In Wells’ (Killer Cuvée, 2012, etc.) latest thriller, vintner Eric Savage returns to help solve a murder and find a wine thief.
When Jeff Russell’s body turns up in a Washington vineyard, signs of strangulation point to murder. Sheriff Scott Thompson makes a stop at Eric’s winery since Jeff, a wine broker, had been trying to convince a reluctant Eric to sell his product in bulk. But the winemaker’s involvement becomes decidedly more personal when, while Eric’s away on a Hawaiian vacation, someone steals 54 barrels of his best wine, valued at more than $500,000. Eric makes travel plans after tracking his wine to a shipping container on its way to China. Hoping to tie the burglars to the murder (Jeff was the son-in-law of a pal and fruit supplier), Eric scours Shanghai, with assistance back home from the sheriff and love interest, FBI Special Agent Ashley Hunter. Despite opening with the discovery of a corpse, there’s initially very little mystery. Readers quickly learn the identities (and motives) of the killers and burglars. The first half of the novel retains interest with romantic tension, courtesy of Eric’s employee, Melissa, who has both feelings for her much older boss and a noticeably envious boyfriend, Kurt. Wells’ mastery and appreciation of wine are undeniable, and he’ll turn novices into experts. There is, however, a bit too much focus on the grape in lieu of thriller plot points, slowing down Eric’s amateur murder/burglary investigation. It’s the novel’s latter half that amps up the suspense as Eric works with PI Jiao Ming in Shanghai. They sneak into a port to find the shipping container and trespass at a winery, all culminating in further mayhem. There’s also better incorporation of wine into the plot: locals sell subpar wine bottled with popular labels, so Eric’s confronted with the mystery of why the thieves want his unknown quality wine.
It’s unfortunate that Eric’s sleuthing isn’t spotlighted more often, but this remains a thriller that can be savored.