I’ll Arrange For Making All Arrangements*

caterersMany years ago, families who hosted formal parties would depend on their own kitchen staff (and, sometimes, ‘borrowed’ staff) to prepare the food, clean up, and so on. Families without the means for that would do their own cooking. That’s not so much the case in today’s world. Many people have full-time jobs, and don’t have a lot of spare time for event planning and elegant food preparation. Others simply don’t have the interest.

That’s where professional event planners and caterers come in. It’s a huge business, too. Many restaurants have a catering option; other caterers are independent businesses. And event planners have quickly become a very attractive option for people who are getting ready for a wedding, a corporate dinner, or other major event.

It’s not surprise, then, that caterers and event planners have begun to make appearances in crime fiction, too. These professionals see a lot, hear a lot, and are usually highly skilled at noting and managing even the smallest detail. So, they’re in a very good position to be sleuths, witnesses, or victims.

One of the more famous sleuths in the catering business is Diane Mott Davidson’s Gertrude ‘Goldy’ Schulz. Beginning with 1990’s Catering to Nobody, this series follows Schulz, who lives and works in the small town of Aspen Meadow, Colorado. As a caterer, she gets involved in all sorts of events, from after-funeral gatherings to graduations to weddings. So, she’s often not far from the scene when there’s a murder, and in more than one case, she finds the body. Another fictional catering company is Isis Crawford’s A Little Taste of Heaven, based in Longely, New York. It’s owned and run by sisters Bernie and Libby Simmons, who are the daughters of a retired police officer. Like Goldy Schulz, the Simmons sisters are often on the scene when there’s a murder. And once or twice, they fall under suspicion themselves. There are other examples, too, of mystery series that feature sleuths who are caterers.

There are also several crime novels and series that include wedding and other event planners. For instance, in Jill Edmondson’s Blood and Groom, Toronto PI Sasha Jackson gets a new client, Christine Arvisais. It seems that Arvisais’ former fiancé, Gordon Hanes, was shot on what was supposed to be their wedding day. Since the couple’s engagement had been broken off, many people think Arvisais is the murderer, although she’s never been formally accused. Still, she wants her name cleared. She’s rude, highhanded, and selfish, but a fee is a fee, so Jackson takes the case. One lead takes her to the office of wedding planner Valerie O’Connor, who was to put together the Arvisais/Hanes wedding. Jackson decides that it’s best to visit in the guise of a bride-to-be, so she persuades a friend to pose as her fiancé. It’s a funny scene, and the visit gives Jackson some valuable information.

Marla Cooper has recently launched a series featuring San Francisco-based wedding planner Kelsey McKenna. In the first novel, Terror in Taffeta, McKenna is hired to plan a destination wedding that’s to take place in the small Mexican town of San Miguel de Allende. Her clients, Nicole Abernethy and Vince Moreno, are happy with the arrangements, and everything seems to be going smoothly enough. Then, just at the end of the ceremony, one of the bridesmaids, Dana Poole, collapses and dies of what turns out to be poison. The local police begin to investigate, and soon settle on the bride’s sister, Zoe, as the killer. Zoe is arrested and jailed, but she claims she’s innocent. McKenna wants to get Zoe out of jail if she can. What’s more, the bride’s mother insists that she ‘fix the problem,’ even saying that that’s part of her job. So, McKenna begins to ask questions. She soon finds that there are things about the victim that a lot of people didn’t know, and that more than one person could have had a motive for murder.

Gail Bowen’s sleuth, Joanne Kilbourn Shreve, is a political scientist and retired academic. She is also the mother of four children. In The Wandering Soul Murders, the oldest, Mieka, has made the difficult decision to leave university and open her own catering business. Although her mother isn’t very happy about it, Mieka has a solid business plan and purchases a catering company called Judgements. It’s so successful that she’s actually planning to open a second location. Then one morning, she discovers the body of one of her employees, seventeen-year-old Bernice Morin, in a trash bin. Needless to say, Mieka is badly shaken. Still, the police are called in, and begin to investigate. Then, there’s another death which might be linked. It’s not long before Mieka and her mother are involved in a case with deep roots and a dark background.

And then there’s Mari Jungstedt’s Dark Angel. Successful Gotland event planner Vicktor Algård has fallen deeply in love with Veronika Hammer. In fact, he’s left his wife and their children for her sake. One night, he is hosting a glittering opening event for a new conference center, when Veronika hands him a cyanide-laced drink, then goes to use the restroom. He drinks it, collapses and dies, and the next morning, police detective Anders Knutas and his team begin the investigation. On the surface, it seems that the case is very clear. But it’s not long before other possibilities come up. Was the drink originally intended for Veronika? If so, that opens up an entirely new line of questioning. Was it intended for Algård, and Veronika used as a pawn? That’s a possibility too. It turns out to be a much more complicated case than it seems on the surface.

