Who's Afraid of Virginia Ham?

Who's Afraid of Virginia Ham?

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by Phyllis Richman

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An ambitious young reporter with the looks and brains to become a star, new hire Ringo Laurenge is poised for a great future with the Washington Examiner. Too bad most of the staffers — including Chas Wheatley — wish the arrogant, back-stabbing creep would get his just desserts. Not only does this egomaniac steal other reporters's stories, he's


An ambitious young reporter with the looks and brains to become a star, new hire Ringo Laurenge is poised for a great future with the Washington Examiner. Too bad most of the staffers — including Chas Wheatley — wish the arrogant, back-stabbing creep would get his just desserts. Not only does this egomaniac steal other reporters's stories, he's also determined to destroy a restaurant Chas is researching. Her worries over Ringo have even begun to cut into Chas's love life. It's only a matter of time before the cheesy writer headlines the obituary page. But the insatiably curious Chas — a journalist with a taste for sleuthing and scoops — isn't sure she wants to find out which of her colleagues, and the rest of the capital, finally had enough...

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In her third excursion into culinary crime (after Murder on the Gravy Train and the Agatha-nominated The Butter Did It) Richman throws in the requisite ingredients for a tasty whodunit, but with mixed success. Food editor Chas Wheatley is fuming over the Washington Examiner's latest hire: slick, slimy Ringo Laurenge. He may have the stuff of great reporters, but he also has a knack for annoying just about everyone else on the staff. Chas has been working on a story about America's most expensive restaurants, but she makes the mistake of telling her new colleague about it. She soon discovers that Laurenge is worming himself into a position to take over the story and leave Chas out in the cold. Her best friend, African-American theater critic Sherele Travis, encounters a more vicious side of Laurenge when he brutally assaults her. As Richman goes to tedious lengths to build a damning portrait of the obnoxious reporter, Chas and Sherele delve into Laurenge's past, trying to find some way of spiking his guns. Long after many readers will have given up on ever getting to a dead body, someone on the staff resorts to murder as the solution, when Laurenge dies from apparently lethal Virginia ham served at a work function. Though the author writes with clarity and passion about food, she explores character at the expense of suspense. The anticlimactic solution to the crime comes too late. Most readers will have put the book down and gone in search of food, thanks to the mouth-watering descriptions of the goodies Chas likes to eat. Agent, Bob Barnett. 7-city author tour. (May 3) Forecast: With The Butter Did It to be a CBS-TV Movie of the Week this fall and other film adaptations to follow, Richman should make a delicious leap in sales. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In her third culinary mystery (Murder on the Gravy Train, The Butter Did It), Chas Wheatley, food critic for a Washington, DC newspaper (and amateur sleuth), reels with shock after the paper's new hire, a charming but dangerously ambitious and deceitful young man, tries to put one of her favorite restaurants out of business. Fortunately, Chas, by now knowing the score, goes on the offensive, digs into his past for ammunition, and counterattacks. The man's murder, already foreshadowed, comes as no surprise, nor does the lengthy list of willing suspects. Very nicely written, with plenty of attention to food, character, and motive; an excellent selection. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Chas Wheatley Mystery Series
Product dimensions:
4.18(w) x 6.75(h) x 0.88(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

"St. Mary's County stuffed ham was the most pathetic murder weapon of the twentieth century."

Ringo Laurenge wore an avuncular early Walter Cronkite smile as he lectured me on the peculiar Southern Maryland specialty of country ham slit in a dozen places and packed to bursting with chopped kale, cabbage, wild cress, scallions, and celery, spiked with red and black pepper, then wrapped in a clean T-shirt and boiled for hours. It's a Chesapeake Bay church-supper mainstay -- at least it was until 1997, when stuffed hams at an annual fundraiser were responsible for one death and more than seven hundred nonlethal cases of salmonella poisoning.

Ringo's sermon on ham making rang with authority. His was a face you trusted, and his deep, young voice sounded thick with concern for victims and cooks alike. It had a resonance that drew attention, while his just barely handsome looks -- soft, friendly cheeks strengthened by bushy eyebrows and deep, sympathetic eyes -- kept you riveted.

Everyone in the newsroom at the Washington Examiner agreed that Ringo Laurenge was a brilliant new hire, an exciting and talented addition to the Financial Desk staff The best thing to come out of Los Angeles since Casablanca. Indeed, those who didn't speak of him as a budding Walter Cronkite compared him to Humphrey Bogart. Or Robert Redford. Sometimes Woodward and Bernstein. Ringo mania had hit Washington.

Call me jealous, but I wasn't buying it. Here was a Californian who'd Just arrived in Washington, where I've been food critic for more than ten years, And he was telling me about our local stuffed ham. He'd even thought St. Mary'sCounty was in Virginia until I corrected him.

