I am delighted to welcome Valerie Burns back to the blog today! She’s here to talk about her RJ Franklin Mystery series.
Thanks, Julie and all of the Wicked Authors for inviting me to spend time with you all today.
Food and Murder
I was recently honored to have a chance to talk about food cozies with Wicked Author, Maddie Day (Elizabeth Maxwell), and Joanne Fluke on NPR’s Under the Radar with Callie Crossley. It was amazing. I love cozy mysteries and I love food so anytime I can combine the two, I’m in heaven. However, one question has stuck with me. Why does food pair so well with murder?
Culinary or “food cozies” are mysteries that have a food theme. The sleuth in a culinary cozy can be a professional baker, like Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swenson mysteries, the owner of a café, restaurant or country store, like Maddie Day’s Robbie Jordan, or simply a woman who shows her love by cooking for her family and friends, like Mama B in my RJ Franklin Mystery series. Similar to other cozy mysteries, sleuths in a food cozy must still use their deductive skills to solve a mystery. However, in a food cozy, the sleuths must also rustle up meals or deserts that make your tummy growl and your mouth water.
In all honesty, I have no idea why food and murder go well together. However, I do have a theory. Food is one common thread that binds people together. It’s the one thing that all humans have in common. Everyone, regardless of race, religion or sex, has to eat. It’s essential for basic survival whether you’re eating gourmet meals prepared by someone like Swiss chef, Fritz Brenner in Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe Mysteries or Jell-O in a can like Debra H. Goldstein’s Sarah Blair Mysteries (even non-cooks need to eat). Thankfully, there are tons of food themed cozy mysteries out there, with something to appeal to every taste, culture and dietary need.
Food is not only essential for life, it’s important for social and emotional well-being (Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia has mended many a broken heart). Many social and cultural events include food. Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and even funerals (repast) will include some form of food. Whether a couple is meeting for the first time or celebrating a milestone there’s almost always food (or at least cake).
Of course, it might be as simple as realizing that, like me, people just like to eat. However, for mystery writers, the inclusion of food could serve another purpose. Murder, even those without graphic descriptions are unsettling. Including something as mundane as eating might be needed to provide balance. There’s something very ordinary about eating. Regardless of the trauma, eating provides a moment of normalcy. In a food cozy, food brings the normal into a very abnormal situation. Readers may not know what it’s like to be mixed up with a murder, but we all know what it’s like to eat our favorite meal at our favorite restaurant. Most of us can relate to finding comfort in a bowl of macaroni and cheese or in a slab of meatloaf, a plate of spaghetti, a bucket of fried chicken, or a slice of cheesecake in times of distress. And, what is more distressing than murder?
So, why do food and murder pair well together? Perhaps, food provides a common link that we can all relate to in one way or another. It helps to provide a connection between the reader and the sleuth by allowing them to share a meal while they work together to solve a mystery.
If you’d like to hear the NPR interview on Food Cozies, you can listen here: Under the Radar
Readers: Do you have a favorite comfort food?
About Steal Away
Detective RJ Franklin has worked with Search and Rescue volunteer, Marti Alexander, many times. So, he’s not surprised when he receives a call that she and her dog, Callie, have found a body near the St. Joseph River. What is surprising is when he learns that the body is that of her ex-husband, Jake Harrison. Between Marti’s unusual behavior, the fact that she had motive, opportunity, and the means to kill her cheating ex-husband, RJ doesn’t believe she’s guilty. Overlooking the mountain of evidence that all points to Marti as the killer, RJ starts investigating to see who else wanted Jake Harrison dead. With the help of his partner, Harley Wickfield IV, and his sharp-as-a-whip godmother, Mama B, RJ discovers a web of lies, deceit, and corruption. When one of RJ’s suspects with ties to the underworld gets a bit too close for comfort to RJ’s close-knit church family, he has to decide between his loyalty to his church and his commitment to his badge. Can RJ protect those closest to him, keep the River Bend community safe and catch a killer?
All of the titles in this series come from Negro Spirituals and there are soul food recipes in each book. Preorder your copy today!
About the author
V.M. (Valerie) Burns was born and raised in South Bend, Indiana. She received a Bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University, a Master’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Seton Hill University. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Dog Writers Association of America, Thriller Writers International and a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime. In addition to the RJ Franklin Mystery series, V.M. Burns is also the Agatha Award nominated author of The Plot is Murder, the first book in the Mystery Bookshop Mystery series; and the Dog Club Mystery series. She currently resides East Tennessee with her three poodles. Readers can keep up with new releases by following her on social media.
Buy Link—- Amazon, B&N
That was such a fun panel, Valerie, wasn’t it? I think you’ve hit on all the reasons why food and mysteries go well together. Thanks for sharing them on the blog today!
