Peter King Essay - Critical Essays


Peter King writes two distinctly different kinds of mysteries. His Gourmet Detective series investigates food as much or perhaps even more so than it does crime, which usually includes murder. The Gourmet Detective is hired to perform a job related to food, ranging from authenticating a rare spice to revising a medieval menu to teaching a cooking class. Without fail, he becomes involved in solving a crime.

King follows a basic formula in writing his culinary mysteries. The Gourmet Detective (who remains nameless) always narrates the story in first person, from his point of view. He meets and becomes interested in one or more attractive women whom he meets in the course of his food-related quest. Most of the time the romantic adventure simply plays out in his mind, but on occasion, the romantic interlude becomes reality. Inevitably, a theft, a murder, or both occur as the Gourmet Detective is doing his food-related investigation, and he becomes involved in a police investigation. Therefore, the Gourmet Detective—who is always explaining that he is not really a detective—is doing just what a detective does and often risking his life in the process.

The Gourmet Detective is extremely personable. In spite of his tendency to be slightly pompous and overly impressed with himself, he is a very likeable character. Readers are quickly caught up in his enthusiasm for the culinary experiences that he is enjoying and the adventures, which add excitement to his life. King surrounds his principal character with unusual, eccentric supporting characters who flesh out the narration of his adventures. The members of the Circle of Careme in The Gourmet Detective, the eccentric Italian chefs of Death al Dente (1999), and the WITCHES (a group of female restaurant owners) in Roux the Day (2002) imbue the mysteries with a humorous tone.

In his Jack London series, King combines characters drawn from real life with fictional ones to create fast-moving, action-packed adventures. His main character is the real-life author Jack London. In the series, London works with the San Francisco police to solve crimes and to foil criminal plots. Although the stories are foremost hard-hitting adventures filled with danger and a considerable amount of violence, King allows London to digress in contemplation of his real profession, that of a writer. London describes his difficulty in creating female characters, how he draws on his own experiences to write his stories, and other aspects of the difficulty of writing as well as his love of his profession.

The setting of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast in the 1890’s is colorful and creates a realistic atmosphere. Just as the Gourmet Detective series is filled with details of the places the detective goes, so the Jack London mysteries are copiously detailed and bring places to life. Saloons, pleasure palaces, and the wharf play a role equal to that of the characters.

The Gourmet Detective

In his first mystery novel, The Gourmet Detective, King combines a tale of mystery with references to mystery writers and famous mystery characters and food information and recipes to create a novel with a threefold interest. Readers are interested in solving the mystery; the shared facts about mystery writing enable them to participate in the novel as insiders; and the commentary on gourmet dining entertains them with a look at a specialized field.

King’s skill in creating eccentric humorous characters who remain believable is already apparent in this novel. The two supposedly...

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