An entertaining, wine-soaked mystery.

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ROOT CAUSE

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.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

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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An appealing new heroine, a fast-moving plot, and a memorably nightmarish family make this one of Box’s best.

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THE BITTERROOTS

The creator of Wyoming Fish and Game Warden Joe Pickett (Wolf Pack, 2019, etc.) launches a new series starring a female private eye who messes with a powerful family and makes everyone involved rue the day.

Cassie Dewell’s been taking a monthly retainer from Bozeman attorney Rachel Mitchell for investigations of one sort and another, but she really doesn’t want to look into the case of Rachel’s newest client. That’s partly because Blake Kleinsasser, the fourth-generation firstborn of a well-established ranching family who moved to New York and made his own bundle before returning back home, comes across as a repellent jerk and partly because all the evidence indicates that he raped Franny Porché, his 15-year-old niece. And there’s plenty of evidence, from a rape kit showing his DNA to a lengthy, plausible statement from Franny. But Cassie owes Rachel, and Rachel tells her she doesn’t have to dig up exculpatory evidence, just follow the trail where it leads so that she can close off every other possibility. So Cassie agrees even though there’s an even more compelling reason not to: The Kleinsassers—Horst II and Margaret and their three other children, John Wayne, Rand, and Cheyenne, Franny’s thrice-divorced mother—are not only toxic, but viperishly dangerous to Blake and now Cassie. Everyone in Lochsa County, from Sheriff Ben Wagy on down, is in their pockets, and everyone Cassie talks to, from the Kleinsassers to the local law, finds new ways to make her life miserable. But Cassie, an ex-cop single mother, isn’t one to back down, especially since she wonders why anyone would take all the trouble to stop an investigation of a case that was as rock-solid as this one’s supposed to be.

An appealing new heroine, a fast-moving plot, and a memorably nightmarish family make this one of Box’s best.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-05105-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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