Book Review: A Good Day for Chardonnay by Darynda Jones

A Good Day for Chardonnay by New York Times bestselling author Darynda Jones is the second novel in her laugh-out-loud Sunshine Vicram mystery series set in Del Sol, New Mexico.

The follow-up to the sensational A Bad Day for Sunshine resolves many of the intriguing plot points first seeded in its predecessor even as it unearths some brand new mysteries centering on the quirky New Mexico town of Del Sol.

Just a short while ago, Sunshine Vicram was surprised to hear that she’d been elected sheriff of her hometown, especially since she hadn’t known she’d been running for office in the first place. But her aging parents had been so proud of themselves for getting Sunshine the position that she’d resigned from her job as police detective in Santa Fe and moved with her teenage daughter, Auri, back to a place where they’d usually only spent their summers. Over a decade earlier, Sunshine had fled Del Sol in the aftermath of a traumatic abduction that came nine months before Auri’s birth. Her memories of the incident are still obscured, as is the identity of Auri’s father.

But Sunshine has learned to live with that and formed a strong bond with both Auri and her own parents in order to become the best person, mother, and cop she can be. It helps that she’s still pretty close with many members of the Del Sol community, though not everyone is thrilled by her return. Mayor Donna Lomas especially is deeply skeptical of Sunshine and isn’t above using her position to strongarm her new sheriff into investigating a pet project of hers, the legendary Dangerous Daughters.

Sun had heard rumors of the infamous group of women who’d come together to run the town at a time when only men were allowed to sit on the council. It all seemed pretty farfetched. Even if they had existed, surely they didn’t now. That was decades ago.

 

The mayor seemed obsessed with them, however, and part of the woman’s condition to stay out of the mountain of dirt that constituted Sun’s past was for Sun to uncover the members of the clandestine group. Their negotiations and general goings-on.

All of Sunshine’s other cases go on the back burner, however, when a man is stabbed outside a bar owned by her longtime flame, Levi Ravinder. At first afraid that the victim was Levi, she’s then chagrined to discover that Levi is not only taking the stabbing of his friend personally but is also insisting on investigating the assault himself, even though he took a beating while fending off the attackers.

But her concerns about Levi’s health are nothing compared to the sheer terror she’ll feel when her own daughter’s decision to reopen an old serial killer investigation puts Auri in mortal danger as well. It starts out innocently enough, with Auri poring through her grandparents’ collection of old newspaper clippings and reading about a series of disappearances from decades earlier that were attributed to a passing drifter. Convinced that Hercules Holmes was wrongfully accused and that the venerable if slightly dotty serial-confessor Mrs. Fairborn was actually responsible, she decides to bring about her own version of justice. She just needs a little help from her best friend.

[“]I think Mrs. Fairborn was a serial killer before they even called them serial killers.”

 

“Wow,” Sybil said, just as intrigued. “Wait, what did they call serial killers before that?”

 

Auri shrugged. “Maybe pancake killers? Bacon-and-egg killers?”

 

They devolved into a fit of giggles and only sobered when a thought hit Auri like a line drive at a major-league game. “I think we need to investigate,” she said.

 

“Really? Can we do that?”

 

“Sure. My mom does it every day. How hard can it be?”

Very hard, as the reckless Auri will discover. It’s nice that A Good Day for Chardonnay emphasizes how detective work should be undertaken only by the intelligent and skilled, as the stakes are far too high otherwise. People can get seriously hurt, and reestablishing generational trauma is a horrible thing that ought not to be romanticized.

Fortunately, the grim subject matter is leavened by Darynda Jones’s trademark wit as well as by romances both steamy and sweet. In addition to solving the crimes currently plaguing Del Sol, Sunshine lays to rest several demons from the past as she finally remembers the truth of who abducted her and who Auri’s father really is. It’s a satisfying wrap-up of the mysteries left tantalizingly open in the series’ first book while also laying ground for more hijinks to come in the next.

Check out Janet Webb’s review of the first Sunshine Vicram mystery, A Bad Day for Sunshine!

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