Food and wine mix with crime in Campion’s Murder on the Mediterranean, his fifth novel featuring French policewoman Capucine le Tellier and her epicurean husband, Alexandre de Huguelet.
How did you become an expert on French food?
I’m Brazilian by birth. I moved to France after college; it was supposed to be for six months, but I stayed for 30 years. I was a management consultant and investment banker. A lot of business takes place in restaurants. If you call Joe Shmo of XYZ Co. to talk, the formula is to invite him to a three-star restaurant. From the banker’s point of view, the more lavish the meal, the better. And every Frenchman knows that the wine comes first.
Do you think people are more knowledgeable about food than they used to be?
Absolutely. French food is hidebound by tradition, and the more interesting food is in New York these days. For decades America was “foodless.” Now it’s becoming the food capital of the world.
Which came first for you, the crime or the menu?
The crime came first. There really is a Capucine, or at least a model for her. I had lunch with a woman who worked for a large company that has a private detective force. I saw how she was prepared to “move in” when something happened at an event. And I thought it would be fun to write a book exploring such a character.
How do you keep the characters in a series interesting?
There’s a trick to writing stock figure books. First off, nobody really evolves. Secondly, in each book certain characters must appear and behave the way readers expect them to. That conditions the plot. It’s very difficult to make characters evolve, and that boxes you in. The genius of Agatha Christie is that Miss Marple is always interesting. The mystery market is almost a market of addicts. Readers have certain expectations that you as an author feel obliged to meet.
What’s next for Capucine?
In addition to being interested in food, I talk politics a lot. In book #6, she will get promoted and move closer to the world of politics. She’ll also have children. And her husband will have trouble coping with the evolution. I’m planning on continuing for 12 books. We’ll see an older Capucine who is a mother.
Do you cook meals like the ones Capucine and Alexandre eat?
My wife and I love to make meals like those in the book, but cooking is not easy. We succeed at some hard things. But we’ve never been able to make fries as good as McDonald’s.