I've come to expect recipes nowadays in food-oriented mysteries. If a dish is described at any length, I assume I will find the recipe for it somewhere within the book, and will be disappointed if I don't. Other tips, not so much. I'm not a knitter or needle-artist of any kind, and I'm not big on organizing tips - most of them seem too obvious. So, Yes and No.

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?


In summary, I buy the book for the plot and setting. Recipes are a bonus which I have come to expect in food-centered cozies, but are in no way a make-or-break when I'm deciding to buy a book.

I'd love to be included in the drawing. I already own Turn Up the Heat. My first choices would be Death Takes the Cake and Eggs in Purgatory. The others look interesting too, though.

Thanks for this opportunity!

Anonymous said...

I've never bought a book because there are recipes, but I've bought books *with* recipes as long as it's character-driven with a good plot.

The books I write - called by some "the diet club series" - star diet club leader Ellie Bernstein. STRANGLE A LOAF OF ITALIAN BREAD, the 4th is the series, is due out in May and it does have recipes. But they are part of (and woven into)the plot.

Wildside Press will be releasing the first 3 books in Trade paperback for people who want to start the series at the beginning.

Sandra Parshall said...

That's a great title, Deni. Who could pass by a book with that title without picking it up to take a look?

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

The cookbook I'd love to buy is one from Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti series--Brunetti's wife Paola makes superb meals not only for dinner, but for lunch--the kind you really need to take a siesta after. I doubt it'll ever happen, though. Leon's work is as far from cozy as it can be without being at all hardboiled. The dark element is not violence, but how although the mysteries get solved, justice is never done.

A.K. Alexander said...

Thank you for blogging about cozies with recipes and for mentioning Jessica Park and my books. In fact, Jessica and I recently decided that since cozies with recipes are so popular that we would start a monthly newsletter featuring different authors, great prizes and tasty recipes. We hope you'll check us out.

Jessica and Michele

Sandra Parshall said...

Liz, I agree about the food in Donna Leon's books. Reading about Brunetti eating always makes me hungry.

Michele and Jessica, your newsletter is a great idea -- and I especially like the idea of authors helping bring attention to other writers' books. We need more of this kind of generosity.

Anonymous said...

I have enjoyed several of the series with recipes (particularly Katherine Hall Page's and Laura Childs' tea shop mysteries , but I don't generally make the dishes, and I don't buy them to get the recipes, I'd say no to the questions, too.

I'd be most interested in Eggs in Purgatory. I didn't know this new series was coming up.

caryn said...

1. The inclusion of all this stuff doesnot spur me on to buy a book...except for Joanne Fluke's cookies. When I got fed up with her relationship indecision to the point of not reading the book, I still checked it out of the library to look at the recipes.
Sometimes the inclusion of other stuff takes away from the actual plot of the book I think. It's like the author, due to publisher pressure or whatever, gets so involved in the extras that the mystery gets shoved to the background. Or else the character development suffers. Not always though. Some are very well done with theextra stuff just blended in. It's best if the recipes, crafts or trade tips are just mentioned in the book and then are put in the back instead of interrupting the story to include it right when it's mentioned. I agree with Peg, The Diva Runs Out of Thyme was great.
2. No.
3. No, but I have checked it out from the library-see #1 above ie Joanna Fluke.

Lesa said...

Like Sheila, I have to say the answer is no to all three questions. I do enjoy some of the foodie mysteries, though. And, I have copied some of Joanne Fluke's recipes. Julie Hyzy's mysteries are some of my favorites right now.

I'd love to win Melinda Wills' Death Takes the Cake. But, I'd take anything! If I don't need it, it would go to my library.

Lesa Holstine

Anonymous said...

Just an addition to the cozies that you mentioned with the recipes. I'm currently reading 'The Hannah Swensen Mysteries', by Joanne Fluke. They have various recipes in them as well, and the recipes are great.

