Culinary crime fiction – recipe for success?

A few weeks ago, I went to a murder mystery evening in Windsor. We were all guests at the fictional gala dinner on the eve of the Too Many Cooks TV cookery show finale, hosted by celebrity chef Steve Patterson. Guests would be dying to know if Steve Patterson was the same as he was portrayed on television – or even nastier.

But the real question turned out to be, is £100,000 a prize worth killing for?

So, a three-course dinner and a juicy mystery – what’s not to like?

Of course it wasn’t long before someone was murdered, and together with the other sleuths on our table we talked to the suspects, examined the evidence and tried to figure out whodunnit. The actors moved around the tables chatting to guests, and all manner of secrets, lies and grudges tumbled out – along with several bright red herrings. The acting was great and we felt part of the story.

The Thai green vegetable curry main course was too fiery to taste (making me wonder for an awful nanosecond if I was the next victim) but the starter (wild mushroom and artichoke feuillette with tarragon cream) and dessert (deep apple and cinnamon pie with sauce anglaise) were delicious.

We didn’t stay the night because we live close by but the Sir Christopher Wren hotel where the event was held has a lovely riverside setting on the edge of Eton Bridge and some rooms have castle views. Windsor’s such a small town you can walk everywhere and there’s plenty to do including visiting the castle, watching the Changing of the Guard, having afternoon tea in the town where the concept was invented, hiring a boat or taking the amphibious Duck Bus tour around the sights and on the water.

The murder mystery event was organised by Murder 57 Ltd who stage murder mysteries throughout the year in lots of locations. More information here

Books to devour

Not only did I really enjoy the evening, it made me think about how food and whodunnits are a perfect concoction.

Culinary cozy mystery writer Jessica Thompson’s devilish whodunnits include delicious recipes such as apple strudel, chocolate oatmeal snickerdoodles, and chilaquiles verdes in A Caterer’s Guide to Love and Murder (available here) and Mexican hot chocolate and lemon rosemary cupcakes with ricotta frosting in A Caterer’s Guide to Holidays and Homicide (available here) featured in a recent publication day post.

She explains why food and crime are a winning combo and how her passion for the genre led to publication:


“Sorry to burst this bubble, but I did not actually invent a new subgenre when I started writing culinary cozy mysteries as a lot of people think. I would LOVE to take the credit, but it was already a thing long before I found it. I was just walking through the local library, looking through random books, (I think I might have been looking for mysteries,) when I found a cute mystery that looked clean and was about food. When I cracked it open and found out that it was a mystery with recipes, I was so excited!

I was already fascinated with cooking, always chasing the way to make homemade versions of my favorite foods, and devouring mysteries (although usually audiobooks.) So when I discovered this subgenre, the clouds parted, heavenly choirs sang, and … I don’t know … enlightenment dawned.

I won’t say which book it was, because when I took it home and read it, it was awful! The mystery was predictable and formulaic, the recipes were outdated and unremarkable, and the dialogue was just painful. As I complained to my husband about it (not online, cuz homie don’t play that) I remembered my policy whenever people complain.

You can’t complain unless you’re volunteering to help.

While I couldn’t help that writer, maybe I could contribute to the genre. I already loved reading mysteries, was regularly creating recipes, and I was looking for a new long-term goal. It was also strangely encouraging that the book I had read was so bad. Like the bar was low enough that it wasn’t intimidating.

I read on, but when I found the line “It looked like the ongoing feud was still going on,” I finally threw the book down and decided that if that book could get published, and even be a bestseller, then so could I!

I outlined and wrote for a long time, on and off, but it was only after I came out of the writing closet and made some writing friends (or more like discovered that some of my friends were secretly writing, too) that I finally finished the first draft.

After that, I had no idea if it was at all close to being publishable! Since I didn’t know what I didn’t know, I hired a content editor who was a friend of a friend of a friend. When she got back to me with only small notes and changes, I fixed it up and started querying.

I have always suffered from too realistic of goals. My long term goal that I thought might not even be achievable, was to get published by the time I was forty years old. I had found the genre when I was thirty-two and started querying right when I turned thirty-six. By the end of that first year I had gotten lots of rejections from agents, turned down one publisher, signed with a second, and then gone through the expedited process of publishing with a house that likes a quick turn around. That was last year. Now I have two Amazon bestselling culinary cozy mysteries, A Caterer’s Guide to Love and Murder and A Caterer’s Guide to Holidays and Homicide, plus an anthology of short stories in the works, and I’m outlining my third book in the series.

The genre has been good to me. I’m not an amazing writer, but I do hope that I’m getting better. Maybe it’s all about a writer finding the right genre for them, their interests, their abilities, and their passions. Good luck to all you writers out there! I hope you can also find your perfect genre, whether it already exists or you have to invent it.

I think all writers must stand together to defeat the evil forces of short attention spans and illiteracy, so reach out to me if you need an advocate, a critique partner, or just a friend. “

Do you have any recommendations for a murder mystery event or a great culinary whodunnit? If so, I’d love to hear from you!


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