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.)
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