Professional stolidity and attention to craft go into telling this adventure in amateur detection. Set in Napa Valley, California, among those whose livelihood depends directly or indirectly on wine-making, the tale makes good use of that background without overdoing it. Sunny McCoskey, owner and chef of a high-end Wine Country restaurant, metaphorically exchanges her mixing spoon for the magnifying glass of an amateur crime solver after her vintner friend Wade Skord gets arrested on suspicion of murder. The arrogant scion of a big corporate winery has been shot with a rifle whose make matches one owned by Skord. The disappearance of Skord’s rifle and the appearance of a motive—the two men, as it turns out, were rivals in viticulture who had squabbled over land rights—create a recipe for guilt that McCoskey must break down into the raw ingredients of truth. She acquits herself well, but her sideline sleuthing puts a strain on plausibility. (Throughout the tale, she spars with a local cop named Steve Earley. How believable would it be if Earley were to sneak into her kitchen and rustle up a four-star masterpiece of California cuisine?) But that’s always the way with amateur-detective heroes, and Gordon handles the job of suspending readers’ belief as nimbly as she can.
NADIA GORDON. Sharpshooter (2002).