If the old TV quiz show “I’ve Got a Secret” were still around, then the fictional LeBaron family of San Francisco would make great guests. They don’t have just one secret, these folks have a closet full. But it takes an awful long time to find out what they are, and by then, does anyone still care?
The story concerns a completely unsavory cast of characters. Heading up the list is the wealthy, power-hungry matriarch, Assaria LeBaron (she of common origins), and her ungrateful, power-hungry relatives. We find out all their faults in depth, and learn that everyone wants control of the family winery (shades of “Falcon Crest” here) called Baronet Vineyards, makers of frankly cheap jug wine.
And there, essentially, you have the tale. Author Stephen Birmingham, of course, is better known for his sociological studies of the upper crust, including “Our Crowd” and “California Rich,” and in this novel, he doesn’t miss an opportunity to sprinkle influential names from San Francisco society like Crocker and Spreckels. Personally, I’d still rather read about the real thing than this concocted tale.