There's a weird subgenre of cookbooks popping up these days, the culinary mystery. We're not talking about Charlie Resnick's sandwiches or Spenser's craft beers here. We're talking about mysteries--usually much in the fashion of Agatha Christie--with recipes--usually favoring Betty Crocker. Unfortunately, few work either as mysteries or as cookbooks.
But though the combination of food and death may be inevitable, it does not inevitably spell disaster. Michael Bond, better known for Paddington the Bear, has an equally amusing creation in Monsieur Pamplemousse, a sleuthing inspector for the Guide Michelin. Longtime Washington Post restaurant critic Phyllis Richman has her contribution, too, and her second Chas Wheatley mystery, "Murder on the Gravy Train" (HarperCollins, $23), is a lot of fun.
Richman, billed as "the most feared woman in Washington," has been getting a lot of publicity because of the book's pretense--how restaurants cheat customers. It's all a lot more amiable than that, though, and it's clear that even after 25 years at the professional table, the charms of a good meal are not lost on the author.