The enjoyment of great food and good company is one of life’s familiar pleasures. Including these kind of scenes in a novel can create the same relaxed enjoyment for the reader as the meals themselves. In a thriller they can be used to create the opposite feeling by stressing the absence of normal opportunities to rest and reenergize, keeping tension high. Pressure is created for the reader by keeping the characters sweaty, stressed and always on the move. In The Hacker, investigators race to find a master cybercriminal using the avatar, Dantalion. Any minute they delay is more opportunity for him to wreak damage. Their compulsion to run him down overrides all other aspects of life.
Eating becomes more of a refueling effort than dining, stopping just long enough to bolt sufficient food to keep going and return to the chase. This, combined with scant sleep for time or anything else places the reader in the head of the investigators and I hope, enables the reader to feel the tension as the characters do. But what are they eating?
Late at night in the lab:
Peering towards the door to ensure she was alone, she stopped to root through Tim’s desk and pirate a pair of granola bars from his bottom drawer. She munched on a bar without tasting it as she settled back into her chair.
Even when they do actually stop to eat, the case is always on their minds:
Tim nodded, waiting to speak as their food arrived. Their mouths watered at the smell of the thick burgers and double-fried chips. After a few huge bites, he leaned back. “I can start working on the material, but there’s an angle to all this we’re going to need to deal with before we go to a judge.
Using deprivation as a mechanism to create tension emphasizes the very few times in the book, when the lead investigator, Ericka Blackwood, slows down enough for introspection, to let herself feel what the chase is doing to her:
They faced each other over the antique table, set with cream, sugar, toast and the old woman’s own marmalade, the comforting scent of breakfast blended with the small, potted flowers near the window. The well of strength that had brought her back while she was suspended. The old woman had moved in below Ericka’s top-floor condo, helping her fill the days and quickly becoming her confidante and counsellor. Mrs. Donnelly’s eyes narrowed as she sipped, the rising sun’s glow on the horizon in the window behind her.
Part of what I hope to bring to the reader in The Hacker is a sense of just how much must be sacrificed in an active police investigation, particularly in the cyber world. I have tried to leverage my three decades as a prosecutor, working with police and seeing the effects their work has on them to bring home to the reader the unyielding stress they deal with in the middle of a big investigation. My hope is that it engages the reader in the chase, making each step they take more compelling as the story unfolds. Food is part of that narrative.
Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Dan!