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The Riesling Retribution (Wine Country Mystery Series #4)

The Riesling Retribution (Wine Country Mystery Series #4)

3.6 15
by Ellen Crosby

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Colorful characters, fascinating history, and winemaking detail blend with luminous prose in Ellen Crosby’s “sprightly” (Publishers Weekly) new tale of suspense set in Virginia’s lush wine country.

When a tornado rips through Montgomery Estate Vineyard and unearths a grave in an abandoned field, police inform Lucie Montgomery that


Colorful characters, fascinating history, and winemaking detail blend with luminous prose in Ellen Crosby’s “sprightly” (Publishers Weekly) new tale of suspense set in Virginia’s lush wine country.

When a tornado rips through Montgomery Estate Vineyard and unearths a grave in an abandoned field, police inform Lucie Montgomery that the odds are good someone in her family is responsible—possibly for murder. But she has more to worry about than buried secrets.

A clash between her charming new farm manager and her winemaker, Quinn Santori, tests her complicated romantic and professional feelings for Quinn, fueling the winery’s combustible atmosphere. Meanwhile eerie ghost stories make her think twice about allowing Civil War reenactors to use a field near the grave site—until the spirits of her own family’s past converge for a most unexpected outcome.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

When Lucie Montgomery stumbles across a skull in her vineyard-just after the tornado that almost kills her-little does she suspect the skeletons in the family closet to which the discovery will lead in Crosby's sprightly fourth Virginia wine country mystery (after 2008's The Bordeaux Betrayal). But who can blame the amateur detective for being a bit off her game, with the hurricane of headaches already buffeting Montgomery Estate Vineyard? Hot-tempered winemaker Quinn Santori and handsome new manager Chance Miller (Lucie is attracted to both) are at each other's throats-and hundreds of Civil War buffs are due in days to re-enact the 1861 Battle of Ball's Bluff. Expect plenty of fireworks as Lucie pursues her own investigation into the old, but no longer cold, homicide and a fast-paced sprint to what proves a rather slapdash finish. Until then, however, Crosby serves up a wine cooler that goes down easy even if it's hardly vintage. (Aug.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
The owner of a Virginia vineyard faces trouble at the winery and an accusation of murder. Lucie Montgomery is visiting her parents' graves and checking out the site she's allowing Civil War reenactors to use when a tornado blows through. Not only does it destroy a field of vines, it turns up some old bones that cause a bunch of trouble. The bones are all that remains of Beauregard Kinkaid, who was on the outs with Lucie's father Leland over a business deal and whose wife Annabel was having an affair with Leland. When they identify Leland's gun as the murder weapon, the police pronounce the case closed. Lucie knows that her father was a bad businessman and a philanderer, but she's sure he wasn't a murderer. Proving his innocence, however, may be impossible, as Annabel is now married to the rich and powerful Summer Chastain, who's doing everything he can to keep the lid on the case. Nor is murder Lucie's only problem. Her winemaker Quinn Santori and her field manager Chance Miller are at drawn daggers, and her brother Eli has been left almost bankrupt by the big-spending wife who's leaving him for richer pickings. Lucie's attraction to both Chance and Quinn makes it difficult to place blame for everything going wrong at the winery. When everything comes to a head at the reenactment, she nearly pays with her life. Crosby's pleasing fourth (The Bordeaux Betrayal, 2008, etc.) will delight current fans and surely add new ones.

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Wine Country Mystery Series , #4
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

We all have a right to our private lives; it's living a secret life that gets us in trouble. At least, that's been my experience. Either the house of cards comes crashing down when the lies and deceit finally catch up with us, or we die with our secrets and someone uncovers them after we're gone. Either way, we break the heart of a loved one, and that's our legacy.

I own a vineyard at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia on a five-hundred-acre farm that has been in my family almost as long as this country has existed. Every Montgomery who lived here for the last two centuries is buried in a brick-enclosed cemetery that sits atop a hill near my home and commands a particularly breathtaking view of the mountains. My parents lie in the two newest graves.

Every few weeks I make a point of stopping by the place and always find peace and tranquility there. I spend most of the time at my mother's grave, leaning against her headstone and talking to her as the clouds drift across the Blue Ridge in a pretty tableau of chiaroscuro. I do right by Leland, too — my father preferred his children to call him by his first name — although I don't stay long with him or talk much.

