When Abi inherits her uncle’s quaint and storied single malt distillery, she finds herself immersed in a competitive high-stakes business that elicits deep passions and prejudices. An award-winning photojournalist, Abi has no trouble capturing the perfect shot—but making the perfect shot is another matter. When she starts to receive disturbing, anonymous threats, it’s clear that someone wants her out of the picture. But Abi’s never been one to back down from a fight.
Arriving on the scene with her whisky-loving best friend, Patrick, and an oversized wheaten terrier named Liam, Abi seems to put everyone in the bucolic village on edge—especially her dour but disturbingly attractive head distiller. Acts of sabotage and increasingly personal threats against Abi make it clear that she is not welcome. When one of Abi’s new employees is found floating facedown in a vat of whisky, Abi is determined to use her skills as an investigative journalist to identify the cold-blooded killer and dispense a dram of justice before he strikes again. But distilling truth from lies is tricky, especially when everyone seems to have something to hide.
Melinda Mullet’s delightful Whisky Business mysteries can be read together or separately. Enjoy responsibly:
SINGLE MALT MURDER | DEATH DISTILLED | DEADLY DRAM | DIED IN THE WOOL
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
“Are you going to tell me why you’re sitting there looking like something the cat dragged in on an off night, or should I order another bottle of wine and start guessing?”
Patrick Cooke might have been my oldest and closest friend, but that remark still earned him a kick in the shins under the table between us. He scowled, the gold flecks in his brown eyes flashing, but it didn’t stop him from continuing to assess me with a critical eye.
“Truth is a defense, Abi,” he said. “Have you even glanced in a mirror lately?”
“Not if I can help it,” I admitted, downing the dregs of my wine and extending the glass for a refill.
I probably did look like hell. I couldn’t remember when I’d last run a comb through my hair, and I seldom bothered with makeup even at the best of times. But it’d been a particularly tough week, and for a photojournalist who spends most of her professional life crawling through the filth of one war zone after another, that was saying something. I deserved to be cut a little slack and I certainly didn’t need to be judged by Patrick with his impeccably coordinated clothes and perfectly gelled hair.
Tonight he looked even more out of place than usual next to the scruffy journalists and media types that call this corner of London’s Fleet Street home, but the Scrivener’s Arms had been our regular post-work watering hole for more than ten years, and I refused to migrate to the trendier West End bars just because Patrick had recently been promoted to associate editor of Wine and Spirits Monthly.
“You should take better care of yourself, you know,” Patrick chided, moving his legs out of the line of fire. “You’re not as young as you used to be.”
“Thirty-four is hardly old. And besides, no one cares how I look. Especially when I’m on assignment.”
“You mean you don’t care. But you can’t fly under the radar anymore. People know who you are. At least in our business everyone knows the name Abigail Logan. You’ve won more awards than any journalist I know.” Patrick raised a hand before I could interrupt. “And you’ve earned every one of them. Your pictures are brilliant.”
I couldn’t help bristling. “I don’t want to be well known,” I insisted. I hated to be the focus of attention; that was Patrick’s thing. Back when we first met at university, I was happily buried in the psych department’s research lab studying the inner workings of the mind. An experiment on the effects of sleep deprivation brought Patrick into my life. He arrived as a guinea pig and never quite left. We were an unlikely duo—I was a loner and Patrick was never alone—but somehow we complemented one another and were better for each other’s company.
Patrick encouraged my love of photography, and over time I grew more and more fascinated by the way the inner psyche was reflected in the human face. Eventually I began to think of photos as a frozen glimpse of the mind within. I was obsessed with studying people’s faces, and as it turned out, I had a knack for portraits. The next thing I knew, Patrick was dragging me along to interview for a summer job at The London Gazette. Twelve years later, I was still there, immortalizing real people, in real moments of crisis, in every dark corner of the world.
I sighed heavily. “All I ever wanted was to make a difference.”
“You have made a difference,” Patrick argued. “I’m the one who critiques wine for a living. Why are you suddenly selling yourself short?”
“The news business is changing,” I lamented. “I met with my editor this afternoon to go over the pictures I took in Sierra Leone last week. Gut-wrenching stuff. If he ran them, no one would be able to ignore what’s happening there, but he won’t touch them. He’s afraid of losing advertising revenue.”
“You know it’s all about the money these days.”
“It shouldn’t be. So I told him what to do with his next assignment . . .”
Patrick’s eyes grew wide and he stared at me, momentarily speechless. “You quit?”
“I tried. He said I was succumbing to ‘female hysteria’ and gave me a few days of unpaid leave to ‘reconsider my position,’” I said, shredding my cocktail napkin into a blizzard of tiny pieces. “I have nine months left on this wretched contract. If I break it now it’ll cost me a bloody fortune. I wanted to tell him to get stuffed, but I can’t even afford my own principles.”
