The Viognier Vendetta by Ellen Crosby
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
When vineyard owner Lucie Montgomery receives a phone call out of nowhere from her tempestuous friend Rebecca - who she hasn't seen in twelve years - she finds herself drawn into a web of lies, betrayal and coded messages buried within poetry.
I picked up this book by accident: I was actually looking for non-fiction books on Viognier. However, I love a good mystery with an amateur sleuth, so I decided to take a chance on it. It has all the right elements - lies, intrigue, an evocative setting, excellent pacing - and I really wanted to like it, but it fell short for me in too many places.
The first thing that stood out to me is how much the descriptive and historical passages read like a tourist guidebook. The infodumping took me right out of Lucie's point of view and made me feel as if I was learning about the places secondhand, rather than actually being there.
Second, there's the romantic subplot. It may be an unfortunate side effect with coming in at the fifth or so book in a long-running series of this subgenre, but I briefly found myself wondering if the main character had slept with every male we would be introduced to. The actual interactions with Quinn are disappointing and frustrating: there seems very little reason for her to be attached to him except that he's good in bed, and as a reader, I never really felt the heat between them. So much of their apparent problems could be cleared up by honest conversation and never were. It was throw-the-book infuriating.
I really did enjoy the way Crosby set the scene, introduced us to characters, speculated on their motives, and gave us loose ends to puzzle upon. The novel was also nicely paced: for all its flaws, it kept me turning pages. (I had the same reaction to The DaVinci Code, so I suppose it is in good company!) However, the final revelation as to the killer disappointed me. It was a very straightforward mystery with few twists and turns as to whodunnit. The answer wasn't a surprise, and not in a positive way.
Finally, considering that this is Lucie's fifth endeavor into the realm of murder and mayhem, I expected her to be more proactive. She was fairly passive throughout, allowing other characters and their actions to push her into motion.
Overall, it was a decent read, but I was disappointed.
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