An entertaining, wine-soaked mystery.


In this novel, a winemaker attempts to stop a strange pest from destroying the world’s grapevines.

Corvina Guerra would love to settle down in one place to be a proper winemaker at a well-run vineyard. Instead, she works as a flying winemaker (a consultant) for Universal Wines, a massive distributor that collaborates with vineyards across the globe. While back in her native Italy helping out a struggling friend of her father’s, she discovers something troubling in the soil beneath his grapevines: “She could see small areas of dead tissue along the vine. The tiny bug attacked the vine by biting at the roots. Its saliva caused uncontrolled cell growth creating knots where bacteria could enter the plant, travel up and kill the rest of the vine.” The culprit is phylloxera, an American species of louse with the potential to destroy the entire wine crop of Europe. Universal Wines makes Corvina the point person on the phylloxera—or “Philomena,” as the media dub it—problem. With the help of Bryan Lawless, a handsome but opinionated master of wine, and Malcolm Goldberg, a curious reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle, Corvina sets out to discover the reasons behind the sudden reappearance of the pest as well as the potential neurotoxin that could eradicate it. It turns out that the Philomena strand of phylloxera has been genetically engineered to be even deadlier to grapevines. But who would do such a thing? And how far are they willing to go to make sure the scheme stays covered up? Laine’s (Iconoclast, 2012, etc.) prose is sharp and exact. His characters’ dialogue captures the minutiae of wine culture while keeping the plot moving at a speedy clip: “The bartender with the eyebrow piercing is underpouring each glass of wine, stretching each bottle to six glasses instead of five,” the observant Lawless tells one baffled restaurateur. “I’ve been watching her three straight shifts.” The milieu is intriguing and the mystery is a lot of fun, even if its direction is a tad predictable. The author has crafted a medium-stakes tale perfect for an escapist read.

An entertaining, wine-soaked mystery.

Pub Date: Feb. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68442-260-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Turner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2018

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.


Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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No wonder Scarpetta asks, “When did my workplace become such a soap opera?” Answer: at least 10 years ago.


Happy birthday, Dr. Kay Scarpetta. But no Florida vacation for you and your husband, FBI profiler Benton Wesley—not because President Barack Obama is visiting Cambridge, but because a deranged sniper has come to town.

Shortly after everyone’s favorite forensic pathologist (Dust, 2013, etc.) receives a sinister email from a correspondent dubbed Copperhead, she goes outside to find seven pennies—all polished, all turned heads-up, all dated 1981—on her garden wall. Clearly there’s trouble afoot, though she’s not sure what form it will take until five minutes later, when a call from her old friend and former employee Pete Marino, now a detective with the Cambridge Police, summons her to the scene of a shooting. Jamal Nari was a high school music teacher who became a minor celebrity when his name was mistakenly placed on a terrorist watch list; he claimed government persecution, and he ended up having a beer with the president. Now he’s in the news for quite a different reason. Bizarrely, the first tweets announcing his death seem to have preceded it by 45 minutes. And Leo Gantz, a student at Nari’s school, has confessed to his murder, even though he couldn’t possibly have done it. But these complications are only the prelude to a banquet of homicide past and present, as Scarpetta and Marino realize when they link Nari’s murder to a series of killings in New Jersey. For a while, the peripheral presence of the president makes you wonder if this will be the case that finally takes the primary focus off the investigator’s private life. But most of the characters are members of Scarpetta’s entourage, the main conflicts involve infighting among the regulars, and the killer turns out to be a familiar nemesis Scarpetta thought she’d left for dead several installments back. As if.

No wonder Scarpetta asks, “When did my workplace become such a soap opera?” Answer: at least 10 years ago.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-232534-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 23, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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