“Why don’t you go freelance when your contract’s up? You have the clout now. Who needs to go overseas? The streets of Britain are awash with repressed emotion and cross-cultural animosity congealing in the cold and damp. Take a job closer to home for once, get some sleep in your own bed, and spend some more time with Ben while you can.”
I buried my face in my hands. Too many raw emotions were coursing through me, and the tears that I’d been suppressing all evening came flooding out.
“Abi? What’s going on?” Patrick leaned across the table. “I know you. This is more than some philosophical difference with your boss.”
It took me a minute to trust my voice. I should have led with this, but every time I said it, it became more real, more painful.
I took a deep shuddering breath. “I was still in Africa when I got a message from Ben’s doctor in Scotland saying he was in a bad way. I caught a military flight out, but by the time I got as far as London, he’d died.”
Patrick’s perpetually sardonic expression softened to one of genuine concern. “Oh, Abi, I am so, so sorry.”
I tried to focus on my glass, watching the edges blur as the tears filled my eyes. “I would have called you sooner, but your assistant said you were boozing it up in Berlin on some junket, and I didn’t want to bother you.”
“Don’t be stupid, you should’ve called. What happened? I thought he was doing better before you left.”
“He was. Holding his own, anyway, but he caught pneumonia. After the last round of chemo he just wasn’t strong enough to fight it.”
Patrick reached across the table and gave my arm a squeeze. “I know this is a blow, but even if you’d made it back sooner, there’s nothing you could’ve done to stop it.”
“I could’ve been there. After everything we’ve been through, he died alone.” I lowered my voice as the adjacent table turned to stare at us. “I didn’t expect the end to come so quickly. I thought we had more time.”
“Abi, you can’t beat yourself up over this,” Patrick insisted. “You know he wouldn’t blame you.”
“But I blame me.” We lapsed into silence, each lost in our own thoughts.
Patrick was right. Ben would never blame me for not having been there, but I couldn’t forgive myself. Ben had been there for me in my darkest hour, and in the end I wasn’t there for him. More than twenty-five years had passed, but the memory of waking up in hospital alone and frightened was still as clear to me as if it were yesterday. An ordinary night out at the movies, a short drive home, a blinding flash of headlights, and then blackness. At the age of eight it hadn’t seemed possible that my parents could be gone forever, but that unfathomable reality sent my world spinning out of control. Uncle Ben had been the only solid ground under my feet. Our already tiny family was down to two, and we clung to each other like lost souls adrift at sea.
A prominent, successful broker in London, Ben hadn’t made time for a wife and family himself, but after the death of his brother and sister-in-law, he embraced being a father with gusto. He moved me into his townhouse in Chelsea along with four goldfish, two hamsters, a gecko, and an eclectic assortment of books, art supplies, and muddy football cleats. It was like Harrods Toy Kingdom meets Architectural Digest, but against all odds, Ben made it work.
Looking back on it now, I don’t know how he did it. He worked insane hours, but it never stopped him from being around. He always made time for me. According to the headmistress at school, I was a “difficult child,” but Ben never accepted that. He was my champion. When teachers found me stubborn and headstrong, Ben maintained I was creative and free-spirited. I had passionate views about everything. It made me opinionated and often abrasive, but as far as Ben had been concerned, I simply had a strong moral compass. He saw the best in me, even when others couldn’t. And now that he was gone, a small selfish part of me despaired that no one else ever would.
“What happens next?” Patrick prodded gently.
I blew my nose into the last of the cocktail napkins and sat up reaching for my bag. “I was in marathon meetings with Ben’s lawyers yesterday. Reams of legalese. I don’t understand half of it, but look at this.”
Patrick scanned the pages I handed him. “He left you nearly everything. No surprise there, you’re the only family he had . . .”
“. . . all lands and properties . . .”
“That’s it. The lands and properties bit.”
“He owns property up in Scotland, then?”
“Sadly, yes. He’s been going up there for years because of a couple of big clients in Edinburgh. But fifteen years ago he bought himself a new toy—a run-down whisky distillery. It’s been a mad hobby of his ever since. When he decided to retire six years ago, he bought the adjacent farmhouse and started spending a lot of time up there.”
“And you’ve inherited the distillery?” Patrick said, trying to hide the smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
“Not just inherited. I’ve been given complete control over the business, and it looks like somebody’s none too happy about it. This arrived under my door overnight.” I handed Patrick an envelope with no return address or postmark. He pulled out the plain card within and read:
No woman should possess the water of life,
Try and you’ll die at the point of a knife.
“Appalling verse,” Patrick noted.
