When Elise Beckett’s long-distance beau, Stuart, offers her a dream job in organic horticulture research, she’s torn between the opportunity of a lifetime and her responsibilities at her family’s River Bend vineyard. But before Elise has time to make her decision, Uncle Edmond–the family’s money-loving and temper-toting black sheep–is found dead on vineyard land. What seems to be an accidental drowning proves to be murder, and every Beckett, even Elise, is a suspect.
Sheriff’s Deputy Jackson Landry must catch Edmond’s killer, and Elise is determined to help him–whether he wants her to or not. Delving deeper into the mystery, Jackson and Elise become tangled in a long vine of suspects and dark secrets. Now a race is on for them to stop the deadly plot before the murderer claims another victim.
Grapes of Death is an entertaining but ultimately somewhat run-of-the-mill mystery in the cozy vein. Elise is an engaging character for the most part and Jackson is the perfect “good guy” policeman, honorable and trustworthy. He’s also very easy on the eyes, which sometimes makes it hard for Elise to concentrate. Jax’s relationship with Elise’s family goes way back — he and her brother have been close friends forever, and Jax is practically a member of the family. That easy familiarity and the sibling-like banter between Elise (El) and Jax masks a long-hidden attraction on both sides, and it was fun to watch them both trying to figure out whether to acknowledge the attraction or continue to ignore it — complicated, of course, by the existence of Elise’s mostly absent boyfriend.
The rest of the characters are less well fleshed-out, which isn’t unusual in a cozy mystery. Still, there’s some good potential in Elise’s sister, mother, and grandmother in particular. There’s also the usual proliferation of suspects and red herrings, and a second murder just to ratchet up the tension. The Texas hill country setting provides a nice backdrop, with its vineyards and nearby small town.
My biggest problem with Grapes of Death is that it felt predictable. I spotted the murderer within the first chapter or two. Granted, at that point I shook my head and told myself surely not, it’s too obvious — and to be fair, it’s probably only obvious if you’ve read a lot of cozies and are really familiar with the conventions. But before the halfway mark, I was pretty sure my pick was at least involved, and as it turned out, I was right all down the line. In fact, there were only one or two real surprises in the whole thing, and one came from a relatively minor character who played an inadvertent part in the murder. (Actually, I thought his behavior wasn’t well explained, but that’s a relatively minor quibble.)
My other problem with the book is with Elise. As I said above, I like her, but she has a serious case of insufficient caution, tending toward too-stupid-to-live. Several times she ignored the very sensible advice of others to put herself in danger — of arrest for evidence-tampering and obstruction of justice at least, and potentially in real, life-threatening danger as well. Amateur curiosity and a determination to protect your family are all well and good, but you don’t flaunt direct police orders even if he is your brother’s best friend and you’ve known him forever. And the last instance could have gotten her killed. I believe I muttered, “You idiot!” on more than one occasion, and at least once it wasn’t exactly muttering. The TSTL heroine is one of my pet peeves, and Elise skirted the very edge of it. I’m not entirely sure she didn’t fall in.
Finally, it would have been nice if the author had incorporated more details into the whole vineyard scenario. There were plenty of references to Elise’s hybridization project, the details of which she had kept secret, but almost nothing about actually growing grapes, making and bottling wine, wine tastings, or any of the other aspects of running a winery. It made me feel as though the author had picked the setting as picturesque and interesting, but knew very little about the subject itself. Don’t get me wrong; the lack doesn’t really affect the mystery itself at all, but to me it made the book feel a little unbalanced.
I give Grapes of Death a qualified 3 stars. Cozy mystery fans will probably like, but not love, this one. It’s a competent and fairly entertaining mystery, but the above drawbacks kept me from completely losing myself in it. Still, the Elise-Jackson relationship may tempt me back for the second book when it comes out.
* * *
Rating: 3 stars
About the author: Joni Folger (Tillamook, OR) worked on an airline for twenty-two years. When she’s not spending quality time with the characters she creates, Joni enjoys gardening, crafting, and working in local theater. Visit her blog at http://JGSauer.wordpress.com.
Category: Cozy mystery
Series: Tangled Vines #1
Publisher: Midnight Ink
Release date: September 8, 2013
Book source: Publisher review e-copy, through NetGalley
Links: Goodreads Amazon Barnes & Noble Kobo
Read for the following challenges: