SharpshooterBy Nadia Gordon
Chronicle Books 2002
272 pages. $11.95
Sunny McCoskey is the owner of Wildside, a Napa Valley restaurant. She also solves murders. At least in the pages of Sharpshooter, she does. In what the publisher defines as the first mystery in a Sunny McCoskey series, the chef/sleuth jumps into a murder investigation when her friend, winegrower Wade Skord, is arrested for the murder of Jack Beroni.
Beroni was in the process of inheriting control of the most substantial winery in the area. Many of the locals had reason to dislike him, and maybe even murder him. In any case, someone who was a pretty good shot with a rifle drilled him in the heart one night as he awaited at meeting at the garden gazebo adjacent his vineyard.
Gordon portrays the late Mr. Beroni as an aggressive proponent of a plan for wholesale presticide spraying to thwart the pending invasion of the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter. That sharpshooter is the vector of Pierce's Disease, a real-life threat to the wine industry.
The double entendre is the most obvious of many details designed to give a feeling of authenticity—an insider's view—to the reader. For the most part the author succeeds, although vineyardists and winemakers may be amused at her heroine's measurement of the sugar level of friend Wade Skord's ripening Howell Mountain Zinfandel. Chef McCoskey gets readings of 17 degrees Brix and decides that the grapes would reach the desired level of 24 degrees after a couple more warm days. This is a process that would take weeks, not days. Other details are more credible and Gordon's descriptions of Wildside certainly make it seem that it could be a real café in St. Helena or any other Napa Valley location.
How many Napa Valley murders can be devised as fodder for subsequent books in this series-to-be remains to be seen, but Sharpshooter is worthy on its own. The details and the setting create a book that's fun for wine and food buffs and probably for many mystery devotees, as well.
--Reviewer Dan Clarke writes about wine and food. He has worked at a vineyard on Howell Mountain in the Napa Valley.