Sandra Parshall said...

I'm beginning to think Joanne Fluke should put out a cookbook (with lots of chocolate in it, please).

Lonnie Cruse said...

I don't buy books for the recipes either BUT I love reading those kinds of books. Recipes included in a book tell me there will probably be more about chocolate than blood. My kind of books.

Anonymous said...

I look at the recipes (or needlework patterns), but I've never bought a book just because of them. As Paul Prudhomme would say, they're lagniappe. And (as has been mentioned), sometimes the descriptions are mouth-watering enough, maybe even enough to figure out how to duplicate it yourself.

Anonymous said...

What a great review of yummy books. I particularly like Diane Mott Davidson's Goldy Schultz books.

We didn't have room for recipes in Paper, Scissors, Death so I put them on my website. Then I heard that a scrapbook store in San Antonio had a 12-hour crop based on my book. The store personnel made food based on my recipes! How fun is that?

Anonymous said...

My Appalachian Adventure Mysteries are set on a dude ranch in the North Carolina mountains. The recipes for all the dishes mentioned are in the back of the book. The recipes are from a friend's cookbook and I have permission to use them.
I don't buy a cozy because it has food in it but I enjoy reading about the dishes.

Carol M said...

I love cozies that have something extra such as recipes. However, I don't buy the book for that reason. They are just something extra. I pick the books I buy because the story sounds good and because they are written by authors I enjoy.

Kaye George said...

I'll have to agree that the recipes are an extra, as well as an indication of what kind of book it will be. Sarah Atwell, Krista Davis, and Lorna Barrett all have recipes that I intend to try. Correction: I DID make the stained glass cookies from *Pane of Death* (Atwell). My problem is whether to shelve these in the kitchen or with the mysteries!

I guess I should answer the questions, too--no to all 3.

Daryl a.k.a. Avery said...

I have to admit that I don't buy a book because of its recipes, unless of course it's a cookbook, but I do enjoy reading mysteries with food. I'm a "foodie." I love chocolate recipes, cookies recipes. I especially like recipes that somehow play out in the storyline of the mystery. Now, how do they do that, you ask? Aha, that is the mystery. But think of the witch and the Gingerbread House...and crumbs leading the children home. Best to all, Daryl

Robert Pruter said...

I enjoy "food cozies" and like it when they contain recipes. That said, I skip over them as I read, if they are in the text, and only go back to them after I have finished the book. I have made a few dishes from the Diane Mott Davidson books and Joanne Fluke books. When Diane Mott Davidson does a book signing, she usually brings cookies made from a recipe in her books. The ones she brought to the signing I went to were chocolate and really good--
Margaret Franson

Krista said...

I have enjoyed food cozies for a long time. The first one I remember with recipes was by Diane Mott Davidson. But even Lillian Jackson Braun included amazing descriptions of food in her early books. Quill was always feeding gourmet dishes to the cats.

I'm delighted to see Melinda Wells's book mentioned. If you have a chance, check out her website. She was once a wildlife photographer and there are some amazing pictures of her with huge cats.

And thanks to everyone who mentioned The Diva Runs Out of Thyme! A lot of readers have contacted me about recipes -- some that were mentioned but weren't in the book. I love hearing how the recipes worked out and what changes they made. Food is always evolving.

judyalter said...

1. Yes, the recipes included make a cozy more attractive to me.
2. No, I usually don't check them out first--I buy a book for its story.
3. No,I've never bought a cozy just to get a recipe.

thanks for posting a whole list of titles I now want to investigate!

Dani said...

I have the Cat Who Cookbook and actually use it, though the recipes never appeared in the books. Would love a cookbook that's a compilation of various novel extras. Karen MacInerney and Susan Wittig Albert both have good ones in their series.

A recent conversation about just this issue brought us to the conclusion that Berkley helped fuel the trend. What do you think?

Hopped over from Twitter and @maryannwrites.:)


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