Sunday, October 4, 2015

French Wine, a Missing Woman, and the Mob: Gold Coast Blues by Marc Krulewitch


Jules Landeau is a private investigator, although both his father and grandfather were in the mob. He's mostly playing it straight, but his knowledge of the criminal underworld helps when an ex-con, Eddie, hires him to search for Tanya, his missing girl friend.

Jules is reluctant to take on the case. Eddie is newly released from prison, and he's an unpleasant character. But Jules is a sucker for a Jersey boy who wants to find his lost love. After searching through Chicago's North side, Jules realizes that the case is not as simple as finding the girl. A valuable French wine and a dirty Jersey cop complicate the case. After plenty of twists, Jules succeeds with a surprising ending.

If you like stories featuring tough investigators, the mob, and a convoluted plot, this is your kind of book. The Chicago background is a perfect setting for the hunt for the missing girl.

I enjoyed the book, but thought there were almost too many characters. Once Jules leaves Chicago for New Jersey the plot twists come fast and more characters complicate the action. Although I found the subplot with the expensive wine engrossing, it seemed like a detour from the major action until about halfway through the book. The other problem with the book for me was that the character motivation seemed thin. This was particularly true of Margot and Doug, the owners of the wine.

I recommend this book if you like a fast paced mystery with plenty of twists.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.


Around West Wacker Drive and Orleans Street, the Chicago River forked north-northwest, roughly parallel to busy Clybourn Avenue, which served as an excellent boundary to neighborhoods I thought might accommodate a nice wine bar. Webster Avenue ran through one of those neighborhoods and when I saw the Auvergnat Vin Bar, I slowed down before parking across the street, at Pâtisserie GrenouilleA violin-playing frog dressed as a maître d’, and standing on a hunk of Camembert, graced its window.
A black Porsche SUV with the license plate VINMSTR was parked in front of the Vin Bar. Although a wine tasting wasn’t scheduled until four, the door was unlocked, which I took as an invitation to enter. The venue reeked of country cottage schmaltz. Large paintings of sweeping Rhône sunsets and Loire Valley vineyards covered the walls. Antique wooden cabinets and wine racks hung from exposed brick. A few tiny shelves of distressed wood blended in perfectly despite holding pamphlets advertising something called a “wine equity trust.”
Behind the bar, a man carefully arranged a row of sidecar cocktail carafes. Near him, a gangly redheaded kid, who looked too young to be legally standing behind a bar, held a small spiral-bound notebook while studying a row of glass stemware, each holding a different shade of red wine. Standing in front of the bar, a man wearing a full-length black apron garnished with a stickpin of gold grapes looked thoughtfully over tables covered with bottles, glasses, and menus. He was tall with thick, black wavy hair, and his nose was slender and shiny. Around his neck hung a small silver saucer attached to a chain. I was practically in his face before he glanced at me and said, “Can I help you?”
“I’m sorry, I guess you’re not open yet. But your door was unlocked.”
“Yes, we don’t mind if people curious about wine wander in. Unfortunately, the Provence tasting doesn’t start for another hour.”
“What’s a wine equity trust?” I said.
Grape Man looked me over. Then he kind of shook his head a few times with a look of utter confusion. “Sorry. Who are you exactly?”
“I’m looking for a girl named Tanya Maggio. I was told she works here.” I showed him my investigator’s license.
“My god, you’re serious.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Grape Man let out a laugh-snort. “I’ve just never met a private eye before. I thought you guys only existed in the movies.”
“Next time, I’ll wear an overcoat and fedora. Do you know Tanya?”
“I’ve never known anyone named Tanya, and she certainly doesn’t work here.”
“What about the other staff members? Maybe they knew her before you arrived?”
Grape Man snorted again. “Ahhhh—no. None of them arrived before me. I hired them all—stole them all, some say. Only people with a proven background and education in serving and tasting wine can work here.”
“Any other fancy wine bars on the North Side, near the river?”
Grape Man’s face lit up. “Any wine north of here along the river is poured from a cardboard box into a plastic cup.” A hearty laugh. I was the perfect straight man. “I put this place out of its misery six months ago.”
“You’re the new owner?”
“Six months ago. That’s what I just said.”
I wondered how long this guy would last in Eddie’s world before someone shoved that pin down his throat. “And the poor huddled masses that made up the staff of the previous miserable establishment? All fled from the black-caped wine taster with the silver spoon around his neck?”
Grape Man gave me a savage look. “I hold diplomas from the Court of Master Sommeliers, the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, and the Institute of Masters of Wine. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to let you walk into my wine bar and insult me.” As he continued describing my disrespectful behavior, I put a card on the bar, then bowed deeply as I backed away.

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