Dead in the Dregs
Counterpoint, Aug 1 2010, $14.95
Renowned wine critic Richard Wilson can make or break a winemaker with his critiques. He visits Norton’s Winery in the Napa Valley, bit soon afterward vanishes. His sister Jane is frantic and turns to the one person she feels can find her brother. Jane asks her former husband, part owner of Poncho’s, Babe Stern to search for Richard.
Babe investigates starting where Richard was last seen, the Norton Winery. He quickly finds his ex brother-in-law floating in a vat of Cabernet Sauvignon. Whoever left him there had smashed in Richard’s head and cut off his hand. Babe realizes that Wilson had plenty of angry enemies in the winemaking business. However, as the local police affirm each adversary had an air tight alibi, the best lead in his mind is not local, but a former intern at the Norton Winery Jean who went home to Burgundy, France. There Babe runs up against walls of protection one of them by the winery families; of whom one is willing to float the nosy American.
Dead in the Dregs is an entertaining amateur sleuth that is at its best when connoisseur Peter Lewis focuses on wineries. The whodunit is well written as the hero invades France only to run up against a powerful protectionism while other critics are killed. Although why Babe would go to such lengths for his ex is not very clear as the characters are somewhat thin but readers will toast Mr. Lewis with a glass of Burgundy.