The culture of eating has changed dramatically over the past decades. One of the biggest changes since the mid-twentieth century has been the increasing popularity of….pizza. That’s right, pizza. Of course, pizza has a long history, but it’s really only since the end of World War II that it’s come into its own as a worldwide phenomenon. Today, as you know, pizza’s available in myriad varieties and styles. You can get upmarket pizza in a restaurant with crystal and cloth, or you can get a cheap frozen pizza and heat it up yourself. And that’s not to mention the booming pizza delivery business. Let’s face it: people love their pizza.
It’s easy to see why, too. Of course there’s the taste. But pizza’s also really convenient, especially if you have it delivered. And there’s something social about sharing a pizza with a group of people. With all of that going for it, it shouldn’t surprise you that pizza plays a big role in crime fiction. Here are just a few examples; I know you’ll be able to think of more.
Like many fictional sleuths, Katherine Howell’s Inspector Ella Marconi doesn’t have a lot of free time to cook for herself. As a busy member of the New South Wales Police, she also doesn’t have a lot of time to spend sitting in restaurants eating. So pizza delivery is tailor-made for her needs, as it is for so many other fictional cops. Here’s what she says about it in The Darkest Hour. In this scene, she’s looking for a flyer from a local gourmet pizza place, but can’t find it:
‘Had she thrown it out?
No, she wouldn’t have done that, not even on the worst-scale day. Mushroom pizzas were an important part of life, it was a recognised fact. Or if it wasn’t, she thought it ought to be.’
Pizza lovers everywhere would probably agree.
Helene Tursten’s Irene Huss is a member of the Göteborg Police’s Violent Crimes Unit. She is also married to Krister, a very skilled chef who works at a well-regarded upmarket restaurant. Krister does quite a lot of the cooking at home, too. But that doesn’t stop his wife eating her share of pizza. Quite frequently, the members of Huss’ team have evening meetings about cases they’re working. When that happens, they have a standing order at a local pizza delivery place. The only person (besides team members) who is allowed to interrupt those meetings is the receptionist, and then only to let the team know that the pizza has arrived. There are also several scenes in this series where individual team members go to lunch together. Pizza is a staple in those cases too.
And then of course, there’s Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander. As those who’ve read this series will know, Salander is not exactly health-conscious when it comes to her diet. And one of the main elements of that diet is Billy’s Pan Pizza. It actually serves her well, as she’s not exactly an extrovert who enjoys dining with others. A frozen pizza that can be heated up easily and eaten at her computer desk allows her the solitude and flexibility she needs to do the research at which she is an expert. Little wonder it’s a staple food for her. It would be nice to know how she manages to stay so slender on a diet like that…
Of course, crime-fictional pizza isn’t just useful as fuel for busy sleuths. Pizza boxes can be handy for forensics experts who may need to get samples for testing. And they have even more inventive uses too. Consider Peter Lovesey’s The Vault. In that novel, a security guard who works at the Roman Baths makes the gruesome discovery of a severed hand during his rounds. As soon as he is able to do so, he goes to the Bath Police to report what he’s found. When he does so, he faces a problem: how to transport his find. He thinks quickly and puts the hand in the pizza box that contained his lunch. As you can imagine, this causes more than a little consternation when he gets to the police station. At first, Superintendent Peter Diamond isn’t exactly overwhelmed. After all, the bones were found beneath Bath Abbey Churchyard. There are any number of reasons for which they might be there, none of which involve a crime. But when the hand turns out to be much more recent – from the 1980s – things begin to take a more sinister turn.
With pizza being as popular as it is, it shouldn’t surprise you that there’s a mystery series devoted to the topic. Chris Cavender’s Pizza Lovers Mysteries features A Slice of Delight, a pizzeria located in Timber Ridge, North Carolina. The restaurant is owned by Eleanor Swift and her sister Maddy, and offers both ‘regular’ pizzas and some gourmet styles. With that context, there are all sorts of possibilities for murder. Customers, vendors, delivery staff and so on all have their individual stories, and they all in some ways touch the lives of the Swift sisters.
That’s part of what can make pizza such a useful tool for authors too. There are so many ways in which clues can be left, characters can interact, the sleuth can get involved and so on. And that’s not to mention the way pizza can be used to give a little character depth too.
As a case in point, there’s a crime novel that uses the job of delivering pizza quite effectively. After all, what better way to put your victim off guard and get as close as you want than to use the guise of delivering a pizza? I don’t want to spoil the story, so I won’t give author or title. But I’ve always thought that to be particularly clever!
Really, there’s something ‘pizza’ for just about everyone. Whether you prefer upmarket, mushroom, vegetarian, kosher, lots of meat, Hawai’ian style, or something else entirely, there’s probably a pizza out there with your name written on it. Little wonder we see so much of it in crime fiction. Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s the doorbell. I think my pizza’s here…
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Bouncing Souls’ The Pizza Song.