Murder on the Gravy Train by Phyllis C. Richman, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Murder on the Gravy Train

Murder on the Gravy Train

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by Phyllis C. Richman

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Researching her new column, Chas Wheatley, a food writer with a taste for sleuthing, discovers sometning is rotten with Washington's most popular new restaurant. The head chef has gone missing, and not only is the food suffering, but no one can give her a straight answer as to his whereabouts.

It seems the chef isn't the only one who's mysteriously disappeared.


Researching her new column, Chas Wheatley, a food writer with a taste for sleuthing, discovers sometning is rotten with Washington's most popular new restaurant. The head chef has gone missing, and not only is the food suffering, but no one can give her a straight answer as to his whereabouts.

It seems the chef isn't the only one who's mysteriously disappeared. Bodies begin surfacing around the nation's capital, confounding the police. But Chas has a few advantages the cops can't possibly match: a clever eye for detail, a love of good gossip, a talent for digging up the truth, and connections in the newspaper and culinary worlds.

Diving further into the ivestigation, Chas delves deep into the underbelly of the culinary business and onto a twisted trail of deceit, blackmail, and murder only she can solve--that is, if she lives long enough....

"A frothy confection...should satiate most connoisseurs of food-oriented crime."(Publishers Weekly)

"A good book for the beach...Anyone who enjoyed The Butter Did It will enjoy the tart twists and odd ingredients in Richman's latest."(Washington Post)

"A delightful"(Dallas Morning News)

Editorial Reviews

Washington Post
A good book for the beach...Anyone who enjoyed The Butter Did It will enjoy the tart twists and odd ingredients in Richman's latest.
Dallas Morning News
A delightful
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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 date--the 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 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Don't let the cutesy title fool you into thinking this is another in a long line of fluffy culinary mysteries. Murder on the Gravy Train is set in Washington, DC, and the sleuth is the restaurant critic for the Washington Examiner. Chas Wheatley is a slightly overweight, middle-aged divorce whose brush with a blind date culled from a personal column lands her in the midst of a series of murders centered around a popular Washington restaurant. When she discovers the cigar lounge is bugged and an attempt is made on her life, Chas enlists the help of her friends a homicide investigator, another reporter, her daughter, and a handsome (and younger!) Lebanese taxi driver to uncover the identities of the blackmailers/murderers. What sets this story apart are the wonderful atmosphere and background descriptions of the mechanics of being a big-time critic and the professional jealousy rampant in any newsroom, as well as the underside of the restaurant biz. Susan O'Malley's smooth, involving narration is a big plus, and Blackstone is to be commended for using the book's colorful eye-catching cover art on its plastic cassette holder. Enthusiastically recommended for all libraries. Barbara Perkins, Irving P.L., TX Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Even though her boyfriend Dave Zeeger, ace investigative reporter for the Washington Examiner, has been so morose over repeatedly getting scooped by a rising twinkie that Chas Wheatley has asked him for a trial separation, things are looking up for Chas. Her boss Bull Stannard has announced the syndication of Chas's restaurant-review column and green-lighted a new series that will give her the freedom to review restaurants outside D.C.—and enable her to report on the sleazy service and marketing practices diners rarely see (though Washington Post restaurant reviewer Richman knows their every last detail). Chas's life would be just about perfect, in fact, if only (1) Dave would come crawling back to her, (2) somebody who feels threatened by the new series would quit leaving her threatening E-mails, and (3) Ottavio Rossi, the blind date whose personal ad she answered, hadn't excused himself from dinner to feed the meter and never returned. Unlike the gentle reader, Chas doesn't know that Rossi's dead, the first ingredient in a ragout of culinary skullduggery that will simmer for two hundred pages before getting connected, with mind-boggling sangfroid, to India's A-bomb, the Federal Reserve, and Monica Lewinsky. The mystery, in other words, is from hunger. But although voluptuous, engaging Chas hasn't slimmed down from The Butter Did It (1997), Richman has wisely sweated pounds off her debut's chitchat and recipes, and the half a hundred feasts that parade briskly in review will whet your appetite for more.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Chas Wheatley Mystery Series
Product dimensions:
4.23(w) x 6.77(h) x 0.94(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

"Just coffee, please. A decaf espresso." I wasn't going to spend unnecessary calories on this encounter. Nor was I going to risk losing sleep.

"I'll have the tiramisu," said my companion -- I use the term reluctantly. I should have guessed that this sallow, twitching guy with a frayed collar and happyface tie would order tiramisu in a deli.

