Title: The Merlot Murders
Author: Ellen Crosby
Release Date: August 1, 2006
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Lucie Montgomery has been away from her family’s vineyard in Virginia, living in France for the past two years after a bad car accident left her injured. When she receives news of her father’s death in a hunting accident, she rushes home. But she finds her family’s home and grounds very different than she left them; the house is dilapidated and crumbling, and her older brother, Eli, is eager to sell the grounds. Lucie is indignant, but when she begins digging, she finds that there is even more going on than she realized, and that her father’s death might not have been an accident.
I love atmospheric mysteries, so I’ve been wanting to try Ellen Crosby’s Wine Country Mysteries for quite some time. I like that they are set at Virginia vineyards; I’ve visited a few of these, and as a result I was able to visualize the setting completely while reading The Merlot Murders.
Lucie is a great main character. She’s smart and has quite the fighting spirit in her. She doesn’t have the best family; I can’t tell you the number of times I wanted to throttle Eli for telling Lucie that she left, and therefore doesn’t have a say in the vineyard’s future. After all, she’d only been gone for two years, and she had a very good reason to leave – the accident which left her with a twisted leg and a limp. The vehemence with which I reacted to those who treated Lucie poorly should tell you how emotionally involved I was with Lucie’s story; Crosby wrote her very well and I’m thrilled there are more books in the series for me to get to know her better.
There are a lot of characters in The Merlot Murders and they can be difficult to keep track of at the beginning. However, once the reader relaxes into the novel, things become more clear, especially since Crosby clearly took the same care with her secondary characters as she did with Lucie. The mystery is very well done, especially because it seems like everyone had a motive to murder Lucie’s father. I didn’t see the ending coming and enjoyed every twist and turn Crosby took me on, glad to be along for the ride.
Crosby also includes impressive detail about the history of Virginia wine, back to Thomas Jefferson, as well as interesting tidbits on winemaking. She takes some of the romance out of the profession, especially for a struggling winery, yet still makes the novel atmospheric enough for it to seem like an incredible way to spend your time. I really enjoyed the way she wove these details seamlessly into the story.
The Merlot Murders was really an engaging read, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the books in the series. While I’m sad it took me this long to read them – I’ve really been missing out! – I’m glad that I finally took the plunge and read this book. Cozy mystery fans should definitely pick up this novel, as should those who are interested in winemaking.