by Phyllis Richman
Who's Afraid of Virginia Ham?
HarperCollins, May, 2001.
Hardcover, 256 pages.
For restaurant critic Chas Wheatley, all is right with the world. She loves her job at the Washington Examiner, and her relationship with her daughter and her boyfriend Dave, an investigative reporter. But when a new reporter is hired at the Examiner, Chas' happy life is suddenly filled with misery. Ringo Laurenge is the rising star reporter at the Washington Examiner. On the surface, he is brilliant and charming, but as time goes by it becomes clear to everyone in the newsroom that Ringo is a pathological liar, a determined schemer, and a ruthless opportunist. As he works his way through the newspaper, stealing reporters' stories, destroying the reputation of a local restaurant just for the fun of it and even assaulting the theater critic, Ringo slowly amasses more enemies than he can count. When he dies a horrible death, most people are secretly thrilled. But Chas can't let it go, and determines to find a killer.
This is the third entry (See, The Butter Did It and Murder on the Gravy Train) in the wonderful culinary mystery series by famed food critic turned mystery novelist, Phyllis Richman. In Who's Afraid of Virginia Ham? Richman presents a fascinating character study of Ringo, the victim that everyone wants to see dead. Most large offices have a Ringo in their midst -- the person who sucks up to the boss, steals credit from his co-workers, and generally manipulates people and events to his advantage. Chas does everything she can think of to be fair to the new reporter, and her boyfriend Dave seems especially tolerant of his antics -- until Ringo goes too far, that is. From the opening chapter where the oily Ringo steals Chas' story, to the shocking denouement, this is one culinary mystery you'll feel compelled to devour in one gulp. With a slightly darker feel than the first two books in the series, and an unusual and intriguing plot set up (the murder happens later on in the book), Richman flexes her skills as a novelist, with great success. Her glimpses behind the scenes of the world of fine dining are fascinating, and her descriptions of food and meals are absolutely enticing. This is an excellent series which gets better with each book.
--Claire E. White
Who's Afraid of Virginia Ham? is available for purchase on Amazon.com
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This review was published in the July, 2001 of The Internet Writing Journal.
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