What is dark humor?
When my daughter was a toddler, she had a joke that never failed to leave her collapsed in gales of uncontrollable laughter. It was all in her timing as she delivered the punchline—and indeed, the entire joke—”Pig poo!” As she grew older, her sense of humor (thankfully) matured as well. But that first impulse to laugh, even nervously, at things that are sensitive, forbidden, or just plain dark, persists. Like it, love it, or hate it, but dark humor is funny.
As Wikipedia defines it, “Popular themes of the genre include murder, suicide, depression, abuse, mutilation, war, religion, barbarism, drug abuse, terminal illness, domestic violence, rape, homosexuality, incest, pedophilia, child sexual abuse, insanity, nightmares, disease, racism, homophobia, sexism, disability (both physical and mental), chauvinism, terrorism, genocide, political corruption, torture, and crime.” [NOTE: in England, this list also includes queue jumping and persons who speak out loud in the theater.] What could possibly be funnier?
From Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal (that the ‘Irish Problem’ could be solved by allowing poor Irish parents to sell their excess children to rich people as a food source) to Monty Python’s well… everything… to just about any comedian working standup today, darkness is a staple of the humor genre.
(You know you laughed…)
Blurb: Cooking for Cannibals by Rich Leder
Fountain of youth? More like murderous medication!
Carrie Kromer pushes the boundaries of science, not her social life. The brilliant behavioral gerontologist’s idea of a good time is hanging out with her beloved lab rats and taking care of her elderly mother and the other eccentric old folks at the nursing home. So no one is more surprised than Carrie when she steals the lab’s top-secret, experimental medicine for aging in reverse.
Two-time ex-con Johnny Fairfax dreams of culinary greatness. But when his corrupt parole officer tries to drag him from the nursing home kitchen, the suddenly young-again residents spring to his defense and murder the guy—and then request Johnny cook them an evidence-devouring dinner to satisfy their insatiable side-effect appetite.
As their unexpected mutual attraction gets hot, Carrie and Johnny find themselves caught up with the authorities who arrive to investigate the killing. But even more dangerous than the man-eating not-so-senior citizens could be the arrival of death-dealing pharmaceutical hitmen.
Can Carrie and Johnny find true love in all this bloody madness?
Cooking for Cannibals is a dark comic thriller with a heaping helping of romance. If you like fast-paced plots, unconventional characters, and humor that crosses the line, then you’ll have a feast with Rich Leder’s wild ride.
Buy Cooking for Cannibals and dig in to a side-splitting serving today!
What does the fountain (or at least the pharmacopoeia) of youth have to do with cannibals, hitmen, the Greek Gods, and every romcom ever written? Rent control, of course.
As usual, Rich Leder can’t help himself. He takes a merciless laugh-till-whatever-you’re-drinking-spurts-out-your-nose look at genres I usually loathe, and I just can’t get enough.
In his latest book, Cooking for Cannibals, Leder gives us two lovers who should be terminally star-crossed but are just kind of pathetic. Until they aren’t.
Carrie is a brilliant scientist and confirmed wallflower whose lovelife has never really taken off. Johnny is an ex-con butcher skating the edges of the three-strikes rule and a return to prison. She wants to take care of her mother and her pet lab rats (named for Greek Gods). He wants to be a chef. Their meet-cute? The realization that Carrie’s father—”…a sullen research biologist—and a mean drunk” and Johnny’s unwilling adoptive father had both died on their children’s respective twenty-first birthdays. Kismet, right?
There’s just one problem. Carrie’s mother Joanna is dying from old age, and she’s not happy about it.
When I see God, she occasionally thought, I’m going to kick Him in the nuts, see how He likes it.
Thanks to West Hollywood (WeHo) having the most aggressive rent control statutes in all of California, Joanna is actually doing her dying—along with a posse of fellow very-senior citizens—at the Copacabana, a rent-controlled retirement hotel in the middle of trendy, upscaling Hollywood. (See–I told you this was about rent control.) Actually, there are a bunch of problems, including:
- Carrie’s mad-scientist boss, who invented a pill that reverses the effects of old age, which Carrie stole and administered to her mother and the Copacabana crew, causing the Russians and the Chinese—who each thought they were funding the secret lab and solely entitled to its results—to send their top psychopathic contractors to recover the missing miracle pills and ‘clean up’ the info spill in a blood-soaked rampage through Hollywood and its environs. [I know: this sentence isn’t just run-on; it’s left the barn, crossed the county line, and is halfway to the next state by now. Bite me.]
- An emerging side effect of the pills means the better-than-rejuvenated Copacabana residents have these cravings—for sex, thrills, booze, and massive quantities of meat cooked by rockstar cafeteria chef Johnny. And then the darkest craving of all emerges…
- This is actually convenient because when Johnny’s massively fat parole officer tries to extort money by threatening to send their favorite chef back to prison, the officer is killed by the Copa crew. The only way to cover up the crime, they decide, is to consume the evidence in an orgy of flesh feasting.
- Carrie and Johnny bond over the dismemberment and cooking process. Corpses begin to pile up, leading to more butchering, cooking, and feasting. And more bonding, because love is sweet and, occasionally, icky.
- Between heroism, desperation, and more than one episode of equally rejuvenated Greek God rats eating the faces of victims… well, let’s just say Carrie and Johnny’s love story hits some snags you don’t find in most romcoms.
Cooking for Cannibals is full of side riffs featuring Hollywood stereotypes like a killer and his intended victim arguing about who does the best Gene Hackman impression, or a failed screenwriter gambling everything in search of the perfect story. (I particularly loved the logline for his last script pitch:
It’s an action thriller with space aliens and vampires and zombies surfing in the channel after it rains for forty days and forty nights. Basically apocalyptic blood sport with lots of sex. Pretty much no dialogue. Sweet romance in the middle. Couple kids trying to fall in love while the world blows up and everybody drowns.
There are even subtle echoes of the old Barry Manilow Copacabana song, including the hard-drinking parking lot attendant who thirty years ago had been a showgirl. “She sits there so refined, and drinks herself half-blind.” And of course, there’s an impossibly elaborate setup for a pun, “In my neighborhood, you did not bring a gun to a knife fight.”
But this is more than a dark reboot of another Flowers For Algernon story where characters learn their super-enhanced new abilities leave them more isolated than ever. Cooking for Cannibals has a different message, of second chances to get it right this time. “They hadn’t reached for the stars when it counted, not any of them, and their regret had been brought into impossibly sharp focus by the chance to do it again.” Best of all, even when the trope plays to its inevitable conclusion, author Rich Leder pulls off the last minute, wonderful, hopeful twist that we all need in a read during these pandemic times.
I just can’t recommend Cooking for Cannibals highly enough. The language is bad, the bad guys are despicable, the old folks are randy, the love story is everything you could sort of wish for in a book where rats kill by peeling the flesh off their victims, and the laughs are nonstop.
Book Title: Cooking for Cannibals
Author: Rich Leder
Genre: Black Comic Romantic Thriller
Length: 341 pages
Release Date: Laugh Riot Press (14 January 2021)