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Coolabah  2011 

The Sharpest Knives in the Drawer

Keywords: detective fiction , cookery , gender

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Cooking is a gender marker. Just as the best chefs in the world aretraditionally men, post-hard-boiled literary detectives such as Vázquez Montalban’sCarvalho, or Robert B. Parker’s Spenser are gourmet cooks, while George Pelecanos’ssleuthing protagonists were as often as not brought up in short order Greek diners andknow their way around a kitchen. Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins is quite capable ofputting together a nutritious meal for his family, as is James Lee Burke’s DaveRobicheaux. Sadly, in confirmation of the gender divide, the same cannot be said forwomen detectives. While Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski will reluctantly and withmuch griping put a simple meal on the table if absolutely forced to, Sue Grafton’sKinsey Millhone and Linda Barnes’s Carlotta Carlyle would not be seen dead slavingover a hot stove and subsist mainly on takeaway pizzas and hamburgers. Indeed, KinseyMillhone would probably have died of malnutrition halfway through the alphabet if itwere not for her neighbour, Henry, a retired baker, who regularly supplies her withdecent home-cooked meals.Authors such as Vázquez Montalban and Robert B. Parker delight in providing recipesfor their readers which are lovingly put together by their protagonists (especially inSpenser’s case whose culinary prowess is consistently contrasted to his girlfriend’s utterinability even to slice an onion), or by their male friends. In 1999 Vázquez Montalbanpublished Las recetas de Carvalho which achieved such popularity it was reissued in2004 by Planeta. It is not known whether any women detectives or their authors mightclaim as much.Clearly something is afoot. The sharpest knives in the detectives’ kitchen drawers arewielded by men, their traditional solitary nature ensuring the broth remains unspoiledand the villains well grilled. Overcompensation for gender stereotyping by both sideswould seem an easy, half-baked explanation. Is it really that simple?


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