Ellen Crosby, The Champagne Conspiracy: A Wine Country Mystery. Reviewed by Emily Grace

 Champagne ConspiracyEllen Crosby, The Champagne Conspiracy: A Wine Country Mystery. Minotaur Books, 2016, ISBN: 978-1-250-07655-7, 362 pages. Price $25.99. Reviewed by Emily Grace.

“Gino Tomassi’s visit here had opened up a Pandora’s box of trouble for all of us, and somehow I knew there would be more to come.

Much more.”

So ends the third chapter of Ellen Crosby’s The Champagne Conspiracy, but with these two sentences, a mystery filled with intrigue, blackmail, and murder is just beginning.

Published in 2016, The Champagne Conspiracy is Crosby’s seventh and latest Virginia Wine Country Mystery, and like the other books in the series, follows Lucie Montgomery and her winemaker Quinn Santori. The on-again, off-again couple runs the Montgomery Estate Vineyard in Virginia when not hopelessly embroiled in the solving of mysteries they come across.

In this latest episode, Lucie and Quinn are forced to confront a century-old secret when Gino Tomassi, Quinn’s uncle and prosperous California wine maker, brings it to their attention. Someone has discovered something the Tomassi family would prefer to leave in the past and uses the knowledge to blackmail Gino for part of the family fortune.

In their attempt to help Gino outmaneuver a blackmailer and clear their own names, the pair begins to uncover the long-buried story of Zara Tomassi (Gino’s grandfather’s first wife) and the possible survival of her illegitimate child who may hold a claim to the Tomassi fortune. However, their search turns dangerous when it becomes apparent that some parties believe the truth is better left untouched, and Lucie and Quinn must work to solve the mystery as it threatens to bubble over.

The Champagne Conspiracy has all the staples of a traditional mystery:lies and half-truths, private meetings in back rooms, hidden identities, good old-fashioned sleuthing, and a twist at the end that, if the reader has been paying attention, is predictable, although not unsatisfying in its predictability. This is also a multi-faceted story; history, romance, and of course, winemaking are all layered within the text, adding dimension and body to this whodunit.

The numerous loose ends and storylines are expertly tied up in the final pages, and readers are left with a neat and tidy conclusion. For the most part, the novel stands on its own in the series.  For readers new to the Virginia Wine Country Mysteries, however, be aware that many of the relationships and family dynamics referenced in the novel have been established in previous installments of the series and can therefore take a bit more decoding work before becoming clear.

Crosby constructs a light, effervescent mystery that entices and entertains. The vineyard is welcoming and immersive, and the story found within is certainly worthy of the celebration its eponymous drink implies.

Keep an eye out for the 8th book in the series The Vineyard Victims, which will be released early November 2017.

© Ellen Crosby and Emily Grace

Ellen Crosby is the author of six previous books in the Virginia wine country mystery series, which began with The Merlot Murders. She has also written a mystery series featuring international photojournalist Sophie Medina. Previously she worked as a freelance reporter for The Washington Post, as the Moscow correspondent for ABC News Radio, and as an economist in the United States Senate.

Emily Grace is an English student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She has previously worked as an assistant editor for the Baltimore-based publishing house BrickHouse Books and as a technical writer for the Engineers Without Border Chapter at UMBC. She aspires to edit and write professionally.

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