"A life could have been saved if those Virginia churchwomen had used my recipe," he expounded.

"Maryland. St. Mary's County is in Maryland," I interrupted. "Just because it's south of D.C. doesn't mean it's Virginia."

"Did I say Virginia? I meant that in my recipe I use Virginia ham. Exclusively."

I was beginning to think that Ringo was the most irritating reporter our managing editor, Bull Stannard, had ever foisted on this newspaper. And the competition for such honors in the newspaper world is fierce.

He was also the youngest windbag I'd ever encountered; until now I had thought it would take more than thirty-two years to develop full windbag capacity. But despite his youth, Ringo had learned to harrumph like the most senior member of the U.S. Senate.

While Ringo droned on about his recipe for stuffed ham and how he'd adapted it to kitchens in Rome and Saigon when he was on assignment, I let my mind wander. I began to imagine him as a stuffed ham or, given his youth, a suckling pig awaiting an apple for his mouth. Why did I have to put up with this harrumphing know-it-all? My boss would answer that Ringo was here to save our paper's future.

I suppose, in a way that turned out to be true for the Examiner. But the cost was too great. It was Ringo's death, more than his life, that brought worldwide attention and thousands of new readers to the paper. And for the rest of my years I'll blame the victim, Ringo, for goading someone I cared about into committing murder.

The groundwork for the events that led to Ringo's death, you might say, was laid by the news business itself. Newspapers are in big trouble. Everyone knows that. Nobody feels confident that they are going to survive the twenty-first century, not when the younger generation is being reared on television and the Internet. Even older adults increasingly turn to electronic media for news. Newspaper editors everywhere, particularly those in three-newspaper towns like Washington, are on a desperate mission to attract young readers.

That's why Bull had set about hiring Ringo Laurenge. He was a big catch. His coverage of the 0. J. Simpson trial written in the form of a rap album had launched him as a media celebrity. Ringo had been drafted to cover that trial halfway through the testimony, only after his paper's lead reporter committed suicide, yet even though he'd been writing from that disadvantage, Ringo's pieces were brilliant. Creative. He hadn't just reported the news, he'd become news. That qualified him as Bull's dream writer. Bull saw him as our messiah. So did dozens of other papers, but Bull had snagged him because our newspaper came up with an offer more interesting than just a lot of money. Bull promised Ringo syndication of his best stories and what was considered a groundbreaking project as well: Ringo was going to cover business as a Lifestyles beat. I didn't quite see that as sufficient reason for Ringo to choose a second-rung newspaper, but I figured that this ambitious reporter recognized that Washington is a top-notch platform for an up-and-coming newspaperman, and I'd heard rumors that the Post wouldn't hire him. I also assumed that Bull had sweetened the deal in ways that the rest of us would never know.

At some newspapers, the other reporters would have felt threatened by the arrival of such a golden boy. The Examiner is different. It's smaller than other big-city dailies, and newer. Hardly more than a decade old, the Examiner is feisty, aggressive, and challenging -- to other papers, not to its coworkers. Inside the newsroom, we tend to maintain the rare feeling that we're all on the same side. As soon as he was hired, Ringo became One of Us.

I felt like a traitor for resenting the guy.

I'd almost forgotten that Ringo was still talking about stuffed ham. "If the church had been lucky enough to have my recipe, the disaster never would have occurred. The safeguard would have been...

Who's Afraid of Virginia Ham?. Copyright � by Phyllis Richman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Who's Afraid of Virginia Ham? 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
harstan More than 1 year ago
Competing with two other newspapers for the circulation of the DC crowd propels Washington Examiner Managing Editor Bull Stannard to bring in a popular young gun from Los Angeles. Bull believes that thirty-two years old Ringo Laurenge, known for his rap work on the OJ trial, will bring a slew of new readers to the paper, which in turn means new ad money. Bull allows Ringo carte blanch with no one¿s section protected from the new kid on the block.

However, Ringo proves to be arrogant and nasty rather quickly, earning the hatred of the entire news room in spite of his brilliance at writing a story. No one is saved from his scathing remarks and soon much of the staff wants him dead including restaurant critic Chas Wheatley, who has had the boy wonder steal some of her ideas. However, she believes he crosses the line when he attacks a local restaurant, Two Views. Not long afterward, someone decides to take matters into their own hands and kills Ringo. Chas wonders if perhaps one of her colleagues murdered the odious journalist or perhaps someone involved in the restaurant he dissed did the deed. She starts her own investigation to find out who did it and why.

WHO¿S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA HAM, the third Wheatley culinary mystery, is an exciting, cleverly plotted who-done-it with a myriad of suspects as the victim is universally loathed. Chas is a wonderful character and the support cast adds to the savory demeanor of a gourmet delight of an amateur sleuth novel.

Harriet Klausner