A broke, blue blood gamester grooms a wine-savvy “rube” for a high-stakes tasting competition in this crime novel.
Nattily dressed Trilby is “toying with a glass of Crozes-Hermitage” in a New York City wine bar when a leggy beauty saunters in. After she orders a Gamay, a jeans-clad yokel named Bobby arrives and tries to flirt with her. She says that if he can tell her what she’s drinking by tasting it, she’ll provide her phone number. He surprisingly nails it, and she throws a glassful of wine in his face and storms off. Trilby springs into action and sets up a taste test (called a “blind”) for Bobby, who manages to identify a series of wines. The newcomer reveals that he recently arrived from Omaha, where his dad was in the wine business. Trilby then takes Bobby to a blind betting event, which he wins. This spurs Trilby to prepare his protégé for La Paulée, the top blind competition, run by shady Hong Kong-based Johnny Tan and coming soon to San Francisco. He trains Bobby using the wine cellar in his inherited, but now heavily mortgaged, brownstone. Bobby wins several run-up events, including one at Sotheby’s. There, Johnny is dazzled by Katya, a Russian billionaire’s daughter, who places a $200,000 bet on Bobby for the upcoming La Paulée. Worried about covering that gamble, Johnny brings in a one-eyed man, Sommurai, who bested Trilby at a previous competition, and blackmails La Paulée’s presiding judge to rig the event. Trilby waits to place his all-in bet until the eleventh hour, leading to a conclusion that prompts him to “cry and laugh simultaneously.” Debut novelist Amon brings plenty of Pulp Fiction–style punch to this rollicking story of wine-snob grifters. He relates the drugs-and-sex sleaze of Tan and his crew with gusto, as well as the mechanics of setting odds and other details of blinding events. The narrative moves frothily along with plenty of dramatic suspense, giving readers a growing sense of a looming double cross. Some readers may find the revelation of a major scam to be a bit far-fetched, and one character’s pedophilia pushes the envelope of acceptable edginess. Overall, however, Amon has crafted a fast-paced, entertaining caper.
An Ocean’s 11–type tale of an intriguing oenophile underworld.