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Sunday, March 10, 2019

Book Review: Root Cause by Steven Laine

Author Steven Laine is a native of Ontario, Canada, and he built his career in the luxury hotel business. But it wasn't until he was working in London that his love of wine was discovered. From there he's been to vineyards and wineries all over the world. This is his third novel, but his first rooted on his love of wine.
"Like music, wine is infinite in its variety and manifestations. It plays a central role in history, is global, ubiquitous, and appeals to a myriad of tastes."
The main character is Corvina Guerra, a flying winemaker who works for a large conglomerate. She's the daughter of a Spanish mother and an Italian father, who is a winemaker and vineyard owner in Piedmont, Italy. It should be pointed out that Corvina is an Italian grape variety (although mostly planted in Veneto, which is eastern Italy, instead of Piedmont, which is western Italy). Her cheating husband has left her. She's obsessed with scarves. At first I was like “what is up with this chick and her scarves?” but it honesty didn't take long for me to find it endearing and legitimately wanted to know what pattern and colors her scarf had that day. She's a lovable and sympathetic character that plays both the "straight-man" and emotional role very well when needed.

Bryan Lawless is a wine blogger that was kicked out of Master of Wine contention for sleeping with one of the judges, and he spends his days exposing the uglier side of the industry. When we first meet him, he's purposefully breaking a bottle at a wine auction to prove that it's counterfeit. And we really get to see the cunning and observance of his character when he sits in a restaurant and points out to the manager how his staff is taking advantage of him and the business. Corvina is going to need his problem solving skills and his redemption desperation.
"It is awkward to read. Like a piece of cork in a nice glass of wine."
"I didn't make up the (English) language . I just speak it."
Corvina discovers that there's a phylloxera aphid that can actually attack the American rootstock grafted onto European vines at the same time that newspaper journalist Malcolm Goldberg does. Malcolm thought that a scoop of a dying vineyard would be a quick report and sent his article off without spellchecking, leading the article to correct "phylloxera" as "Philomena". And so the name went viral and this new strand of phylloxera becomes known word-wide as Philomena. Corvina, who has teamed up with Bryan through mutual contact, gets Malcolm in on the investigation that is funded by her company. The Trinity is formed.

But the aphid is not occuring naturally. Somebody has genetically modified it and is traveling to vineyards everywhere and placing them there on purpose. Claude Duval, who is trying to figure out who that is, is my favorite character in the novel. Recently demoted in Interpol, he's now battling agricultural problems instead of battling terrorism where people blow other people up. Claude sees the threat that this aphid possesses and decides to go rogue. He disobeys direct orders so he can get to the bottom of Philomena, and his main suspect does not bode well for our main team. Also, he loves canelés.

I need to take a moment here to show some appreciation for Alison Pittard. She is Claude's boss and she is such a raging bitch that there is no way that you can come out of this and not have complete disdain for her. Because of that, Alison is Laine's best character work in the book. She's one of the good guys and yet she's a dreadful human being. The ultimate heel. I love that.
"What was your best vintage, Papa?"
"The one I made two years after I met your mother."
"I didn't know you made a wine that year."
"I didn't. That was the year you were born."
These characters travel all across the globe. They go to the fanciest hotel in Dubai to the coldest vineyard in Niagra to the scuzziest alley in Hong Kong. And Laine describes it all in such great detail and in such a way that it's like he's right there where the scene takes place while he's typing.

So, SPOILER ALERT! This does have mysteries and surprises that you have to wait for until the end but there is a legit suspect pretty quickly. And that's what I like about it. They have a guy who is going around doing this and they travel the world following his tracks. The main characters are indeed investigating, so this book is an investigation into a suspect that takes you on almost every continent instead of being a complete mystery of "whodunnit". That's pretty refreshing.

Another reason why this book is so good is that there's a real grasp of reality in the story. It's not like Corvina and Bryan are the only ones who are on to this Philomena problem while everybody else thinks they're crazy. The entire wine world is worried as hell. Vines are being ripped out of the ground and burnt, and entire regions are being taken over by the military. Yet our heroes, who are actually behind on information most of the time, seem to be the only ones who aren't mishandling the issue. Because if you can trust the government and large scale companies to do anything, you can trust them to mishandle an economic emergency.
"Sorry, but this isn't the part where the heroes get a full explanation of the evil plot." - The Villain
The one thing I want to know is: how did they do their laundry? They travel so quick and always arrive so soon and they're so fashionably dressed. Do they smell? I think they smell. Maybe Corvina is obsessed with scarves because they're easily Febreze'd around the olfactory system.

As much as I loved this book, I do have some criticisms. I get a lot of feedback from you guys about your appreciation for my honesty and I'm not going to stop that now. Sometimes sentences run on too long while describing the scene or situation when it should be presented differently. So there's that. And Carménère is not indigenous to Chilé. But that's it. Minor discrepancies. This book checks out.

I really enjoyed reading this novel and you, my fellow wine lover, should read it too. 


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