Murder Uncorked - Michele Scott
I'm a wine writer, and I absolutely love mystery novels. It seemed like a match made in heaven when Murder Uncorked by Michele Scott came out. It even bills itself as "the first wine lover's mystery" which implies a series is in the making.
You have 30-something waitress / LA actress wannabe Nikki Sands who in the first chapter immediately quits her waiting job to run off to Napa with winery owner Derek Malveaux. Once she gets there, there's a murder of course, and she mixes her murder solving with various conversations about fine wines.
So far so good. I realize that readers aren't going to be "wine experts" so I was reading this expecting the bare minimum in terms of wine information. I promised myself not to judge the book by wine accuracy or precise details. I just wanted an enjoyable way to spend a few hours curled up on the futon.
So I let it slide when the waitress enthusiastically recommended a "Medoc-Grand Cru Classe" which should be Haut-Medoc and just refers to a group of wines, not to one actual wine. It's like saying "I really recommend the Zinfandel!!" :). Next she recommends this with escargot, when every pairing I've seen for escargot has been white wine. I'm not saying of course that pairings *have* to be X wine with Y food - but the chance of a red heavier than Zin (her comment) would not overwhelm the escargot is slim to none.
This was still only in Chapter 1. I was letting them pass. You then hit a recipe that while interesting, is a real "stopping point" in the flow. I've lent this book to other people and they comment on it as well. Having recipes in an appendix might be fun, but it just doesn't work right in the flow of the story.
OK, on to chapter 2. Nikki is now doing a pairing exercise with Derek. I let them pass. Then she complains that one of the wines is corked. The waiter goes, "But it wasn't opened, ma'am." She says "True. However, some say that in the bottling process, on average one in twelve are corked, and therefore they go bad." WHAT??? First off, the waiter says the bottle wasn't opened? That is nonsensical, obviously she's drinking a glass. Does he mean it wasn't JUST opened? It says right before that he brought over and "uncorked" the wine. Next, she says that "in the bottling process" they are corked, as if it's something about the bottling process? It's a MOLD on the cork that contaminates the wine. It's not some mystical process ailment. It's a contamination from mold that was on the cork back when it was part of the tree.
Right right, I'm trying not to pick out wine errors. These aren't casual though, they're rather egregious. So she goes off to the vineyard. They do wine things involving errors, I'll leave it at that. She, in her actress days, we playing a police officer so of course she decides she can do a far better job than they can. Now, normally I accept this as part of a mystery story. Unless you're reading a cop story, you're reading about a non-cop who takes matters into his/her own hands. However, this woman comes across as a real ditz, completely incompetent, and quite arrogant. She goes around blabbing things to every person she meets - and "conveniently" all the people around her trust her immediately and tell her all sorts of deep historical secrets as well. Then she says Marco is "a bit loose lipped" - hah!! She starts breaking into offices, homes, and breaking laws left and right. She never feels she really has to justify her behavior. After all, she can do whatever she wants to.
OK I have to throw in that she makes the silly statement that "all vintners want loam soil" which is completely untrue to the utmost degree. But back to the story. She swings hot and cold. She does completely illegal things herself, then blasts Derek's ex for being "cold hearted and calculating" for *maybe* skimming some money. She makes incredibly obvious lies. She comes up with really absurd observations about evidence. She knows about wine but doesn't know some of the very basic concepts. Her style of speaking changes from chapter to chapter. At some points she turns into "exposition lady" to get a concept out to the audience with little concern for readability at all.
The end result was so soap-operatic and incredibly unbelievable that I wouldn't have been surprised to have an aliens-from-outer-space plot twist show up next. How Nikki interacts with and treats some people was equally unbelievable. I kept reading because I wanted to be able to review the book, but my suspension of disbelief got harder with each subsequent chapter. Again, others I have lent this book to have shared this issue.
Even the basic characters were questionable. Every man is a handsome hunk. Every woman is a sexy vixen. Somehow, Derek has always been going out with shallow, completely vapid women but now has a "change of heart" to go after Nikki. Then again, given the way Nikki is portrayed, maybe she isn't that far off from Derek's normal choices. Nikki is certainly very sharp tongued, clueless and, as mentioned, arrogant.
Again, I want to make it clear that I was NOT expecting high literature out of this, nor was I expecting a wine instruction tome. I wanted light hearted reading fun to relax for an afternoon. I really love both mysteries and wine a great deal and read about both a lot. The plot was so incredibly unbelivable, the characters were so shallow and inconsistent, and the general atmosphere was so riddled with flaws that it simply wasn't enjoyable at all. With all the thousands of other mysteries out there, I could easily recomment 10 off the top of my head that involve wine - if that's your thing - vs wading through the bumpy ride this offers.
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