Ottavio Rossi, despite the poetry of his name, was about as Italian as SpaghettiOs. I speculated on whether a man could be sued for false advertising in a personals ad. This "freshly divorced, optimistic, and glad-to-be-alive architect, recently moved to Washington, seeking company on walking tours of new city and new life" was actually a depressed looking waiter whose feet hurt. And he wasn't much of a talker. I wondered -- not for the first time -- how I, nearly fifty years old, could have been so crazy as to answer an ISO and arrange a meeting with a strange man just because he sounded funny and wise in his forty-three paid words.

Anger and curiosity make a dangerous stew.

For three weeks I'd been simmering, since I told my boyfriend, Dave -- by now, my ex-boyfriend -- that we needed to take a breather from our relationship until he was ready to pay it more respect.

What's made the breakup more complicated is that we both work at the same place, the Washington Examiner. I'm the restaurant critic, and Dave is -- or was-the star investigative reporter. In the past year, his star began dimming in favor of a newer, younger and female -- reporter, who uncannily scooped him at every turn. Understandably, he'd grown irritable. What's worse, he was increasinglyuncommunicative.

My usual view is that relationship problems should be solved within the relationship, but that wasn't happening.

"I've got to work this out myself," Dave would answer when I tried to get him to talk. Mr. Independent Go-It-Alone. Bob Woodward without Deep Throat.

He didn't even try to argue when I suggested a trial separation. He just stopped calling, started treating me like a stranger in the office, and immersed himself in his work. Then he wangled an out-of-town assignment to cover a long-running trial in San Francisco.

So I decided to pretend this breakup was an opportunity -- a time to satisfy my curiosity about those ISO acts my office mates and I often read to each other. At the moment, though, adventurousness seemed like an astonishingly bad idea.

Here I was, Chas Wheatley, a restaurant critic ever ready to mince a chef's ego to a duxelles, in this case too cowardly to make an excuse and dump Ottavio Rossi. I couldn't hurt the poor guy's feelings, even though he had virtually lied in describing himself and had almost nothing to say.

I'd been careful to arrange our meeting in a place that was public, but one where I was unlikely to cross paths with anyone I knew. I suggested we meet for coffee, which seemed like a safely limited encounter. And I'd never told him a name he might recognize, just introduced myself as Charlotte Sue, which is my real name but one that nobody ever uses

The really frustrating part was that although I'd scrupulously avoided the ads of any men who might be connected with the restaurant business, and assigned Ottavio extra points because he was new in town and we were unlikely to have acquaintances in common, now he told me he e 'd just made a career change. No sooner had he placed the personals ad in the newspaper, he said, than he'd lost his job. He was afraid of falling behind in his child-support pay ments, so he'd turned to the emergency income source of countless out-of-work actors and downsized corporation lawyers. He'd inimediately -- after telling a few lies about his experience, I suspectedsnagged a position as a waiter "in a big-time restaurant," he bragged, one where his Italian name had been "a major plus."

It got worse. Ottavio hadn't had an ordinary mainstream architecture job when he came to Washington. He was a kitchen designer. For restaurants.

I sat over my undrinkable bitter espresso and tried

to mak e the best of a bad situation. Maybe I couldlearn some worthwhile restaurant gossip. I quaked atthe idea of Ottavio regaling his fellow waiters withhaving met a restaurant critic through a personals ad,but since he hadn't asked a single thing about me yet,I hoped I might get away without his knowing who Ireally am.

Silently willing him to hurry up with his tiramisu, which he hadn't touched yet, I asked him where he was working.

"It's a pretty weird place, Charlotte.... May I call you Charlotte?"

What else could he call me, since that was the only name I'd given him? I nodded and smiled, assuming he would elaborate, but he didn't.

"How is it weird?" I prodded.

"Just weird. If only people knew what restaurants get out of them, they'd sure watch their backs."

Ottavio's eyes were riveted on his coffee and he silently stirred it. I began to count the intertwined boomerangs on the Formica table. just as I was about to try again to pry a detail or two from him, he blurted, "I couldn't believe theyd fire me because of one single mistake. They had it in for me. I'm sure of it."

"Who? At the restaurant?"

"No, my design firm. Kitchen Works. just one drawing, that did it. I got the scale wrong on one drawing, and they fired me. You'd think that since I was the only CAD..."

"What's that?"

"Computer-aided design operator," he answered, and went on as if there'd been no interruption. "Since I was the only CAD who knew how to get the most...

Meet the Author

Phyllis Richman has been the Washington Post food critic for more than twenty-two years. She's the author of the Agatha-nominated Washington bestselling dining books including The Washington Post Dining Guide. She been an award-winning syndicated columnist and food editor and serves on the executive committees of the James Beard Restaurant awards and the Julia Child awards. She lives in Washington, D.C.

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