They say God gives us families so we don't have to fight with strangers. My father somehow managed to be both family and stranger to my brother and sister and me. Each time I stare at his polished granite tombstone with its chiseled epitaph — "The acts of this life are the destiny of the next" — an Eastern proverb that seemed more warning than prophecy in Leland's case — I wonder about the man he was and the layered life he hid from us. Leland had done a good job of keeping secrets about some of the acts of his life, but in the two years since he passed away, so far nothing he had done had altered my destiny, or that of my siblings.

Though that was about to change.

Today's visit to the cemetery on a sultry late July afternoon was brief. I had picked my mother some fragrant pale pink Renaissance roses from her garden. She planted the bush shortly before she died eight years ago, a few months before my twenty-first birthday, and never saw it bloom. If she had, I know it would have been one of her favorites.

When I had finished, I got back in the two-seater Gator and drove to a remote part of the farm where I'd agreed to let a group of men spend a weekend shooting at one another. That probably sounds sinister, but it's not. A person can't tread on a patch of land around here that hasn't somehow been part of the Civil War, a fact that still eats at plenty of folks. Of all the states that fought in the war, none suffered like we did in Virginia. Gettysburg lasted four horrific days. We had four years of misery.

So when B. J. Hunt, who owned Hunt & Sons Funeral Home, approached me last year and asked if I'd allow Company G of the 8th Virginia, his reenactment unit, to stage the 1861 Battle of Ball's Bluff on my land, how could I say no? Especially when B.J. said the local battle wasn't often reenacted, meaning we'd not only draw spectators and participants from all over the country but the vineyard would also get a healthy shot of national publicity.

I am not martial in my interests, nor do I hunt and shoot, unlike my father who was an expert marksman, but I do honor my forebears and our history. The real Ball's Bluff, now preserved as a national battlefield and a park, is a few miles down the Old Carolina Road at the edge of the Potomac River, and is the site of the third-smallest military cemetery in the United States.

B.J. and his reenactors did not want to fight on hallowed ground, but they did want to stage their event as close to the battlefield as possible, preferably someplace near water. On October 21, 1861, Union soldiers had taken a few small boats across the Potomac from Maryland to Virginia, expecting to find a deserted Confederate camp near the town of Leesburg. What happened instead was a day-long series of skirmishes that ended with the panicked retreat of Federals down the cliffs of Ball's Bluff into the fast-moving Potomac. The sight of dozens of bloated bodies in blue floating downriver to Washington, as far away as Mount Vernon, so horrified President Lincoln and his Congress that a commission was established to oversee the conduct of the war from then on, forcing Union commanders to answer to a bunch of nonmilitary lawmakers.

Goose Creek, one of the Potomac's tributaries, runs through the middle of my farm. Though it meanders mostly through woods, the creek also skirts a large field beyond the vines that B.J. said would be an ideal place to hold the reenactment, now scheduled to take place in less than two weeks.

I was a few dozen yards from the field when the Gator, anemic sounding ever since I'd left the cemetery, stalled and died. I turned the key in the ignition and pumped the gas, hearing nothing but dead-sounding clicks. I was about to climb down for a closer look at the engine — though to be honest, I wouldn't know what I was looking for if it hit me in the face — when the ominous sound of wind rushing through the treetops made me look up. The birds suddenly had gone silent. We were in for a storm. A fast-moving one, too.

The weather forecast hadn't said anything about a tornado, but there was no mistaking the ropy-looking gray funnel that had materialized out of nowhere on the horizon, spewing debris like dirty smoke. The dust cloud swelling at its base was shaped like an old-fashioned oil lamp, and the twister, rising in the middle, had the furious torque and spin of an angry genie.

As though its appearance was a cue for what came next, a lead-colored wall of clouds descended from the sky like a curtain slamming down on a stage. The wind picked up, twisting tree branches unnaturally until all I could see were the undersides of leaves flashing like millions of silvered coins.

I fished my cell phone out of my pocket and started to call Quinn Santori, my winemaker, until I remembered that he was twenty miles away at a meeting of the winemakers' roundtable in Delaplane. Instead I hit the speed-dial number for Chance Miller, our new field manager, and heard him say, "Hello, Lucie," before the display flashed "call lost...searching for service" and went blank. The storm must have knocked out reception from the tower.

