BOOKWORM: Thriller set in wine country serves accuracy with screams

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

It’s always been your daily indulgence.

Every night for years, you’ve ended your day and started your night with a single glass of wine. Maybe it’s a red, dry as a sandbox on a July afternoon. Perhaps it’s a sweet white that makes your tongue want to dance around your mouth. Just one glass – rarely more – and you feel your day completing.

And hey! They say wine is even good for you.

But for some people, it’s not good at all. In fact, in the new book “Blood Vines” by Erica Spindler, a bit of the grape could be very dangerous.

It was tragedy that wine connoisseurs would mourn: 100-year-old vines, once lush with fruit, had been stricken with a virus and were to be ripped up, destroyed and replanted. Work was progressing well when the bones were found.

The tiny body was wrapped in a blue blanket with no identification, but rumor swirled that the baby was Dylan Sommer. Little Dylan had disappeared decades before, his abduction never solved, his body never found – until now.

Detective Danny Reed remembered when Dylan disappeared. Reed was just 10 years old, his parents were friends with the Sommers and both had a winery. He remembered the pain, how Patsy Sommer couldn’t deal with the loss of her son and he remembered the family splintering.

Reed ran into the unfortunate Sommers now and then – it’s hard not to, when everybody who has a vineyard knows everybody else with one.

Alexandra Clarkson’s life was filled with drama. Her mother, Patsy, was erratic and wouldn’t take her medicine. Tim, Alex’s ex-husband, was still in the picture, even though the divorce was final long ago. And those creepy bits of memory and nightmare were sneaking back into Alex’s daydreams.

Worse, they were coming back at night, too.

When Reed discovered that Patsy Clarkson and Patsy Sommer were one and the same, he tried to get some answers from Alexandra. But Alex had no memory of Sonoma Valley or the Sommer vineyards, so she was of no help.

She did have a mysterious heirloom ring, though. And she had those hooded-figure, chanting nightmares.

Like a little scream with your Sauvignon? Some creepy with your Cabernet? You’ll find a whole vat’s worth in “Blood Vines” and then some.

Soon after visiting a winery, author Erica Spindler took advantage of “love at first sight” by setting this latest mystery in California’s wine country. Authenticity is part of the appeal in this book; wine lovers and vintners won’t scoff at plot points because Spindler did her research.

What I liked about this book, though, aside from the true-life details, were the intricacies of the plot. Spindler makes you pour your suspicions in so many wrong places that even the best armchair detective will have a hard time soaking up enough clues to solve this whodunit early.

Fans of the fermented will love this novel, as will mystery mavens of any age. If word and wine go hand-in-hand in your life, “Blood Vines” is a book to uncork.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,500 books.

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