ISBN #: 9780425274026
$7.99; $7.99 Amazon
March 1, 2016
Penny Lively loves running her family's winery, but to keep business growing, she needs to find a way to attract more guests. When she's approached to invest in a new train line through wine country, Penny and her intoxicating winery manager, Connor, hightail it to a lavish resort to hear the details. Unfortunately, her neighbor's daughter, Chantal, is also there, swirling up trouble by flirting with the married investors - and Connor too.
When one of the investors' wives is murdered, Chantal, who was seen fighting with the woman, is the prime suspect. Chantal may be a sour grape, but she's no killer. So Penny, who's become a sleuthing connoisseur, starts sniffing out the real suspect - and discovers that her fellow potential investors have been savoring more than their share of deadly secrets...
Penny Lively runs Joyeux Winery in Cypress Cove, California. She has just had an invitation to be part of a group of investors for a new winery train line in Monterey County. Penny would be contributing a strip of land running alongside her vineyards, and in return the train would stop close to the winery's tasting room on its tour. When she finally decides to attend, she also invites Connor, her winery manager, to come along. Also along for the tour is her neighbor and distant relative Antonia Martinelli, who owns the largest and most successful winery along the central coast. But to Penny's dismay, Antonia is also bringing her daughter Chantal, an old nemesis of Penny's who once stole her boyfriend in high school, and now seems to be on the hunt for Connor.
Once they arrive at the Silverado Mission Inn and Spa in Napa Valley, they meet the rest of the invitees who will be traveling in their assigned train car. There is Big Dave Duport, who owns a line of car dealerships; his buxom and young wife Tara, who grew up near Napa; Dave's son Vince, who seems surly and doesn't like Tara one bit; Jim and Kim, two married lovebirds from Chicago; and Bill, who is the engineer of the train that they will be riding for the tour. Also along are the bartender Seth, and his wife Barb, who is the waitress.
At the first winery stop, it is discovered that Tara has a history with Seth and Barb, and not a happy one, either. It also soon becomes apparent that Tara is loud, brash, and doesn't like women one bit. It doesn't take long for her to get into an argument with Chantal, and Tara slapped her...and it escalated from there, with the two volatile women fighting with each other. Even though they were soon separated, the atmosphere is tense between them while they continue on.
Then there is a squeal of brakes, and the train suddenly stops. When Chantal and Tara are missing, everyone fears the worst. But they aren't prepared for what they find: Chantal on the floor of the caboose with a cut on her head, and Tara...lying outside across the tracks, her head at an odd angle. Tara is dead, and Chantal is now the chief suspect in her murder. Since the investigating officer, Chief Harding, seems to be satisfied with Chantal as the murderer, Antonia knows her daughter is no killer and asks Penny to help her find the real one. So Penny is reluctantly drawn into finding out who killed Tara and why. Since it appears quite a few people had reasons to want her out of the way, Penny has her work cut out for her.
Penny has never been known to be tactful, and she has no problem confronting people regarding Tara's death. But eventually it becomes clear that Penny herself might be the next target. And when there's another murder, Penny knows she's getting close and must find the killer before she's victim number three.
I truly enjoyed reading this book. Ms. O'Neil gives a wonderful description of the winemaking process, and the area surrounding Napa Valley. The descriptions of the area are so rich that it inspires me to make a trip there myself. I've known some of what goes into making wines, and how tastings work, but found interesting the information regarding barrel tastings.
Her characters are convincing and realistic; we see Penny's internal warring with herself over her feelings for Connor, and even though she dislikes Chantal, she knows the woman is not a killer and does her best to help, even though she feels Chantal not only doesn't appreciate it, but that she is throwing herself at Connor every chance she gets. It doesn't help that Antonia is goading her to take action regarding this.
While a few of the characters involved were not only unsavory but unlikable, it was difficult to decide which of them might have been the murderer. When we do find the truth of the situation, on the whole it seems a strange irony, and one wonders if the second murder would have been solved if not for Tara's demise.
This book was very well done and Ms. O'Neil has a gift for making everything fall into place exactly as it should. Highly recommended.
More on Carlene O'Neil: http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/o/carlene-oneil/