Uncorking a Lie: A Sommelier Mystery
Sommelier and murder-solver Katie Stillwell, first seen in Decanting a Murder, returns in Nadine Nettmann’s second mystery, Uncorking a Lie. The killing this time revolves around the most famous type of wine crime: the creation and sale of counterfeit bottles of expensive vintages. That’s a great choice for a mystery, and the motivations of those who want to own famous wines provide one of the few points of interest of this story.
Overall, the wine information is the best part of the series, as Katie is the type of “detective” who solves crimes by bumbling around asking questions until someone finally gets fed up and tries to kill her — which happens twice in this volume. Maybe if you think you’ve learned something important, you not go running off by yourself into the deserted garage or dark building at night, particularly when your almost-boyfriend is a police detective? It’s a cheap way to avoid having to write clever clues and deductions.
As the book begins, Katie has been invited to the home of a rich wine collector who has just acquired a beloved 1975 bottle, paying almost $20,000 for it at auction. Unlike many collectors, he’s determined to open and drink it. At the dinner party held for the uncorking, Katie realizes the bottle is a fake, which leads to the death of the collector’s assistant.
The other characters are flat, puzzle pieces to make the story go, and almost interchangeable. Several of them hit on Katie in ways that make her, and the reader, uncomfortable, as the interactions are blatant and not particularly believable as human behavior. Her motivations, as with the other characters, are either repeated, so as to hit the reader over the head with them, or unclear, when the story needs her to do something that doesn’t make a lot of sense. She acquires a key clue halfway through the book that is never followed up on, simply to allow her to put herself in danger later for a more adventurous ending.
My favorite parts of the book are the chapter openings, which feature short wine descriptions, and the knowledge of different wines Katie demonstrates. Perhaps Nettmann should instead write a wine guide? That said, I’d still read another in the series. The volumes are breezy reads, without too much attention needed. That makes them ideal for a quick escape, particularly accompanied by a glass of something nice. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)