Deadly Offer by Vicki Doudera is a traditional, almost cozy, mystery in the Darby Farr, real estate agent series (available April 10, 2012).
When Darby Farr’s assistant hears that his sister, Selena, has suddenly died in her hot tub, they travel to Selena’s magnificent vineyard estate nestled in the heart of southern California wine country. There, Darby discovers that Selena was entertaining offers from three overeager prospective buyers — and Selena’s death was no accident. As a saboteur wreaks havoc on the property, Darby risks her life to crack the case and close the sale in a valley ripe with secrets and dangers.
Deadly Offer is third in the Darby Farr series; the heroine is an amateur detective who makes her living as a real estate agent. Judging from this entry in the series, and summaries of the previous novels, real estate is the device to bring the detective together with the crimes, and often a motive for murder. To me, Deadly Offer had an Agatha Christie feel to it, though the style is more modern than Christie’s. I was not familiar with the series before reading this book, but the amateur female sleuth and the small cast of suspects made me feel it came close to the “cozy” sub-genre. It didn’t fit that category in all ways, however, as the victim’s death was dramatized in a way that cozies often eschew. As someone who favors police procedurals and noir, this was an interesting departure for me, and I enjoyed seeing how the components of the story varied.
Deadly Offer is a puzzle story, presenting a number of suspects with various motives to tantalize the reader. The key element of the murder relates to Carson Creek, a vineyard owned by the victim. First, there’s a prologue, in which the victim, Selena, confronts an unnamed man; she fears for her life, which might seem to be the mystery’s solution up front, except of course it’s more complicated than that! There are numerous twists and turns throughout.
“… I told you, this isn’t about you and I, it is about the business. It’s about who is right for the vineyard.”
“And how am I not right? I will love this place, you know that.”
“It’s not enough to love it,” she muttered. “I have poured the last five years of my life into Carson Creek..”
Selena is later found dead in her hot tub. Her death is at first attributed to natural causes, perhaps a heart attack. The suspects are laid out for the reader when her manager informs Selena’s surviving brothers that she was planning to sell Carson Creek.
“Was she going to sell to Michael Contento?”
“At first she planned to, and then …” Dan paused. “There were other offers.”
Carlos exhaled. “As in more than one?” …
“That’s right. An accountant from back east—her name is Vivian something. The second one’s from a yoga expert with a TV show—Fritz Kohler. He wants to have a yoga retreat center here.”
“And what are Vivian’s plans?” Darby inquired.
“Selena said she wants to keep it just the way it is. She’s looking for a lifestyle change, a quiet little place where she could retire.”
… ET…gave a sheepish little grin. “I can’t help but think it is funny that in this market, my sister would have not one, but three offers on her property. She must have been some terrific salesperson.”
“The property sells itself,” Dan said, his voice tight. Darby threw him a glance, surprised to see a look of longing cross his handsome features. He wanted the property too, she realized.
Soon after, yet another potential suspect is introduced, another real estate agent named Harrison Wainfield. His inner thoughts reveal him to possibly be a villain…or is that another red herring?
Michael [Contento] was a fool not to have purchased the property years ago, back when Harrison had unrolled the surveys and spelled it all out. “Someday, you may want to expand Contento Family Vineyards,” he’d predicted. “Getting this land now will give you that opportunity.” But Michael Contento had shut him right down, told him he didn’t need any more property, and practically accused him of being a land pimp. Idiot. That was weeks before Selena Thompson came out of nowhere to buy the acreage.
If you’re looking for an engaging plotty mystery, Deadly Offer might be for you. Or perhaps if you’re looking to buy some property…if you’re willing to take the risk of having Darby Farr as your agent….
Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories. Her latest novel is The Duke and The Pirate Queen from Harlequin Spice. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.
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