Drunkard's delight, a thriller about alcohol that sustains itself marvelously without really ever coming to grips with the hero's addiction. Kennedy is a British thriller novelist writing about California wines. Smart dialogue and wine chat keep this ingenious mystery afloat while it flirts with the plague-disaster genre. The young hero is John Dolan, 27 (""He felt 85""), the heavy-drinking wine critic for Village West, a California sheet that keeps all the wine snots informed about what the vines are doing and just what's drinkable. Wine reviewing, like book reviewing, is not an occupation that financially empowers. Reviewer Dolan makes his monthly nut by hitting up wine merchants for freebies that he says he'll write about, and he's constantly going forth with his telephonic begging bowl and receiving free cases of wine, which he sells undercover to a big retailer. Dolan's con jobs for free wine have a ring of wonderful authenticity, as does his wan response to being shot down by an angry wine merchant scammed once too often by the wine reviewers. In college, enologist Dolan and his ex-wife Julia, a foul-mouthed social dropout who makes her living beating chess-players for money (she can outplay 10 players at once with ease), took a course in rootstock studies and hybridization from tearful Professor Leon Markovicz, a nutty genius and genetic engineer from East Europe. Now Markovicz is dead, and a Mafia hit man employed by the Russians is offering the divorced Dolans $50,000 apiece for their Markovicz lecture notes. Soon bodies are dropping and Dolan hides out at a police-safe house with a beautiful cook who is not what she seems, and he's befriended by an alcoholic detective who is an old-timey wine snot. The novel's symbolic climax finds Dolan literally sealed into a huge bottle filled with zillions of teensy wine lice that could destroy mankind. Kennedy's best year, a heady bouquet, if rather presumptuous body for a British thriller about native Californians. Not to be wasted on the unsophisticated.