Food and Crime Fiction: Anthony Bourdain’s Crime Fiction Novels

Anthony Bourdain's Crime Fiction Novels_NovelSuspects_ArticleCelebrity chef, TV personality, travel writer, irreverent culinary adventurer, memoirist, novelist—Anthony Bourdain was not a man who confined himself to only one thing. He is most beloved and well-known for his gritty, honest memoirs about working in kitchens, as well as his many TV series, including the popular travel and cooking show Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. But he wasn’t only a fast-talking chef with a sharp eye and a remarkable ability to capture the sometimes grim and sometimes beautiful realities of the culinary world. In fact, his first published book wasn’t the bestselling food memoir Kitchen Confidential, but Bone in the Throat, a surprisingly funny and charming work of crime fiction. Most readers (and food lovers) wouldn’t associate Anthony Bourdain with mystery and suspense books, but Bone in the Throat and his second crime novel, Gone Bamboo, deserve as much attention as his more popular works of nonfiction.

Bone in the Throat, Bourdain’s debut, was first published in 1995. Naturally, it’s about food. Tommy Pagana is a new chef eager to prove himself in New York City’s elite restaurant scene. But when he can’t find the perfect restaurant job, he agrees to help out his uncle, and takes a job at his restaurant in Little Italy. Tommy has no idea that the mob is tied up with the restaurant, a fact he discovers only when they stage a murder in the kitchen. Trying to stay alive, keep his job, and do right by his conscience is a lot harder than anything he ever had to do in culinary school. This action-packed romp is exactly what fans of Bourdain might expect from his fiction: it’s funny, sharp, chaotic, and full of scenes set in the kitchen.

A few years later, in 1998, Bourdain published a follow-up crime novel, Gone Bamboo. The setting and tone are quite unlike Bone in the Throat although this one also features a culinary character. It revolves around a couple, Henry and Frances, who live a dreamy life in the Caribbean—as professional assassins. When one of Henry’s jobs goes wrong, he gets caught up in a web of trouble that gets more and more tangled—and unbelievable—as the novel goes on. The beautiful, seemingly-perfect Caribbean setting, flawed but compelling characters, and laugh-out-loud moments of absurdity make this book a whole lot of fun.

It’s obvious that Bourdain’s long career in food informed and inspired both of his mystery books. After attending the Culinary Institute of America, Bourdain went on to work in and run various restaurant kitchens in New York. Bone in the Throat is set in a cutthroat New York restaurant kitchen, and it’s easy to see some parallels between the fictional Little Italy restaurant and the real ones Bourdain wrote about in his memoirs. And while Gone Bamboo is not as directly concerned with the culinary world, it features the same frenetic energy, outrageous situations, over-the-top humor, and gritty determination that colors so much of Bourdain’s work, both in film and literature. Fans of Bourdain’s better-known books will definitely recognize his unique style in his crime fiction.

Anthony Bourdain has left behind an incredible legacy of work, and his impact on the culinary world is undeniable. His larger-than-life personality made him into a kind of culinary rockstar. While he may be most remembered for traveling through India, Iceland, Japan, Peru, Ghana, and dozens of other countries in search of the best and weirdest food, his foray into crime writing deserves recognition as well. His love of food, interest in different food cultures, and eagerness for adventure comes through loud and clear in his fiction.

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