Crime and Culinary Punishment

by Carolyn Foster Segal
Print Email

bonesIt’s amazing that some can go through an entire detective novel or TV series without eating. I’m not talking about readers or Netflix viewers; I’m referring to the characters, for whom the ratio of meals to angst seems to be inversely proportional. The band of agents in Criminal Minds has stopped to eat, by my count, just twice in seven seasons. The Bones team, however, logs almost as many hours in the diner as in the lab. The biggest mystery of the show is why Booth doesn’t weigh 350 pounds.

It seems to be feast or famine for anyone trapped in a crime story. In episodes of the British shows Inspector Lewis and Midsomer Murders, the upper-class villains eat far better than the coppers. The downside for the affluent is that they rarely get out of the dining room alive.

The protagonists of culinary mysteries—from Rex Stout’s gourmand Nero Wolfe to Virginia Rich’s chef Eugenia Potter to Joanne Fluke’s baker Hannah Swenson—enjoy breaking bread as much as breaking cases. Most enforcers, however, subsist on coffee and whiskey (Law & Order—all versions) and the archetypal donut (Dexter).


The “Great Detective” Sherlock Holmes never dines while working, reasoning that digesting might interfere with his deductive powers. In a parody of traditional, or golden-age, detective stories like Agatha Christies’, Patrick Jane of The Mentalist drinks tea, from his station-house Fiesta ware cup, which only adds to his sly charm. The ultimate gourmand, of course, is Hannibal Lecter, who can be a seductive charmer in his own way, if not the ideal dining partner.

thecloserA good number of scenes in The Closer are set at the kitchen and dining room tables, but the food we associate with Brenda is the stash of chocolate bars in her office desk drawer. This sugary approach, however, can turn as sentimentally sticky as the maple syrup on the animal-shaped pancakes served up by Rizzoli’s mother in Rizzoli and Isles—the downright cozy adaptation of Tess Gerritsen’s far darker novels.

A running joke on Midsomer is that Barnaby’s wife Joyce is a terrible cook. Detective Jack Frost of Frost brings in take-away Indian food several times a week; when he does attempt to cook a meal, he burns down his house. Frost would be better off following the lead of Burn Notice’s Michael Weston, who exists entirely on a diet of yogurt—no stove required.

But Norwegian crime contenders may have the toughest situation of all—a choice between McDonald’s (Stieg Larsson) and Sushi&Coffee (Jo Nesbo). It’s almost enough to make one hungry for a meal of bangers and mash.


Carolyn Foster Segal is an essayist and teacher who lives in Bethlehem, PA. Lately, she's been spending most of her time in the garden.


0 #1 Mary 2012-08-20 16:36
I would add The Gilmore Girls to this. They are always eating. How they are not over 200lbs solidifies the fact that the show is a complete and total work of fiction.

Add comment

Security code

Restaurant News

The Gallows - A South End Original
by Kitty Kaufman

gallows-490x329"We're a loud and welcoming hangout in the South End with a menu that changes weekly." It's Saturday and we can confirm the fun's here all right, along with everyone in the neighborhood. There's...

The Custom House Tavern
by Lisa Dinsmore

chtexterior.jpg I love the fact that my husband is from a different part of the country than I am. Before I met and married him, my experience of America was limited to either coast. Now, every year, I get to...

Pane e Vino
Los Angeles
by Carolan Nathan

- A Pleasant Surprise

ImageHaving almost given up on the Italian cucina here in Los Angeles, I was very pleased to enjoy the offerings of this ristorante. It was a whim that brought me there and also...

New York
by Michael Tucker

kajitsu-300x200To celebrate my vegan’s birthday, I called Kajitsu on 9th street in the East Village and made reservations. Actually, I had serious reservations. Kajitsu is Shojin cuisine, which means we’d be...