Curiosity prompts Seattle shamus Josephine Fuller to accept an invitation more wisely ignored: a visit to the Napa Valley winery of lecherous Wolf Lambert, who moonlights as a porn producer. Though Wolf’s niche is “big beautiful women,” the plus-sized Jo has so far parried his offers to make her a star. When Thor Mulligan, Jo’s Frisco-based squeeze, can’t get away, she goes solo. At Lambert Lair, Jo is welcomed by enormous redhead Thelma T, Wolf’s gal Friday and sometime star, and the crass Manx twins, Rod and Ringo. Journeymen porn stars, the Manxes are busy hitting on Jo when Wolf arrives, sloppy drunk. Inside one of the barrels he bangs into is the corpse of Steven Farquar, son-in-law of local power broker Carlo Baron, Wolf’s closest neighbor and chief winery rival. Looking to close the case quickly, the police arrest Thelma, outraging Jo. Mulligan advises against taking up Thelma’s cause, and there’s a good chance that, if she pursues an investigation, Jo will lose a cushy regular gig with conservative matron Alicia Madrone. Naturally, she plows ahead anyway. Her twisty probe leads to a cadre of stealthy anti-abortion activists, through the ins and outs of the low-budget porn industry, and all around a family wine dynasty whose intrigues and grudges are as intricate and soapy as those of Falcon Crest.
Jo’s fourth adventure (At Large, 2001, etc.) has a dashed-off feeling and a solution to which the sleuth is incidental. The characters are quirky, all right, but the humor is strained.