Across the field lightning arced the sky like God was throwing down pitchforks. I tossed the phone, now a lightning-magnet, in the Gator's open glove compartment and started counting. One- Mississippi. I got only to four when the crack of thunder came, sounding like it had split open the earth.

A hard, slanting rain moved in, slapping my shoulder-length hair in my eyes and tearing at my clothes. In my head I heard the litany of warnings television weather reporters shout as they are lashed by rain and wind in some perilous edge-of-the-world location, moments before they bolt for safety when the camera is turned off. Seek shelter immediately! The safest place is the basement of a house! If you do not have a basement, find an interior room and barricade yourself inside! Cover yourself with a mattress or hide behind a piece of furniture! Abandon all cars and mobile homes! They will not protect you! Seek shelter immediately!

The warnings never provided for the foolhardy soul who wasn't about to be whisked out of the path of destruction by a waiting car. The tornado danced closer, teetering and swaying like a drunkard. If I didn't get out of here soon, I was doomed. I fought against the panic crawling through my mind and tried to focus on my options. How fast did tornados travel? How much time did I have?

The surrounding woods were no safer than the field. The vineyard, where wooden posts could be uprooted and trellis wire become as sharp as a razor, was a worse idea. Get to a low place, that's what they always said.

On my way here I had driven across a stone bridge my great-great-great-grandfather built across Goose Creek shortly after the Civil War. Calling it a bridge was a stretch, since it was really more of a culvert. But it was nearer than the winery or my house, both at least two miles away. Another flash of lightning looked like it struck something in the woods. My skin tingled as I heard the crack of timber splitting.

I grabbed my cane from the Gator and began moving toward the bridge. Four years ago an automobile accident left me with a crippled left foot and a devastating pronouncement from my doctor that I would spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. I changed doctors until I found one who saw things differently. It took surgery and months of therapy and swimming until I finally managed to get around with the help of a walker. Later I graduated to a cane, which I still need for balance and support. But I can no longer run — and I never will — other than managing an awkward lope like I'm half of a shackled team in a three-legged race.

The wind shifted and I glanced over my shoulder. The darkening wall of clouds obliterated the sky and it sounded as though a jet or an out-of-control freight train was bearing down on me. I dragged my bad foot like a reluctant child. The dirt road dissolved into a muddy, rutted stream and my right work boot made a sucking sound with each step.

How much longer until I reached the bridge? What would happen if the tornado overtook me before I got there? Would it pick me up, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, and spin me around, depositing me safely somewhere else? At least Dorothy had been inside a house. What really happened to people who got caught in a tornado's vortex? Were they hurled through the air like human javelins? Or was the drop in barometric pressure so intense it literally tore them apart?

The outline of the bridge, blurred and softer looking in the downpour, loomed ahead. I slid down the embankment, grabbing a branch to keep from landing on my rear or tumbling into the creek. Underneath the air smelled of cobwebs and decomposing vegetation. I threw my cane into the darkness, coughing and swallowing what tasted like dirt, as I felt around for a dry spot that wasn't some animal's lair. The rising creek rushed past me in a torrent, but the noise could not drown out the apocalyptic sound of what was happening outside.

The bridge was too low and shallow to stand. Instead I knelt as though I were praying and dug my fingernails into the crumbling mortar between the old stones. The rain changed to hail, dancing like hot grease in a frying pan as it crackled on the ground and hissed on the water. Wind buffeted the bridge, sending debris hurtling at me with such force it seemed to penetrate my skin.

Only one other time in my life did I wonder with the same desperation if these were my last minutes on earth. For months after my crippling accident, I woke from sweat-drenched dreams where I'd relived the slow-motion moment I knew the car driven by a now ex-boyfriend would not make the turn and instead slam with a killing force into the stone wall at the entrance to the vineyard. Now the storm slammed into me with that same violence, inhabiting my body and crowding my mind like a demon that would need exorcising.

The bridge shuddered as the tornado passed by — how close I couldn't tell — but so much debris and dirt rained down that I was sure it would collapse and bury me alive. Gradually the throbbing diminished and the roaring grew dimmer. My arc-shaped view of the world changed from black to gray. Then the rain stopped as suddenly as someone shutting off a faucet.

I found my cane and crawled back outside. My muddy clothes stuck to me like skin and my hair felt like seaweed when I pushed it off my face. To the west the sky was still death colored, but to the east the tornado seemed to have sucked the storm clouds with it, leaving behind blue skies and improbable sunshine.

