Of Merlot and Murder, by Joni Folger (review)

September 4, 2014 Tangled Vines Mystery 15

Foul play at the festival

When her family’s winery becomes one of the sponsors at the Lost Pines Food and Wine Festival, Elise Beckett’s spirits soar at the chance to help with their booth. But as the festival gets underway, her cheerful mood turns sour when rival vintner Divia Larson is found dead.

With all clues pointing to her grandmother as the prime suspect, Elise and her deputy sheriff boyfriend team up to clear her name. But Divia’s murder is as complex as a fine wine, with a strong bouquet of suspicion, bitter notes of betrayal, and more than a hint of danger. Will Elise and Jackson be able to untangle the mess before another victim is corked?


Of Merlot and Murder is a pretty well-plotted mystery, and it certainly lives up to Publishers Weekly’s blurb calling it “lively and entertaining.”  The wine-festival and Texas vineyard setting works well for a cozy mystery, giving it a new-but-familiar feeling. I like some of the characters very much, particularly Elise’s feisty but loving grandmother, the family matriarch, and Elise’s boyfriend Jackson (Jax), a deputy sheriff and a good policeman — and a refreshing change from the usual cozy cop, who is often inept or unpleasant (and sometimes both.)

There are plenty of possible suspects in this mystery; the first victim, Divia, was not well-liked. In fact, the more we learn of her, the more surprising it is that she wasn’t bumped off earlier. And it’s rather a shame that Elise’s grandmother’s high school flame was saddled with such an unpleasant wife. But did he do her in? Or was it one of the several other people who had words with Divia the day she was murdered — or someone with an unknown motive? Elise is hell-bent on figuring out whodunnit, because despite the fact that Jax doesn’t for a minute think the killer is her grandmother, unfortunately, that’s who all the circumstantial evidence points to.

So far, so good: Of Merlot and Murder is an entertaining mystery. But…

…But it was really marred for me by Elise’s willful disregard for police procedure, personal safety, and common sense. Over and over Elise ignores the advice and warnings of Jax, her mother, and her siblings, to investigate on her own. She did the same thing in the last book, and nearly got herself killed. This time around she involves her siblings and her best friend C. C. in her shenanigans. Other readers may interpret her actions as spunkiness or family loyalty, but I’m afraid I just can’t accept Elise’s ability to self-justify her actions in the face of multiple warnings, and essentially to ignore or dismiss anything that stands in the way of her desire to investigate on her own. It just isn’t working for me.

This is the second book in the series. I’ve read both, but I won’t be be continuing. It’s disappointing, because I really wanted to like the series. I had hoped Elise would have matured somewhat after the traumatic events in the first book, or at least grown a little more common sense, but apparently not. If Ms. Folger ever writes another series, I will certainly give it a try; she has talent and a way with characterization that I can appreciate. Sadly, I personally find this main character much too irritating to really enjoy the books.

*   *   *

Rating: 2 stars based on my personal taste; 3.5 based on writing skill

Category: Cozy
Series: Tangled Vines
Publisher: Midnight Ink
Release date: Sept. 1, 2014
Book source: Advance review copy via NetGalley



15 Responses to “Of Merlot and Murder, by Joni Folger (review)”

  1. Rita_h

    Too bad this book didn’t work for you. I like that you rated it two different ways, because sometimes a book is well-written but the plot isn’t for me. So many cozies feature women that disregard sense and go after the criminals…seems to be a major writing device used by cozy authors. I am very fussy about cozies, though I would love to read more, because I can’t enjoy a story with silly or less than credible MCs.

    Enjoy your week!

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      Yes, I try to distinguish between bad writing and something that’s decently written but just doesn’t do it for me. I’m glad that came across in the review. If it weren’t for the main character, I would probably like this series.

      Have a great week and thanks for stopping by!

  2. Katherine P

    That’s too bad. The premise sounds really great but immature characters are one of my major pet peeves. Thanks for saving me some time!

  3. Elisa Bergslien

    Oh man – I really hate mystery protagonists like that. I am glad you called it out. I would almost certainly have tried it and gotten annoyed.

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      I feel kind of bad, because I know this will put some people off — but I had the same complaint about the first book, so it’s not a fluke. And anyone who shares my taste regarding the main character’s sensibility (or lack thereof) is going to have a hard time with Elise.

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      Yes – if it hadn’t been for the main character, I would have enjoyed it a lot more. I know some readers won’t be bothered by her at all – it’s very much a personal preference.

  4. Yvonne

    First, just wanted to let you know I fixed the link issue on the Cozy challenge post. No worries about that.

    As for the main character, I’m finding this happening more and more with the main characters in cozies. Since I love the genre so much, I’ve been able to overlook it but I do notice more and more that the main characters disregard the laws or their own safety. The best is when they get angry at the police for not sharing information with them. What makes them think they are entitled to it in the first place? LOL

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      Thank you so much, Yvonne!

      Yes, I’ve noticed the same problems in some of the books I’ve read. Sometimes, though, the character grows past that in later books (or maybe the author does?) I gave Karen McInerney’s Gray Whale Inn series another try (book 6, after having issues with the MC in book 1) and found the main character was more sensible and much better about obeying the law. I was hoping that might happen with Elise in this series, but so far it’s not.

  5. Bea

    That’s really unfortunate about Elise. I need character growth, even just a little bit, and the premise sounded interesting. I may try the first book, but at least I’ve been warned.

    • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

      I didn’t want to discourage everyone from reading the books, just — as you say — warn them in case they share my sensibilities regarding main characters and the common sense thereof. 🙂

  6. Greg

    I can relate to this, I don’t read a ton of cozies but I do read an occasional one that appeals to me and when a MC just does dangerous things it does irritate. In fact a recent read of mine had a little of that- I really liked the book and overlooked it, but when the MC gets threatening notes and decides not to tell anyone, I was like really? You just keep it to yourself even though you’re working very closely with several others on the case. Who would do that? 🙂