by Lisa King
2014 The Permanent Press, Sag Harbor, NY
Hardcover, 320 pages $29.95
While protagonist Jean Applequist does not have a private investigator's license, the Wine Digest writer has a talent for solving murders. A lot of them.
Miss Applequist is not the only character solving mysteries around the wine business. She's not even the only woman doing so, as Nadia Gordon's Sunny McCoskey has also plied this beat.
Vulture au Vin might be enjoyed by readers knowing nothing about wine. It has appealing characters—and some decidedly unappealing and dangerous ones. There's enough of the formula (murders, an outsider helping or outsmarting the police and, of course, sex) that a broader appeal may be there. However, wine plays a big role in Vulture au Vin and it will intrigue those whose interest lies there. When Jean gets the plum assignment of covering a magnificent tasting of Sauternes convened by a very wealthy man, bodies start falling.
Jean's employer is a San Francisco-based magazine whose circulation can't be hurt by featuring an exclusive on this historic tasting of Chateau d'Yquem, with vintages dating back over 100 years. The tasting is to be held at Phoenix Garden, the retreat in rural San Diego County owned by Ted Lyon and his Chinese-born wife. Ego and vanity must be served and Lyon's invitation requires both a writer and photographer attend. As circumstances tangential to the tasting begin to take on a dark tone, Jean is encouraged by her boyfriend to give Roman, a gay pal who's a martial arts expert, a crash course in photography and pass him off as her journalistic colleague assigned to shoot the tasting.
Author Lisa King obviously knows wine. She has written for Wine Spectator and Wine Country Living and includes enough vinous details to make the setting more credible than far fetched. Though not formally invited to the tasting, vultures add an appropriately creepy tone to the story.
--reviewed by B.J. Shepherd