Mon
Mar 20 2017 3:00pm

Review: Single Malt Murder by Melinda Mullet

Single Malt Murder by Melinda Mullet is the 1st novel in an engaging new series blending fine spirits with chilling mystery (available March 21, 2017).

“There's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip” is both an ancient Scottish proverb and an apropos commentary on Melinda Mullet’s inaugural Whisky Business Mystery, Single Malt Murder.

Award-winning photojournalist Abigail Logan unexpectedly inherits the Abbey Glen Distillery from her uncle Ben. The details spill out in a lachrymose and boozy evening with her oldest friend, the dapper and debonair Patrick Cooke, who tells Abi she looks like something “the cat dragged in on an off night.”

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.

Twenty-five years ago, when she was only eight, Abi’s parents died in a sickening car crash. Her father’s brother Ben stepped up and “embraced being a father with gusto.” Ben’s devotion over the years adds to Abi’s guilt at not being with him when he passed. She thinks to herself:

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.

What’s next is that Abi and Patrick travel to Scotland to explore Ben’s “new toy—a run-down whisky distillery.” Ben acquired the distillery fifteen years ago, and after his retirement moved to Scotland full-time to make a go of it. Abi has not just inherited the business, she’s “been given complete control,” and it seems that not everyone is happy about that.

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” notwithstanding, Abi takes the threat seriously. She tells Patrick that the phrase “water of life” is a “translation of the ancient word for whisky.” It is to Melinda Mullett’s credit that the details of single-malt whisky production do not segue to an info-dump but rather serve to illuminate a unique operation. Abbey Glen is no ordinary business, even if Abi had never heard of it.

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 whiskey.”

“Decent? More than decent. It’s exquisite. Graceful, smooth, complex…”

Abi may be shouting “Uncle” at Patrick to stop his effusive, connoisseur-esque commentary, but readers will very much enjoy the primer on all things single malt.

Once in Scotland, the threats continue: there’s an unfortunate death and a questionable fire, while a group of affable (or not) whisky owners hover around the new owner, hoping to persuade her to sell. Which of them, Abi wonders, sent her a “huge bouquet of thistles tied with a funereal black grosgrain ribbon?” That’s not even subtle.

Abi decides her tribute to her uncle will be a book showcasing his beloved distillery. The moment she arrives, she starts to take photographs. Unsurprisingly, Ben’s home is exquisite—a jewel in the Scottish countryside. Her first morning in Scotland enchants her.

Beyond the cultivated border, the heather-covered slopes were visible in the distance, creating an Impressionists’s canvas of rose and lavender hues against the backdrop of the limestone hills that framed the valley. Lingering wisps of morning mist gave the whole place an otherworldly look. It felt like waking to find I’d been transported to Middle Earth in the night.

Is it her uncle’s legacy, is it the beauty of her surroundings, or is it her first taste of the amber liquid her uncle produced that persuades Abi to stay a while? A young bartender pours her a dram.

Fully prepared to hide a grimace, I was surprised to find that, even at full strength, it tasted more like a vintage brandy than the whiskies I knew. Not just good, but really good. Redolent of figs and caramel and Christmas pudding. A gentle touch of comfort and warmth, which made me think of Ben.

Armed with a glow that felt very much like a “ghostly caress,” Abi embarks on the adventure—and the mystery—of a lifetime. The Scottish countryside, the weathered townsfolk, and possibly her enigmatic and “attractive head distiller,” are a backdrop to Abi’s determination to solve the puzzle of why she is being warned off her uncle’s bequest.

Let’s lift a wee dram to the start of a fascinating new series.

See also: Review: Snowed In with Murder by Auralee Wallace

 

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Janet Webb aka @JanetETennessee has unpredictable opinions on books. Season ticket holder of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. Social media devotee. Stories on royals and politics catch my eye. Ottawa born. Grew up on the books of Helen MacInnes, Mary Stewart, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Anne Perry ... I'm always looking for a great new mystery series.

Read all of Janet Webb's articles for Criminal Element!

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