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by Michele Scott
Berkley, July 2008
240 pages
ISBN: 0425222543

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Vineyard manager Nikki Sands and her boss and love interest Derek Malveaux are off to the Barossa Valley in Australia, where vintner Derek plans to craft an agreement to market Australian wines in the US.

When they arrive at the Hahndorf estate/winery, they encounter what looks like a movie set. Sure enough, producer Kane Ferriss and world famous director Nathan Cooley are gearing up for a film starring one of Hollywood's up and coming stars, Lucy Swanson, and a major box office draw, leading man Shawn Keefer. Lucy is more than a bit of a diva, demanding and arrogant. Despite having agreed to do it, she is reluctant to film a scene with a poisonous snake, even though the handler of the animals for the film assures her that all is under control nd she is in no danger.

Meanwhile, back at their hotel, Nikki and Derek are about to indulge in a little love making when Derek's gay brother Simon appears. He has had a spat with his lover, Marco, and has CHARTERED a jet to fly him from California to Australia, where he plans to lick his wounds, billing the charter to the Malveaux winery. This is the first point of the plot with which I had trouble, though not the last. Derek makes the most perfunctory protest and then moves on. I would think a chartered jet for a journey of that length would eat up at least a quarter's profits. I'm surprised that Derek didn't tell Simon he could work off the cost by picking grapes for the rest of his life.

But greater woes are in store. When Lucy doesn't come out of her trailer, the director breaks in and finds her dead, bitten by a poisonous snake. Everyone but Nikki deems it an accident, though why they are so confident is not altogether clear, given the unlikeliness of a snake's just turning up in the trailer on its own.

Since the film is in danger of tanking with the loss of the entire investment, the director implores Nikki, a former actress, to take over the starring role. She agrees, because it will allow her to go behind the scenes and find Lucy's murderer. Here I find other problems. She pays only cursory attention to the script, although, as star, she would surely have the bulk of the lines. In about forty-eight hours, she masters an Australian accent. Even Meryl Streep would take longer. And while Nikki has to deal with a dingo and a nasty kangaroo, the scene with the snake is never repeated.

There are other irritants: when Nikki and Derek seem in danger of breaking up, Simon's counselling speeches as a kind of gay Ann Landers go on at great length. Nor does Nikki really solve the crime; she has the solution foisted on her.

Still, despite these strains on believability, the mix of Australian characters with American show biz people, every one of whom has a motive for murder, works well. Nikki is both charming and irritating. Readers who like their mystery mixed with romance might like this one and, if they sample some of the suggested food and wine pairings, may forgive some of the less persuasive parts of the book.

Reviewed by Mary Elizabeth Devine, August 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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