No, this is not about foodie books. It’s about my calling that last book, Sandrine’s Case, “literary crime.” To me, “literary” is a very broad and ambiguous adjective to be added to a genre, and the term “fiction” is way too broad to be useful. So I think of “literary” as being a word like “gourmet,” and just as I can eat a formula hamburger or a gourmet one, so too I can read a formula western or a more literary one. I generally don’t want to go out and eat “gourmet” food – I want to go out to eat Mexican or American or Californian or Southern – gourmet is an added attraction, or deterrent from, comfort food. I can have a Duncan Hines box chocolate cake with canned frosting or I can have a gourmet chocolate cake with a cooked butter-chocolate glaze. They’re both still chocolate cakes. Just as gourmet is not a food, so too, literary is not a genre and fiction is the equivalent of dessert. (By my rules.)
I’ve read several literary crime books (I really enjoy these) – Benjamin Black (John Bancroft) is noted for his style, Sandrine’s Case gets that adjective for the literary allusions and the life-styles of the main characters, Samuel and Sandrine – Sam’s attitude, his snobbish intellectual arrogance, particularly. Donna Tartt’s The Secret History is also a campus crime novel along these lines. Josephine Tey’s masterpiece is about crime in history – very different from the conventions.
Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler are more classic now – I’d say classic crime although years ago they might have been more literary than classic for their changes to the genre of crime novels.
Bottom line I think it’s a book-by-book judgement call.