The hail had transformed the summer landscape to a winter scene that dazzled and glittered. In the distance, the yellow-andgreen Gator — exactly where I'd left it — was a bright blotch of color against a frozen carpet.

The tornado's wide swath stretched from the edge of B.J.'s battlefield through the woods. I squinted at the low-slung Catoctin Mountains to my south, and the Blue Ridge, which filled the skyline to the west, and made some calculations. The twister had traveled from southwest to northeast. On that trajectory it probably sliced right through the vines in the south vineyard, which meant it might have destroyed more than half of our grapes. I closed my eyes and contemplated the loss of a few million dollars' worth of vines and thousands of cases of wine. But my life had been spared, and if the tornado missed my home and the winery — and God was merciful — then everyone who worked here had survived as well.

I retrieved my phone. Still no service. Unless someone came looking for me, I had a two-mile hike back to the vineyard. Before I left, though, I wanted to see up close the gash the tornado had cut through the field.

At the edge of the trench a dome-shaped object gleamed in the late afternoon sunlight. I knelt and brushed away dirt to get a better look at it. The first thing I saw were empty eye sockets staring into space. There was a perfect triangular orifice where the nose had been. The mandible with its lower row of teeth was missing, but the maxilla and top teeth were intact. Distant thunder rumbled like a drumroll near the vineyard.

It was a hell of a way to announce that the tornado had unearthed a human skull. Copyright © 2009 by Ellen Crosby

Meet the Author

Ellen Crosby is the author of Multiple Exposure, the first book in a series featuring photojournalist Sophie Medina. She has also written six books in the Virginia wine country mystery series. A former freelance reporter for The Washington Post, Moscow correspondent for ABC Radio News, and an economist at the US Senate, Crosby lives in Virginia with her family. Learn more about her at EllenCrosby.com.

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The Riesling Retribution (Wine Country Mystery Series #4) 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Virginia, Montgomery Estate Vineyard Lucie Montgomery visits her parents' graves when a tornado strikes. The twister destroyed some vines, but also uncovered relatively recently buried human bones where none should be. The timing is exacerbated by reenactors arriving for the 1861 Battle of Ball's Bluff. At the same time her winemaker Quinn Santori and her field manager Chance Miller are dueling over the vines and her. The remains belong to Beauregard Kinkaid, who had a fight with Lucie's scoundrel father. When the murder weapon is found and belonged to the late Leland, the police declare the case is solved and Lucie's late father is the killer. Lucie knew her dad was a rogue but not a murderer. She tries to investigate but the second spouse of Beauregard's wife, powerful Summer Chastain, will not allow anything to interfere with the official verdict. The latest wine mystery (see THE BORDEAUX BETRAYAL, THE MERLOT MURDERS and THE CHARDONNAY CHARADE) is a charming amateur sleuth in which readers will toast elegant entertaining Ellen Cosby for this fun entry. The heroine is harassed on all fronts as she struggles with the internal war between two key employees in which she is attracted to both of them, the arrival of the horde of reenactors, and the belief her late rogue of a dad killed a rival. Although the whodunit is entertaining unlike the previous three tales, Lucie's inquiry shares top billing with the feud and the Civil War buffs; still fans will enjoy future wine tasting awesome alliterations. Harriet Klausner
beachmomCP More than 1 year ago
I confess: I have become addicted to Ellen Crosby's series of murder mysteries set in the vineyards of the Blue Ridge mountains. The characters are well-developed and the plots are intriguing. I have learned so much about growing and harvesting grapes and turning them into wine as I puzzle out the clues in the stories. Normally by the third book in a series I have grown bored with the plots and characters, but this is not the case with the Wine Country Mystery Series. Ms. Crosby has kept my interest even with the fourth book. So grab a glass of wine and enjoy this latest venture!
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huckfinn37 More than 1 year ago
I liked the Riesling Retribution. It had alot of mystery, suspense, and romance. I leared so much about wine from reading all of Ellen Crosby's books. I would recommend this book highly.
Gran6 More than 1 year ago
As always with Ms. Crosby's books, this one was a most enjoyable read. If you haven't read her books, I would recommend that you begin with the first one and I think you will want to read them all the way to this one! I look forward to her next book!
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