Dead in the Dregs
A Babe Stern Mystery by Peter Lewis
Review: Peter Lewis introduces Babe Stern, owner of a small, out of the way bar in Napa Valley, whose ex-brother-in-law is found floating in a vat of freshly crushed grapes at a local winery in Dead in the Dregs.
But Babe's ex-brother-in-law isn't just anybody: he's Richard Wilson, international wine critic. He could make or break any winery by simply favoring — or not — its latest wines. The day prior to his murder, he shows up at Babe's bar, out of the blue, asking Babe to meet him later that evening at the nearby Norton Winery to discuss something important. But Wilson is too busy tasting when Babe arrives, and it isn't until he misses a date later that evening and doesn't call his sister — Babe's ex-wife — that everyone realizes something is amiss. After he's found, there is no shortage of suspects from Wilson's professional and personal life that it turns out wouldn't mind a bit if he wasn't around to taste next year's vintage.
There aren't many alternatives to the modern themed cozy mystery, which are largely written by women for women, and of which a dozen or more seem to be published every month. Dead in the Dregs would seem to fill a need here, with a strong male lead in what is arguably a "cozy" environment, albeit an edgy one. And while the story starts strong, it tends to lose its way about midway through — just when Babe takes off for France. Babe's justification for being in France is specious, at best, and there's really no reason to substitute France for California, plot-wise. Even Babe comments on this, as he's landing in Paris: "I could just make out the spire of the Eiffel Tower in the distance. It felt as if I'd traded one landmark for another, as if the arc of the case had simply been translated into another language."
There are a lot of interesting facets to the wine trade that are brought out here, and the narrative and dialog is often at its best when the subject of wine is involved. Still, Dead in the Dregs seems both too ambitious and too diffuse, providing the reader with the grand tour when a tautly plotted village-style murder mystery might have been the better choice.
Acknowledgment: Counterpoint Press provided an ARC of Dead in the Dregs for this review.
Review Copyright © 2010 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in Dead in the Dregs: Napa Valley, California, Provence, France
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Dead in the Dregs by Peter Lewis — A Babe Stern Mystery
Format: Trade Paperback
Publication Date: August 2010
List Price: $14.95