Locally Grown*

Natural ProductsIn Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral (AKA Funerals Are Fatal), Hercule Poirot investigates two deaths, one of which is the murder of Cora Lansquenet, an elderly widow who shared a home with her paid companion Miss Gilchrist. At one time, Miss Gilchrist owned a tea shop, and still very much enjoys cooking and serving. In one scene, she makes tea for herself and two guests: the victim’s niece Susan Banks; and an acquaintance, art critic Alexander Guthrie. For the occasion, Miss Gilchrist

‘…made a nice lot of scones and that’s some homemade strawberry jam, and I just whipped up some little drop cakes.’

Later, while they’re eating, Mr. Guthrie says,

‘…and what delicious jam! Really, the stuff one buys nowadays.’

He’s not alone in his thinking. Homemade, natural-tasting food is, for a lot of us, far superior to packaged food.

Many people have ‘gone natural’ (e.g. no preservatives, a minimum of chemicals, etc…) and there’s definitely something to that choice. Most ‘foodies’ will tell you that fresh ingredients and food that’s not processed tastes better. And there is research to suggest it may be healthier too. I’m not a dietician or nutrition scientist, so I don’t have data; still, a lot of people swear by ‘going natural.’ Natural products (both food and non-food items) are a booming business. And many companies, sensing this trend, market what they make to people who are looking to avoid additives and other chemicals.

There’s lots of ‘all natural’ in crime fiction, too. For example, in Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s My Soul to Take, spa owner Jónas Júlíusson hires Reykjavík attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir to help him pursue a lawsuit. He claims that the land on which he’s built his resort is haunted, and that the former owners knew it and didn’t inform him. Thóra doesn’t believe in ghosts; but the fee comes at a welcome time, and so does a free visit to an upmarket spa/resort. So she takes the case. It’s not long before she finds herself defending her client against a charge of murder when one of the spa guests is killed. The spa prides itself on all-natural, organic food and beauty/health products. For instance, at one point, Thóra and her partner Matthew Reich have a drink with Jónas and discuss the case.

‘He [Jónas] reached for his beer and took a sip. ‘This is organic beer,’ he said as he put the glass back down and wiped the froth from his upper lip.

Matthew isn’t overly impressed with the quality of the brew, but it’s interesting to see how much of a market there is for the ‘all natural.’

Jill Edmondson’s Toronto PI Sasha Jackson also visits an organic-only, ‘all natural’ spa in Blood and Groom. In that novel, Christine Arvisais hires Jackson to find out who killed her former fiancé Gordon Hanes. Their engagement had ended (and not particularly amicably), so there’s a lot of talk that she’s responsible. But she claims to be innocent and wants Jackson to clear her name. Of course, any good PI knows that not every client is truthful and ethical. So Jackson does her own checking into her client’s background and financial situation. And that includes a visit to the exclusive Crystal Cove Spa where Arvisais and her mother go on regular retreats. It’s a completely all-natural, organic place where clients are not allowed to bring in chocolate, candy, or any other processed food or drink. That’s not exactly the way Jackson or her sister-in-law Lindsey live, so when they go on an undercover retreat there to gather information, they get quite a rude dietary awakening.  But they also get important information.

Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman takes real pride in her Melbourne bakery. She creates all sorts of fine breads and cakes without using preservatives or extra chemicals. She doesn’t even use chemicals to keep the place free of vermin. Instead, she has two feline Rodent Control Officers who in Chapman’s mind do a better and safer job than chemicals do. It’s not so much that Chapman is what you would call a ‘back to nature’ type. In fact, she enjoys her ‘creature comforts.’ But she does know that the best bread is made from natural ingredients. The bakery’s popularity proves her right, too. She bakes a fresh lot of bread and rolls each morning, and is usually sold out before the bakery closes for the day. If there’s any left over, she donates it to those who need it.

There’s even a mystery series devoted to organic food. Nadia Gordon’s Sunny McCoskey owns Wildside, a Napa Valley (California) restaurant that serves only organic food and wine. And of course there are many novels and series (D.S. Nelson’s Blake Heatherington series is one) in which the sleuth takes pride in home-grown produce.