“I’m not looking for a literary analysis. This is some kind of bizarre death threat. I searched ‘water of life’ and it’s a translation of the ancient word for whisky. This must have come from someone connected with the distillery.”
“Maybe it’s just some Celtic curmudgeon’s idea of a joke.”
I scowled across the table at Patrick. “Not funny. It gives me the creeps.”
“Were people friendly when you visited before?”
“I’ve never visited.”
Patrick looked dumbfounded. “You mean you’ve never seen the place?”
“Rural Scotland’s too rustic for my taste.”
“Says the girl who’s spent half her life dodging gunfire in Third World countries.”
“My travel schedule’s been brutal lately without having to trail up to the wilds of Scotland in my time off. Besides, once Ben was diagnosed with the cancer he was back down to London for treatments so regularly I saw almost as much of him as when he lived here. More to the point, I didn’t want to see it. In fact, I tried to get him to give up on the distillery. I was afraid it was sapping his strength, but he swore it gave him more vitality than it took.”
“And what’s Ben’s place called?”
“Abbey something,” I said, flipping through the pages. “Here it is . . . ‘Abbey Glen.’”
“You’re kidding.” Patrick frowned. “How did I not know that Ben owned Abbey Glen?”
“Because I never let the two of you talk shop when we got together, but never mind that. You’ve heard of it? What can you tell me?”
Patrick shook his head in amazement. “Abbey Glen’s only one of the hottest up-and-coming independent single malt producers in Scotland. Small and very pricey, a boutique distillery. The kind of place Ben would love. It’s a real class act.”
“Ben never did anything halfway in his life.” I sighed. “I should’ve known he’d make a decent whisky.”
“Decent? More than decent. It’s exquisite. Graceful, smooth, complex . . .”
“Stop.” I raised my hands in protest. “We’re talking about booze here, not art. You sound like Ben when he started to wax poetic about the stuff.”
“Connoisseurs are very serious about their malts,” Patrick replied stiffly.
“Don’t get stroppy, I need your help. Let’s face it, what I know about running a whisky distillery would fit into a shot glass with room to spare. But the Abbey Glen crowd doesn’t know that. So why am I getting death threats?”
Patrick considered the question with a pained look on his face. “For the Scots, whisky is more than a drink, Abi—it’s an obsession. Like the tourist board says, ‘a cherished part of the collective national culture and heritage,’”
Patrick intoned in his best announcer voice. “Distilling a handcrafted single malt like Abbey Glen is more an art than a science. An art a man can devote his whole life to perfecting.”
Patrick grimaced. “I’ve met a few women on the PR and distribution side in recent years, but none in actual distilling. It’s pretty much a closed shop. A real old boys’ network.”
“So Ben’s landed me smack in the middle of some sort of sexist turf war?”
“Afraid so. I wouldn’t count on the lads at Abbey Glen rolling out the red carpet for you.”
“Maybe so, but you still shouldn’t have to put up with threats. Threats that might just be serious. Call the police.”
I shrugged, and did my best to brush off a sense of foreboding. “There’s no point. I’d get the usual, ‘Where’s your sense of humor? It’s only lads being lads’ routine, and then they’d ignore it.”
“Possibly,” Patrick said without conviction, “but it might just be serious. What are you going to do?”
“Ben’s funeral’s on Saturday in the church near his home, and no one’s going to keep me away from that. I have compassion leave through the weekend, and my boss has given me another fortnight to try to get my act together before I absolutely have to be back to work. Two weeks should be enough time to settle the estate and sort out whatever this is.”
Patrick rolled his eyes. “That doesn’t sound risky at all. I don’t like the idea of you being up there alone, pursued by some deranged whisky fanatic. I’m going to the funeral with you.”
I wouldn’t have asked Patrick to come, but I was relieved that he’d volunteered. The poetic death threat was ludicrous, but even so, it was unsettling. “Can you afford to get away?”
“For you, I’ll make the time.”
“For me, or for Abbey Glen?”
“I’ll have to cancel a few meetings, but it can be done,” Patrick said, ignoring me. “Is there someplace to stay up there?”
“The village of Balfour’s a speck on the map about an hour or so northeast of Glasgow. I doubt they’ll have a hotel of any kind, but I suppose we could stay at Ben’s place. I’ve never seen it, but he told me he’d made improvements to the old croft over the past six years. I’m sure it’s got running water by now.”
A frown wrinkled Patrick’s patrician brow and I could see him weighing the relative merits of an unlimited supply of a first-class whisky against the potential for physical discomfort in the accommodations department. Sybaritic as he was, I wasn’t surprised to see the whisky win out.
“I guess we can make do for a couple of days,” he conceded without enthusiasm.
“Thanks.” I watched Patrick down the rest of his drink. “If someone tries to stab me, I’ll feel better knowing you’re watching my back.”