A phone call at two thirty in the morning is never good news. Lucie Montgomery's semiestranged brother, Eli, calls her in France to tell her their father, Leland, has been killed in a hunting accident on the family's five-hundred-acre Virginia vineyard just as the fall harvest is about to begin. By the time he calls, Eli has already made funeral arrangements with what Lucie argues is indecent haste.
It is an emotional trip home -- the first since an automobile accident two years ago, which left Lucie disabled and dependent on a cane. Her family's once elegant home and winery are now shabby and run-down, thanks to her father's penchant for fringy business deals. Eli, also cash-strapped and desperate to support his new wife's extravagant lifestyle, has already convinced their rebellious younger sister, Mia, to sell the debt-ridden estate and reap the profits from the valuable land it sits on, overruling Lucie's protests.
On the eve of the funeral Lucie's godfather, Fitz, a partner in the family business, tells her Leland's death was no accident. Whoever killed him was motivated by the potential sale of the vineyard. It is the last conversation she will have with Fitz. Now the lone holdout preventing the vineyard sale, Lucie realizes she's next in line for another "accident." With her greedy brother, hell-raising sister, and a seemingly cut-rate vintner hired by Leland just before he died, all the suspects are disturbingly close to home. Unsure whom she can trust, Lucie must uncover the truth about the deaths of her father and godfather -- and oversee a successful harvest to save the vineyard she loves.
Set in the historic heart of Virginia's horse and hunt country, The Merlot Murders is filled with fascinating detail about the science and alchemy of wine making.
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August 08, 2006
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Excerpt from The Merlot Murders by Ellen Crosby
I have always been fascinated by alchemy, though I draw the line at black magic. My family owns a vineyard at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia and I am sure there is both magic and chemistry involved in transforming grapes into wine. Not as impossible as changing lead to gold, but nevertheless, no mean feat, particularly if you believe ' as I do ' in Galileo's definition of wine as sunlight held together by water.
As a child I read the stories of the philosopher's stone, how only a small quantity could convert a massive amount of worthless metal to gold and, supposedly, when added to wine or spirits, it became the mythical "elixir of life" ' a potion that would cure illness, restore youth, and even grant immortality. Two years ago I moved to Grasse, the perfumed city in the south of France where my mother grew up, to recover from injuries sustained in a near-fatal car crash. I was twenty-six at the time and neither immortality nor eternal youth were much on my mind. All I wanted was to walk again. So I brought my own "elixir of life" hoping it would hasten my cure ' bottles of wine from home.
Philippe, my live-in boyfriend, refused to drink any of it with me. A wine snob and a purist, the only wines he liked were listed in the Guide Hachette ' and they were all French. So I drank my family's wine when he wasn't around.
Like now. This time he had to go to Italy. Another vague story about business and no idea when he'd be back. When he was home ' an increasingly rare occurrence ' he stayed up most nights talking on the telephone, smoking pack after pack of Gauloises. He never mentioned those conversations. I knew not to ask.
I seem to have a habit of getting involved with men who don't sleep at night. A bartender, a paramedic, a law student moonlighting as a cabdriver ' and now Philippe. There was a time when I slept deeply and soundly the minute my head touched the pillow ' "sleeping on both ears," the French call it. But the men who have drifted through my life have gradually turned me into a sheep-counting insomniac.