I’m sure you know the feeling. It’s been a long day, and you just don’t feel like cooking, or going out. So, what’s the answer? Takeaway or delivery, especially if you don’t have anything microwaveable at home. Delivery places have been especially busy in the last year or so, as we weren’t able to go to indoor, sit-down restaurants for so long, and especially since online ordering is so easy now. And they can be a terrific alternative to going to the trouble of cooking. It’s no wonder they’re popular, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that we see a lot of them in crime fiction.
In Emma Lathen’s Murder to Go, for instance, we get an inside look at a fast-food chicken franchise, Chicken Tonight. Their target market is people who don’t feel like cooking, but who do want chicken with ‘home cooked’ taste for dinner. The company’s just launched a new product, Chicken Mexicali, and it’s become very popular. It’s good timing, too, because the company is looking at a merge with Southeastern Insurance, and its stock will improve with this new venture. Everything changes, though, when some customers are sickened by the new recipe. There’s even a death. At first, former delivery drive Clyde Sweeney is suspected, and he could have poisoned the recipe before it left the warehouse. But when he goes missing and is later found dead, the police have to look elsewhere. Sloan Guaranty Trust is overseeing the merger, and the bank has an interest in finding out the truth about what’s been going on. So, John Putnam Thatcher, a company vice president, investigates. He finds out that someone else has an interest in sabotaging Chicken Tonight.
Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire lives in the small town of Durant, Wyoming, and serves fictional Absaroka County. Durant’s a small town, but it boasts the Busy Bee Café, one of the town’s watering holes. It’s owned and managed by Dorothy Caldwell, who’s run the place
‘…since Christ had been a cowboy.’
The local police station relies on the Bee for takeout and delivery, since it’s nearby. And it’s not just the staff, either. When there are prisoners there, they get food from the same place. It’s convenient for the Longmire and his team and for Dorothy Caldwell.
There’s a classic image – almost a stereotype – of the fictional cop who lives on fast food. And some of them do, of course. For instance, Katherine Howell’s Ella Marconi is a police detective who lives and works in Sydney. Her hours are long and sometimes very unpredictable, so she doesn’t take a lot of time to cook. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t like good food, though. So, she relies on her local gourmet pizza place. 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.’
Of course, apps and online menus have made printed menus less vital, but still…
There are times, too, when sharing a takeaway/delivery meal can be a sort of bonding experience. Paddy Richardson’s Cross Fingers features Wellington journalist Rebecca Thorne. In this novel, she’s following up on a nearly thirty-year-old murder that happened during South Africa’s 1981 rugby tour of New Zealand. It was a controversial tour, because at the time, South Africa was still under apartheid, and many New Zealanders thought that the team shouldn’t be invited. Two dancers dressed as lambs came to some of the matches to entertain the crowds – until one of them was killed. Thorne is looking into this murder as well as another case; and, as you can imagine, she doesn’t have a lot of time to cook. So, one evening, she calls in an order for Indian food. As it turns out, the food is delivered by the company’s owner, Matt, who’s been quite successful in the fast food/takeaway/delivery business. The two get to talking, and they agree to meet again the next night, with him catering the meal. It’s an interesting way to begin a relationship, and it goes to show that you never know who’s going to be delivering your food.
Of course, I couldn’t do a post on crime-fictional fast food/takeaway/delivery without mentioning Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone. As fans know, she’s not one for cooking. She lives on fast food, deliveries, and meals at her friend Rosie’s restaurant. Here’s just one example of the way fast food and delivery is woven into this series. In K is for Killer, Millhone is hired to find out the truth behind the death of Lorna Kepler. As she starts finding out more about the victim, Millhone discovers that, although Lorna had a ‘day job,’ she was also an upmarket sex worker. That opens up a whole new avenue of leads, which is how Millhone meets a co-worker of Lorna’s named Danielle. Here’s a scene that takes place during a visit Danielle makes to Millhone’s apartment:
‘I [Millhone] said, “Speaking of which, you want dinner? I don’t cook, but I can have a pizza delivered. I have to go out in a bit, but you’re welcome to join me.”
“I wouldn’t mind some pizza,” she [Danielle] said. “If you just do the veggies, without all the sausage and pepperoni, it’s not even bad for you. Try that place around the corner. I bonk the owner sometimes. He gives me a big discount because I chew his bone.”
“I’ll mention that when I call the order in,” I said.’
Deliveries and takeaway can be really convenient. And there are plenty of people who have a steady diet of that sort of food. Little wonder it’s baked all through crime fiction. Oh, wait! Excuse me, the doorbell rang. I think my pizza’s here!
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Steely Dan’s Janie Runaway.