Many 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.