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Murder on the Gravy Train Hardcover – July 7, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Add to the burgeoning cohort of culinary-themed mysteries Phyllis Richman's Murder on the Gravy Train, which provides a second outing for her restaurant reviewer-sleuth, Chas (née Charlotte Sue) Wheatley.

Richman, the restaurant reviewer for The Washington Post, is ideally suited to supply a vivid glimpse of the terrain where big-city culinary and newspaper worlds intersect, and offers a tempting brew of the pleasures and politics of both. Added to the mix is a tale of blackmail, extortion, spying, corruption, and (let's not forget) murder--several times over.

When the chef at one of Washington's most popular new restaurants disappears, Wheatley's curiosity is piqued. No one is forthcoming about his whereabouts, and, almost worse, the restaurant's food, minus the chef, is terribly off. Wheatley takes it upon herself to track down the chef and discovers a widening pool of foul play. In her search, we learn about the illicit side of the restaurant business (readers will think twice about ordering bottled water when they dine out next), and the often-nasty machinations of newsroom life (spying and story thievery). We are also exposed to the bureaucratic yet gruesome grind of a typical homicide department (decayed bodies without ID, for example).

Richman's narrative reads like a semi-autobiographical roman à clef: culinary insiders, real and would-be, will delight in her up-front-and-personal food-world asides. In fact, anyone who enjoys food and foul play--a heady combination--should relish this tale of both, nicely spun out by an author of appetite and imagination. --Arthur Boehm

