Mixing fine wine and murder produces "another hit" (Kirkus Reviews) in Ellen Crosby's second mystery as Virginia vineyard owner Lucie Montgomery discovers that uncovering a killer can bring a harvest of dilemma and danger.
Lucie Montgomery thinks she has troubles enough with a freak spring frost that is threatening to kill her tender young Chardonnay grapes, but when the body of Georgia Greenwood, a controversial political candidate, is found lying in her vineyard, the situation becomes complex indeed. Suspicion immediately falls on Georgia's husband, Ross Greenwood, who is not just Lucie's doctor but also a close friend. Determined to prove Ross's innocence, Lucie crosses swords with her attractive but cantankerous winemaker, Quinn Santori. Then a second vineyard-related death drives the tension even higher. Lucie still believes that in vino veritas -- in wine there is truth -- but she's starting to wonder if her own risk level is moving into the danger zone along with this year's Chardonnay.
Abizarre May frost threatens Lucie Montgomery's Virginia winery operation in this highly enjoyable sequel to Crosby's The Merlot Murders (2006). After spending the night keeping her vines from freezing, the easily peeved Lucie is less than thrilled to find the pesticide-contaminated body of Georgia Greenwood, a local politician, at the edge of her fields. Lucie leaves the investigating to the police, but is dismayed when her close friend Ross, Georgia's husband, becomes a suspect. What's more, the EPA disapproves of her cavalier handling of pesticides, and her younger sister is on the brink of alcoholism. Crosby illustrates the tension between Virginia old money tradition and the less prosperous newcomers to one of the nation's fastest growing areas. Some plot twists and romantic tension add body, developing into a smooth finish. The unusual setting and Crosby's able prose more than make up for a whiny heroine. (Aug.)
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1 . Great story, quick ending
Posted January 03, 2010 by Tricia , Portsmouth, VaI love the Wine Country Mystery series! I had a chance to meet Ellen at a winery where she was signing books and we had a great conversation about Virginia and wine. Couldn't ask for more. This is a great book, though the ending was wrapped up rather quickly for my tastes. It was definitely a page turner, though.
August 06, 2007
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Excerpt from The Chardonnay Charade by Ellen Crosby
Some days I wish my life ran backward, because then I'd be ready for the catastrophes. Or at least I'd know whether there was a happy ending. I own a small vineyard at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Atoka, Virginia, where our winters are cold, our summers hot, and spring is the blissful season of growth and renewal. But not this year.
On what should have been a balmy May night, a warm air mass moving up from the Gulf of Mexico looked like it was going to smack into arctic winds sweeping down from Canada, causing temperatures to plummet below freezing. A week before Memorial Day, and Jack Frost nipping at our nose like early March. The weather forecaster on the Channel 2 news at noon recommended bringing tender young plants indoors for the night, "just to be sure." A fine idea, unless you had twenty-five acres of tender young grapes.
A lot of science and math go into making wine, but most people don't realize it's also a hell of a crapshoot, meaning a hearty dose of guessing and finger-crossing figure into the equation, too. Mother Nature can always pull a fast one when you least expect it, and suddenly you're scrambling -- like we were this afternoon.
Normally I play it safe with my money and my business. Last fall, though, an unexpected financial windfall landed at my feet and I did something I swore I'd never do. I spent it. The money would go into clearing more acreage and planting new vines come spring. Literally a bet-the-farm gamble, since we were trying grapes we'd never grown before.
I'd expected Quinn Santori, my winemaker, to be as gung-ho about the decision as I was. Of the two of us, he was the risk-taker. Imagine my surprise when he made a case for planting less and using some of the cash to install wind turbines. Quinn had moved here from Napa eighteen months ago and he was still hard-wired for California, where turbines, which protect the grapes from late-season frosts, were common. I'd lived in Virginia for most of my twenty-eight years and we got that kind of killing frost once in a blue moon.
And since my family's name was on every bottle of wine that left this vineyard, we did it my way. For the past few months we'd cleared land and plowed new fields. Thank God we hadn't started planting yet.
Quinn never said "I told you so" once we heard that weather forecast, but he came close. My father had hired him shortly before he died last year and it had been a marriage of convenience. Leland needed someone to work on the cheap, freeing up money for his gambling habits and low-life business deals. Quinn wanted to make a new start in Virginia after his former employer's decision to add tap water to his wines -- boosting production for a black market business in Eastern Europe -- had earned the ex-boss free room and board at a California penitentiary. When I took over running Montgomery Estate Vineyard nine months ago, I quickly found out that Quinn had a macho streak as wide as the Shenandoah River, a problem with authority, and a habit of speaking his mind with a candor polite folks would call unvarnished. If you happened to be a woman and also his boss, you would call it mouthy.
"Now that we've got our back to the wall thanks to you," he said, "the only way we're going to save our old vines is if we move that freezing air away from the grapes. Since we didn't install turbines, we'd better get a helicopter in here. Expensive as hell, but beats waking up and finding we've got a few acres of frozen grapes we could use for buckshot."
I closed my eyes and wondered how much "expensive as hell" cost -- not that it made any difference. If I couldn't hire a helicopter, we'd kiss about forty thousand dollars' worth of wine goodbye in one night. At least we were only talking about the whites, since they were farthest along.
"I'll get someone," I said. "Don't worry."