Caterers and event planners have certainly carved out a place for themselves in today’s professions. And they’ve made an impression in crime fiction, too. Which ones have stayed with you?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jerry Herman’s Just Leave Everything to Me.


Filed under Diane Mott Davidson, Gail Bowen, Isis Crawford, Jill Edmondson, Mari Jungstedt, Marla Cooper

21 responses to “I’ll Arrange For Making All Arrangements*

  1. Tim

    Do you think this caters to a small audience (with no pun intended) since so many readers are not likely to have either the kinds of events or the amounts of money needed for caterers? Of course, I may be speaking from a limited perspective: I just po’ folk and ain’t got the cabbage for any of them fancy dinner parties or events.

    • Interesting question, Tim. I think people of more modest means might use a caterer for a major life event, such as a wedding. But you make a salient point about the sort of market that event planners and high-end caterers attract.

  2. Talk about a very niche market in crime fiction! I can’t think of any additional example, but it is of course an area which is ripe with possibilities…

    • I think it is, too, Marina Sofia. All sorts of opportunities when you have groups of people, the stress of a big event, the whole thing. And, of course, caterers and planners tend to remain in the background during events, and stay rather anonymous. That, too, has its possibilities…

  3. I do like the sound of The Wandering Soul Murders but can’t think of any catering specific crimes although there are a few in the forerunner in the good old days when the women used to bring food for street parties and village fetes, although maybe that’s more in UK fiction and in the days before health and safety!!

    • I don’t think it’s just the UK, Cleo. I can remember a time in the States when people would bring food for a charity event, or a street party. Now, as you say, there are health codes and safety concerns.

      As to The Wandering Soul Murders, that’s the third in the Joanne Kilbourn (Shreve) series, and I recommend those novels very highly. Terrific and authentic Canadian setting, fine characters, solid story arcs that don’t overtake the mystery plots, and well-plotted mysteries, too.

  4. There was another cosy series in the 1990’s by Jerrilyn Farmer that featured a caterer working in LA – I liked it because I was visiting LA a lot then and the stories were not typical LA – e.g. one of them focused on the visit of the Pope to the city.

    Even though I definitely did not grow up going to catered events (my parents hosted an annual New Year party which I considered very glamorous because there was punch but my mother and her friends did all the cooking) I wouldn’t have thought of this as too much of a niche audience, especially these days. Even if nothing else formal events such as weddings are much more likely to be catered or held at venues which supply the food (unlike in my parents’ day when it was quite ordinary to have the reception in someone’s back yard).

    • You’re right, Bernadette, and I’d forgotten about Farmer’s Madeline Bean series. I’m really glad you mentioned that series, as I’d left a gap there.

      It’s interesting, too, about catering and event planning. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if using a professional like that is a lot more common now than it was in the past. Like you, when I was growing up, it was really common to have receptions in back yards, or perhaps in a local church hall, and people brought the food. I don’t see that nearly so much now. I wonder if it’s because of busy work schedules (i.e. no time to do that sort of cooking), or simply no interest in it. It’s an interesting phenomenon, though.

  5. I’m reminded of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, and her grandmother who liked to go to viewings at funeral parlours, and to funerals, for the catering. Also Susan Wittig Albert’s herbal series, where China Bayles takes up multiple extra careers including catering.

    • Those are both great examples, Countrycrime, for which thanks. I’ve always thought Evanovich’s Grandma Mazur character both interesting and quirky without being ‘over the top.’ And you’re quite right about China Bayles, too. Thanks for the reminders.

  6. Margot, a potent concoction served to an unintended victim at the dinner table certainly comes to mind. I didn’t realise catering and event management could be dangerous business!

  7. tracybham

    I bought a copy of Jill Edmondson’s Blood and Groom at the last book sale because I have been wanting to try that series. But the book cover is shocking covered with dripping blood. Please tell me that the story is not that gory.

    • I promise, it’s not, Tracy. Really. And I don’t have much of a high threshold for gore. There’s violence, because it’s a murder mystery. But it’s not gory.

  8. Col

    Not something I can recall crossing paths with in my reading.

  9. Pingback: Writing Links 3/6/17 – Where Genres Collide

  10. Marina Sofia nails it above – there is no niche too small for you to find a list of examples, where most of us would struggle to find one. I will put in a word again for Blanche, one of my favourites. In the Barbara Neely books she often works as the help at big fancy parties and events.

    • She does work as ‘extra help,’ in some of those books, Moira; glad you filled in that gap for me. And that gives her all sorts of opportunities to sleuth (and Neely opportunities for story lines).

  11. Sorry, you lost me. I can’t think of even one example. I know the drill. Back of the class. I’m on my way.

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