Vulture au Vin by Lisa King. Publisher: The Permanent Press (July 2014). Mystery/thriller. Hardcover. 320 pages. ISBN: 978-1-57962-357-9.
Oil billionaire and wine collector Theodore Lyon invites San-Francisco-based wine writer Jean Applequist to cover a Sauternes wine tasting at his exclusive compound in Southern California. After her meeting with Lyon ends tragically and mysteriously her boyfriend insists that their friend Roman Villalobos, a gay martial arts expert, accompany Jean for protection.
At the estate, Roman and Jean find an impressive wine cellar as well as a museum-quality Chinese art collection. During the weekend Jean hooks up with a married man at the estate for the tasting. Roman finds quick love with Lyon’s closeted gay son Bernie, a struggling filmmaker. They encounter massive family drama, drug dealing and murder among the vultures. It’s a grand set-up for a spectacular thriller. Unfortunately it became convoluted and confusing instead of a page-turner.
“As they tasted through the 1970s, Jean marveled at the myriad aromas and flavors that could come from moldy white grapes, everything from tobacco to caramel to apricots to orange blossoms. She had to force herself to spit out the luscious wines.
Tasting wine this good was almost like sex: Both pursuits involved intense focus and total immersion in delightful sensations to the exclusion of all else. Jean smiled to herself. At least during sex she didn’t have to take notes. Or spit.”
This is a follow-up to Death in a Wine Dark Sea in which author Lisa King introduced readers to Jean Applequist, an unconventional wine writer with a penchant for solving mysteries. Jean is tall, unapologetic and I wish that King would spend way more time developing her character. Zeppo? He’s irksome. He nags Jean. Since he’s a 24-year-old college student, Zeppo and Jean see each other most weekends. He’s overprotective. Jean’s independent and a 32-year-old sophisticated, intelligent woman. King doesn’t make their connection clear enough. It’s implausible.
Having worked as an editor and writer for wine and food magazines, King spends a lot of time describing wine and food in the novel. This might appeal to some. It’s okay but only if it bolsters the story. When I read Death in a Wine Dark Sea I found a lot of promise in it. Two years later Vulture au Vin struggles with the same issues: too many characters, too many tangents and not enough character development.
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from The Permanent Press.
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