Root Cause is a wine-themed thriller, a subcategory with meagre extant examples. The title itself is just one of several wine-themed puns, as the main characters are in a race to find out what has led to the reappearance of phylloxera, an aphid which eats and eventually destroys the roots of vines. Furthermore, the heroine of the tale is called Corvina which is an important grape in the Veneto (at least she wasn’t called Chardonnay!)
It has the requisite twists and turns* and changes of location for a thriller, somewhat akin to a Dan Brown novel, but with symbology replaced by wine references.
With zero expertise in symbology I find Brown’s asides interesting, but as someone with a reasonable amount of wine knowledge it’s difficult to place myself in the shoes of a reader who doesn’t have that background. Is there too much side chat and exposition? Or does wine make for an interesting theme? I’d go for the latter option, but each reader must make their own determination.
In certain facets Root Cause is like a James Bond novel, moving from one glamourous or famous location to another: London, Chile, Canada, Dubai, South Africa, Hong Kong and Champagne are among the places visited. In fact, Corvina’s employer – Universal Wines – is named as a nod to James Bond’s fictional employer Universal Exports.
Of course, as this is fiction there is no issue for our heroes in booking lots of international flights – and paying for them – at very short notice. It does make me think that a lost, stolen or stopped credit card would have been sufficient to leave them stranded in a far-flung location! But what would have been the fun in that?
And fun is the operative word, mainly from the interaction between the heroine Corvina and her sidekick Brian, plus some interesting characters they meet on their journey. A few of them are flagged as potentially being important to the plot but ultimately they are minor diversions – the author keeps you engaged and guessing, two critical attributes for a thriller!
This book is unlikely to win any prizes for high literature, but it’s not trying to be that. Whether you have an interest in wine or not (and if you’re reading this, you probably do) then it’s well worth a read!
Disclosure: I was sent an “uncorrected proof copy” to review, but opinions remain my own
* like a twisty-turny thing, per E. Blackadder