From Publishers Weekly

Washington, D.C., restaurant reviewer Chas Wheatley (The Butter Did It) returns in this eye-opening expos? of price-gouging in the dining industry. After a disastrous blind date with a waiter who hints that he knows secrets about restaurant corruption, Chas's luck turns when her editor offers her a syndicated food column. Inspired by her date, she plans her inaugural piece as an investigation of the nefarious practices some restaurants use to bilk their customers. What she uncovers will make readers who regularly dine out more cautious: the scams range from well-publicized credit card ploys to little-known pressure tactics taught to waiters during special classes. As she goes about collecting information, Chas hears that a chef whose dishes she admires has been fired for beating up a female co-worker. Soon afterward, the woman's body is found in the Tidal Basin, and Chas's friend, homicide detective Homer Jones, takes up the case, arresting the chef for murder. Chas isn't convinced he's guilty, however, especially when she realizes that the morgue also holds the body of her blind dateAthe waiter had been strangled and left without ID. Despite the distractions of her brief romance with a younger man and her dinners with Homer and his girlfriend, Chas finds time to sleuth to a successful conclusion. Blending mouth-watering descriptions of foods galore, subtle clues and a serious look at the responsibilities of restaurants, Richman whips up a frothy confection that, despite a bit of stiff writing here and there, should satiate most connoisseurs of food-oriented crime. Agent, Bob Barnett. Author tour. (Aug.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (July 7, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006018390X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060183905
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,880,409 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 13, 1999
Format: Hardcover
In her second mystery novel, Washington Post food critic Phyllis Richman's story and characters shine and soar. It starts out with a bang and just never lets up. It's a treat to be allowed to peek into the world of a newspaper restaurant critic (a job "to die for" in more ways than one) and go behind the scenes to discover the seemier side of fine dining. Readers who liked "The Butter Did It," will be thrilled with "Murder on the Gravy Train." Those who missed "Butter" should just hop right on the "Gravy Train" for a terrific ride.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Carol Peterson Hennekens on June 14, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The real fun of Phyllis Richman's series about Chas Wheatley is all of the insider tips about the restaurant business. For that alone, this book is worth the time it takes to read. In this book Chas is working on a series of columns about how restaurants manipulate (if not plain cheat) their customers to spend much more money than planned.
The problem with this book stems from this same subject. At times, Richman loses sight of her fiction writing and writes with a lecturer's tone. It's a mixed blessing as the information is often fascinating. Still, it disturbs the pacing of the fictional plot. The plot/mystery in this book is a bit far-fetched but the book is set in Washington D.C. It's being to appear that almost anything can happen there.
Bottom-line: A fun read for anyone who engages in recreational restauranting. Reading of her first book "The Butter Did It" would be helpful but isn't critical.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Robert Edler on August 19, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
OK, I admit it, I'm a junk food junkie and my dining out usually usually takes me to only the finest four star workaurants. But that doesn't stop me from reading and salivating over every restaurant review I see. The same goes for most of the programs on The Food Network! So naturally, Phyllis Richman's book was written for me and me alone. (OK, you can read it, too!)
To get down to the basic facts, Chas Wheatley is a food critic for a D.C. newspaper who just happens to leave a trail of dead bodies behind her as she eats her way from one four star restaurant to the next. Realizing that something is rotten in the Danish, she sets out to solve the culinary crime capers that are being served up around her.
Ms. Richman is a very witty writer and I enjoyed her bright and gossip-filled style. I also enjoyed all the insider tips on the behind the scene secret going-ons of restaurant operations that she adds to her story telling! And I always thought the stories of the White Castle pickle barrel were an urban myth.
Once you get a taste of this book you'll probably be buying the other books in the series just like I'm doing.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By MixedUpMutt on February 20, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the 2nd in the series chronicling the day to day life of the restaurant critic Chas Wheatley. If you've ever been involved in the restaurant business or even if you've eaten at a restaurant this light mystery will keep you reading. The characters are colorful and the plot keeps you smiling and more then often trying to determine what culinary creations one should cook up for dinner!
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 27, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I've read better, and I've read worse. This book begins in a very appealing way, and I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes stuff about restaurants and newsrooms, but I nearly stopped reading when the character Robert appeared on page 70. He just did not work for me. Richman jumps through preposterous hoops to make him socially acceptable while keeping him driving that taxicab. Moreover, what Chas Wheatley found romantic about him, I found slimy. There is no way I would want to rest my head on that guy's shoulder. I did eventually finish the book, but my pleasure in it increased or diminished depending on whether Robert was on the scene.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 15, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Someone gave me a copy of this book a few weeks ago, and I finally picked it up -- and thought it was a really fun read. I loved all the references to real restaurants and chefs. The main character is a smart-yet-sensitive professional woman whose interactions with all types of men struck me as honest and believable. I actually think this book would make a great movie!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 21, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
I very much enjoyed this second Chas Wheatley mystery, which I hope the author will continue as a lengthy series. I liked the new characters and although the murders themselves weren't described in great detail, I think the strategy works in that my desire to read from a foodie's perspective was greater than my desire to read a grisly murder mystery. I am also glad that some of the characters from "The Butter Did It" were reprised. I love the vicarious thrill of seeing the restaurant industry from the inside!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Linda G. Shelnutt VINE VOICE on April 2, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Phyllis Richman's Chas Wheatley comes into her own in MURDER ON THE GRAVY TRAIN.

Her "own" is one of the best dramatizations of the ferociously functional female who's been developed every-which-way in every genre, from historic romances to futuristic female cops side-genres (Nora Robert's JD Robb series). This type (not tin) is female in the vulnerable, sensitive, insecure, even "needy" sense; but she always, always, always gets the job done, and often struts across a screen or pounds over paper pages in a honed Macho Act, oiled, skinny muscles gleaming out of cut-off sleeves of a skin-tight-tank-top.

Wheatley wears this character balance of vulnerability/visceral-ability with a "va va voom" of perfection; add the bonus of Chas teetering on the edge of 50 with a voluptuous body (frumpy when mood's sour) which is ages beyond Twiggy in garnering appeal.

In all 3 of Phyllis Richman's novels Chas personifies perfection of this female blend of strength toned with uncovered insecurity (if I wanted to be politically correct I'd religiously replace the word "insecurity" with "vulnerability" or "emotionally spirited"). Yet, possibly what makes Gravy Train the epitome in this development is that Chas is dealing with in-her-face detail with a separation from the love of her life, fellow journalist, the sexy-sensitive-macho Dave. Her emotional machinations are well done; I was successfully strung along throughout the plot, wondering how this situation will be resolved.

Okay, spit it out, Linda:

In being the "T" of this luscious female dichotomy, Chas is the best example of what most authors push to personify in the concept of human heroine.
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