Written by Janet Hubbard — Max Maguire, a tall, leggy, no-nonsense detective with the NYPD, is the daughter of a philosopher-cop father and a French mother. She’s looking forward to the wedding of her best friend from college, Chloé, in the Champagne region of France. Chloé’s aunt Léa has inherited a famous vineyard and grown the family business very successfully, but is now considering selling it off. So rifts are exposed within the family on the eve of the wedding, as everyone has their own interests to protect.
At the wedding and reception, Max finds herself drawn to attractive French magistrate Olivier, but their fairytale evening soon turns into disaster as Léa is found murdered. Both Olivier and Max must set aside their personal involvement with the family of the victim and work together, despite their Franco-American differences. And, in spite of any initial misunderstandings, they prove to be a formidable team in their hunt for the killer.
The plot thickens and before they can resolve the mystery, another body is discovered. Likely suspects include an American friend of Max’s, a German wine expert who is too aggressive in his attempts to buy the vineyard, and even the mother of the groom, who happens to be an ex-mistress of a top French politician.
With a bubbly dialogue and an international cast of characters, the story twists and turns, although the ending may not be too much of a surprise to attentive readers. This is essentially a country house murder set in on French manor, liberally sprinkled with foodie references and champagne. Although it’s an enjoyable read, there are a few inconsistencies which spoil the story somewhat. For instance, Olivier’s parents are at the church wedding, admiring Max’s hat and tattoo, but just a few pages later they’ve flown off to Australia. Unlikely, since they are potential witnesses in a murder investigation. The willingness of all French bureaucrats and witnesses to speak English to Max, even after she admits that her mother is French and she has spent a semester in Paris, rather beggars belief. This is a shame, because the premise – a cosy mystery and clash of cultures in a beautiful location – seems a good idea.
Champagne: The Farewell is the first in a series called Vengeance in the Vineyard, where each title is set in one of the wine regions of France. It’s a quintessential summer read, ideal for all those who want respite from gritty thrillers, or who like travel and food tips to add some flavour to their crime fiction. It should be a compelling read for fans of Janet Laurence’s Darina Lisle or Michael Bond’s Monsieur Pamplemousse series.
Poisoned Pen Press
CFL Rating: 3 Stars