Friday, January 6, 2012

Review: "Sharpshooter" (2002)

It always interested Sunny to see how a person reacted to a glass of wine or a new food. It was a one-second preview of how they would act when faced with the unpredictable, a snapshot of how they approached experience. Some people were hardly aware they had a glass in their hand, and the wine in it would be gone before they realized they were drinking. Charlie wasn't a connoisseur and didn't pretend to be one, but he was clearly interested enough to want to stop and taste what he was drinking. Meanwhile, Monty was explaining why the rocky soil in St.-Emilion, France, was superior to the rocky soil anywhere else in the world, and why this particular wine displayed its qualities better than most.

Synopsis: Wine weenies in the Napa Valley band together to drink wine, get accused of murder, drink wine, fight about insect invasions, drink wine and then accuse each other of the murder in question. Leftover wine winds up in everyone's coffee.

Grade: C+

You guys, I really, really wanted to give this one an A.

I first ran across this series by reading the sequel to Sharpshooter, Death by the Glass, and I'm very glad I did, because it's a much better book. Call it debut jitters or working the kinks out, but there are three major things wrong with Sharpshooter:

1. I loathe the trope of the amateur sleuth who calls up a hard-working police officer and tells him to meet her for coffee in 10 minutes, and he drops everything and goes. Seriously? That's a realistic picture of law enforcement. Add that to the evidence-tampering our amateur sleuth gets up to and she should have found her ass in jail, not in a booth at Bismarck's.

2. This whole idea that said amateur sleuth can run around all la, I just dropped by to see your place and...oh...ACCUSE YOU OF MURDER. OR INFIDELITY. OR CHEATING ON YOUR TAXES. WHATEVER YOU'VE GOT GOING.

I mean, I'm sure it's a feasible thing, but I'm also sure that amateur sleuth would get her face slapped right off her head at some point.

3. There are plotholes, and then there are the Lincoln Tunnels o' Plot. There is, for example, a subplot about thievery at the restaurant that has hands-down the least believable solution ever. Also, the whole ending to the book. Just... what? What? No. NO! Very nearly OH JOHN RINGO NO.

So why didn't this book get an F? Simple. Because Gordon can write.

Her descriptions of the Napa Valley and the intricacies of winemaking and the wine business and sustainable agriculture are A-worthy. They're bleeding-off-the-page vivid and fascinating, so by the time you realize you've learned something, you just don't care because the prose is so beautiful.

Sunny McCoskey is the owner and chef at Wildside in St. Helena, north of Napa, and when her friend Wade Skord is charged with murdering the unlikeable scion of Beroni Vineyards, McCoskey throws herself into the case. Despite the obvious police interference aspect. Despite the fact that when it becomes clear she's unhinged, Wade asks her to stop. Despite the fact that you know, owning a restaurant takes actual work (Hannah Swensen, line one).

Sure things get solved eventually but I have read a ton of mysteries, people, and the underpinnings of who did what? Are as flimsy as well-baked pie crust. The why makes sense, but in no way the who, and the Boss Battle at the end is ludicrous.

However, those sentences. Those sentences. So lush and plummy and lickable, and the wealth of detail about the Napa Valley lifestyle and the restaurant life, it is pornworthy, is what, and in this case it lets Gordon basically get away with murder.

Recommended for hardcore foodies and oenophiles only.

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