Though he intended a permanent quietus to his p.i. business, Jack Donne (Deadly Vintage, 1995), now a partner with his father in a California winery, finds himself in gumshoes once again. Sort of. To help a friend--and because the fee is irresistible--he agrees to accept a bodyguarding assignment. The subject is Augustus Poole, a viperish but powerful food critic who makes enemies as naturally as grapes make wine. Two recent attempts on his life have convinced Poole that his body’s at serious risk and in urgent need of guarding. Donne’s mission: to keep him alive until he completes his guest-speaker stint for NAMES (North American Epicurean Society), that snootiest of gourmet clubs. Which isn’t easy. Poole truly is heartily despised--for his overweening arrogance in general, and in particular for the merciless, often unfair reviews that through the years have disparaged worthy products and destroyed hard-earned reputations. “Dirty Poole,” cry a variety of vengeance-minded victims. And so, as the members gather for their annual banquet--57 of them, if you please--Donne eyes them uneasily, fully aware that the task he’s taken on is no piece of cake. But it is all so familiar, with a plot line that was old when Agatha Christie wasn’t. Moreover, the characters are cardboard, the dialogue wooden, and even the wine lore seems watered down.