Thanks, Edith. It was a fun panel. I’m so glad I got to share it with you and Joanne Fluke. Thanks for letting me hang out with the Wickeds today, too. Always a fun time
My favorite comfort food is Mac and cheese. I have read and enjoyed your Mystery Bookshop and Dog Club series. I haven’t read this series yet…I will have to check it out.
Hello Christi, I love Mac and cheese too (I especially like the edge pieces). Thanks for hanging out with me today. I hope you enjoy STEAL AWAY and getting acquainted with RJ and Mama B.
Valerie, congrats on the new book. I do seem to read a lot of cozies that center around food, the Country Store Mysteries from Maddie Day/Edith Maxwell being my favorite.
Given the size of my waistline, I’d venture to say that all food seems to be comfort food for me. If I had to pick out just one or two examples I’d likely go with cheeseburgers or chicken tenders. Sadly, I could eat til my heart explodes when it comes to those two items.
Jay, Thank you! I’m rather fond of cheeseburgers and chicken tenders too. I can eat fried shrimp and Twizzlers until my heart explodes. Oh, and pecan pie, strawberries, scones with clotted cream…
Congrats on your latest, Valerie! My favorite comfort food would probably be mashed potatoes.
Thank you, Marla. I love mashed potatoes too. Definitely, comforting, especially with gravy.
Food restores community. You’re right in so many of our social customs involve food and so many religious traditions do as well. Murder shatters community. So I think it natural that we look to food to bring us back together.
As for comfort, I love a good mac and cheese – but I also wouldn’t say no to a bag of potato chips. LOL
Hello Liz, OMG, yes. I love both mac and cheese (brown and crispy edges) and potato chips (sea salt and vinegar and sweet southern heat are my favs). I’m getting hungry.
Welcome back! I love your analysis of food and cozies! Potato chips are the best comfort food.
Hi Sherry, Thanks for letting me hang out with you all today. I am quite fond of potato chips, too.
Due to some medical issues, I’m a nibbler. Between meals my nibble preference leans more to the salty and/or savory instead of the sweet. Comfort meals are those that take a while to make and then show up complete in one bowl like chili, potato soup or even a great casserole. Like my Mom use to say, no one sees all the steps, dishes or work involved and those that don’t cook think boy that must have been a snap to throw in one bowl. 🙂 As for the one constant in our meals regardless of the time of year, it would undoubtedly be mac ‘n’ cheese. I always laugh and say that if I got cut that I would bleed cheese.
Can’t wait for the opportunity to read “Steal Away” and read more about Detective RJ Franklin adventures.
2clowns at arkansas dot net
Thanks, Kay. I agree that sometimes what appears really simple can be quite involved. I love to eat and chili, casseroles, and mac and cheese are all favorites. I’m also really fond of Shepherd’s Pie (gotta love anything covered in mashed potatoes). I hope you enjoy the mystery.
Welcome back to the Wickeds, Valerie and congratulations on this new release. I was reluctant to write about food because I’m not a cook, but that was the deal. Since I started I’ve learned that food is great for bringing characters together, for showing character and setting, and for making sure I use all the senses in my descriptions, including smell and taste.
Thanks, Barbara, I love hanging out with the Wickeds! You are so right about all the benefits of including food. I love that there are so many food cozies that allow readers to experience so many different types of food along with their mysteries.
I love culinary cozies. That is one theme I gravitate to more than others. I think they are popular because everyone eats. At least that’s my theory.
Hi Mark, I love culinary cozies too. I agree. Everyone eats, so there’s something we all have in common.
Congrats on the new book, Valerie. As my waistline will attest, most foods are a comfort to me. When I really want to be comforted, I love liver and onions with mashed potatoes and gravy, with a big side of broccoli. I can’t prepare this dish with any skill, but a local diner makes it perfectly every time. I think I know where I”m going tonight!
Thank you, Ginny. I’m not a big liver and onions person, but it smells wonderful when it’s cooking (at least I think so). I do love mashed potatoes and gravy. Great that you’ve found a diner that makes it exactly the way you like. Enjoy!
Congrats on your latest book, Valerie! That’s a hard question about comfort foods–I think I have too many to narrow it down to one!
Thanks, Jennifer, I have a long list of food that gives me comfort too. So, I completely understand. No need to pick just one. Enjoy them all!
Thanks for visiting with the Wickeds today, Valerie! What an interesting thing to poder! Why are the two so often happily paired? My favorite comfort food is a toasted cheese sandwich. I love them on pumpernickel bread with grainy mustard, sliced tomato and extra sharp cheddar cheese!
Jessica, thanks for allowing me to hang out with the Wickeds today. It’s fun to hear what foods provide comfort. I’ve noticed cheese seems to be a common ingredient (mac and cheese, toasted cheese). There’s just something soothing about cheese. 🙂
I spoke with Louise Penny about the food she describes at the restaurant in Three Pines. I was amazed with how she sets a scene that is rounded out by good food. She said that she’s not a good cook, but uses the food she likes to eat at restaurants as part of the story.
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