It’s really not surprising that there’s so much crime fiction that mentions ‘all-natural’ food, cleaning supplies, beauty products and so on. Whether or not you’ve ‘gone organic,’ it’s hard to deny that organic food and other products are increasingly popular, and many people swear by their benefits. And there’s nothing like homemade food that hasn’t been shrink-wrapped…


*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a Tom Chapin song.


Filed under Agatha Christie, D.S. Nelson, Jill Edmondson, Kerry Greenwood, Nadia Gordon, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

18 responses to “Locally Grown*

  1. And there I was thinking that all detectives subsisted on an unhealthy diet of alcohol, cigarettes, donuts and coffee…
    Shall I mention the obvious French and Italian suspects, pardon, I mean detectives, who all appreciate a good meal with natural ingredients?(especially Martin Walker’s Bruno, who grows a lot of the vegetables in his own garden).

    • Actually, I’m glad you mentioned Bruno, Marina Sofia. He’s one of those who really shows that you don’t have to go to herculean effort or tremendous expense to have fresh and natural ingredients. And it makes a difference. I like it that he’s different to the stereotypical fast-food/cigarette-addicted sleuth.

  2. Christie again – in A Murder is Announced there’s a couple with a smallholding, and everyone in the village seems to grow something. They swap food – lettuces, marrows, milk, eggs – slightly subverting the rationing regulations. It sounded like they must have had a pretty good natural diet, somewhat organic. And of course Mitzi made a mean chocolate cake, and we all know that’s a very healthy food item!

    • Oh, Moira, I couldn’t agree more about a good chocolate cake!! It’s an essential part of a healthy diet! And thank you for mentioning A Murder is Announced. It really does show that culture of ‘homegrown works.’ And yes, I like the fact that they find creative ways around the rationing regs…

  3. Can’t think of any examples, but thank you for the warning about the Crystal Cove Spa – no chocolate!!! Won’t be booking a stay there!! 😉

    • No, FictionFan, I shouldn’t think you’d have a pleasant stay there, even if you do in general try to eat natural foods and use fresh ingredients. Some things you just shouldn’t give up! 😉

  4. At risk of being pursued by a mob of torch-bearing foodies, I must point out that not all detectives are thrilled by “natural” foods. Horace Rumpole – John Mortimer’s Rumpole of the Bailey – would be one example. Dragged off by his wife Hilda – She Who Must Be Obeyed – in “Rumpole’s Slimmed-Down Christmas” – Rumpole finds himself eating a dinner of sorts at a health spa:

    “Dinner was hardly a gastronomic treat. The aperitif consisted of a strange, pale yellowish drink, known as ‘yak’s milk.’…The main course, indeed the only course, was a small portion of steamed spinach and a little diced carrot, enough, perhaps, to satisfy a small rodent but quite inadequate for a human.”

    I’m with your readers, above, who’ll go for the chocolate cake!

    • Oh, right you are about Rumpole, Les! ‘Natural’ and ‘Healthy’ have absolutely no appeal at all for him. Just the description alone is enough to put me off that spa!! I’ll bring some chocolate cake for everyone 🙂

  5. Margot: I could not say Russell Quant’s mother, Kay, in the series by Anthony Bidulka is focused on fresh food but she would never serve her boy anything but homemade food.

  6. Col

    Not familiar with any of your examples…..and truth be told things will probably remain that way! Ignorance is bliss – perhaps! More like time is limited 🙂

  7. Kathy D.

    Oh, I’d love to live in Corinna Chapman’s building in Melbourne and sample her bakery’s goods every day.
    I definitely am for healthy eating, but chocolate is a food group with essential nutrients, so it must be part of a good diet.
    But reading has taken a back seat to dvd’s of British and other TV detective shows. Just watched the excellent “Simosola,” part of the Inspector Wexford series by Ruth Rendell. No gratuitous violence, car chases, shoot-em-ups; yippee.

    • I agree completely with you, Kathy, about chocolate. It is an essential food group, so it should be included in a healthy diet plan. And you know, I wouldn’t mind living in Insula myself :-).
      Glad you’ve been enjoying the Wexford series. Some of those series really are excellent.

  8. Talking about organic produce, there’s also the British TV series Rosemary & Thyme (2003-2006), murder mysteries about two detectives who are also professional gardeners.

  9. Except for Christie, I have read none of these authors and they all sound interesting. I will have to get to them.

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