Get Cooking with Mystery Author Nancy J. Cohen
By Dawn Ius
Social events often revolve around food, so it’s natural for an amateur sleuth to review a case over coffee or lunch with a friend, or slide in a question over dinner—and if there’s one thing the amateur sleuth in Nancy J. Cohen’s Bad Hair Day mystery series loves more than solving crimes, it’s food.
“Marla loves to cook, so she follows recipes while discussing clues with her homicide detective husband,” Cohen says. “On the personal side, she’ll meet her mother or best friend for lunch or participate in a holiday dinner where suspects are discussed and new leads are suggested. So food plays an important role in a mystery.”
That’s certainly been the case for this series, which began 15 books ago with 1999’s Permed to Death. In it, we meet Marla Vail, a hair stylist and salon owner who feels compelled to solve the mystery of grumpy Mrs. Kravitz—a client who dies in Marla’s shampoo chair.
“I researched the hairstylist profession by observing my stylist and asking her lots of questions, subscribing to a trade journal, and attending a beauty show,” Cohen says. “The salon is the perfect place to eavesdrop on other conversations, plus women confide in their hairdressers. Marla, a caring listener, has a way of encouraging people to talk.”
She also knows her way around the kitchen, and Cohen uses this skill—and her love of food—as a way to deepen characterization, provide positivity to counter murder, and help to vary the tension in a novel. A romantic dinner, for instance, is the perfect way to slow down the pacing and introduce a subplot, Cohen says.
Food became such an integral part of the series, Cohen started including recipes in the books. And that, in turn, culminated in Cohen’s latest release: THE BAD HAIR DAY COOKBOOK.
The recipes themselves are a product of Cohen’s personal love of cooking and experimenting with food. She also likes to dine out and attend cooking classes, all of which contributed to what went into the book.
“The recipes in my cookbook are either modified from recipes I’ve gleaned from friends, family, or magazine clippings, or they’re my own creation,” Cohen says. “Many are recipes handed down from my mother.” Such as Cohen’s favorite, a specialty soup that includes beans, vegetables, and a somewhat secret blend of spices.
Cohen hopes the book will serve as a legacy for her children, but she also wanted it to appeal to fans of her mystery series so she peppered in comments from her sleuth’s viewpoint.
“That was fun and gave me some new insights into Marla’s family dynamics. And for folks not familiar with the mystery series, I included excerpts from my books at the end of each category,” she says. “A special entry was written by my mother involving a Sabbath dinner ritual she experienced growing up in Denver. Watching my mom in the kitchen is what taught me how to cook, along with a few years of high school home economics in the days when this subject was included in the curriculum.”
For those looking to give this cookbook as a gift this holiday season—or to stuff in their own stocking—THE BAD HAIR DAY COOKBOOK includes a special section on themed menus and special occasion meals.
It’s a comprehensive guide to food—with plenty of mouth-watering recipes—but fans of Cohen’s mysteries need not fret: Cohen is back to writing the next novel in her series, Easter Hair Hunt. In it, an Easter egg hunt at a historic manor turns deadly when Marla discovers the body of a costumed hare.
Until then, readers can dive into Cohen’s latest series title, Trimmed to Death, which features a food-centric theme.
“Marla enters a bake-off contest at a farm festival and discovers another contestant dead in the strawberry field,” she says. “Hair Raiser, #2 in the series, also follows a food theme. Marla’s cousin is in charge of a Taste of the World holiday gala, but someone is removing the chefs from the slate one by one. Somewhere along the way, I started including recipes at the backs of my books. I can’t help writing about food.”