Review: Decanting a Murder by Nadine Nettmann

Decanting a Murder by Nadine Nettmann is the 1st book in the Sommelier Mystery series, nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel.

Mark's body had been covered with a white sheet but the fingers of his right hand stuck out from underneath in a deathly curl.

“Flip him over again,” said Dean.

Deputy Peters pulled off the sheet and turned over the body.

“Recognize it?”

I stepped forward, swallowing hard. “Recognize what?”

“Look closer,” he pressed.

Firmly placed in Mark's back was a small knife attached to a wine opener.

“It's a wine opener.”

Detective Dean kept his focus on the body. “Yes, but you can identify its owner.”

“Me?” I tried to meet Dean's eyes but he wouldn't make eye contact. “Why?”

“Take a closer look.”

I crouched down. My eyes traced the polished wood of the opener until I reached the engraved name: Tessa B.

Katie Stillwell is not having the best day ever. A sommelier at an upscale restaurant in San Francisco, she's just flunked her master certification, something for which she's been studying for months. Then, an invitation to an exclusive vineyard—something that should have been exciting fun—ends in murder and a missing friend: a friend now suspected of said murder.

Tessa can be flighty, has poor taste in men, and parties a little too hard, but Katie knows she couldn't have killed her boss. The police aren't so convinced, so the sommelier makes it her mission to clear Tessa's name. The vivacious blonde hasn't had a lot of luck in life and deserves a break.

It is, after all, Katie's fault that she has a criminal record.

An encyclopedic knowledge of wine doesn't obviously lend itself to detecting, but our heroine has an eye (and nose) for details and a knack for puzzles. It doesn't hurt that the murder happens in wine country, meaning she speaks the lingo and knows her way around the fermenting tanks.

The wine splashed up the sides of the glass as I brought it back down to the counter. “Does Garrett help with the process? Maybe loading the grapes?”

She laughed. “Garret doesn't know how to do any of that. He bought new presses, new tanks, new everything when he took over, but he can't operate a thing. Between you and me, I miss the old winery.”

“Would he be able to open the top of the tank?”

“Honey,” she tilted forward, an amused look on her face, “he wouldn't even know what the top looks like. Besides, he threw his back out a few years ago and can't lift more than a few pounds.” She motioned to my glass. “You all done?”

Why was the vineyard owner murdered? There are rumors of financial difficulties at Frontier, cheating, and a soured marriage. Somebody's been skimming off the books; could Tessa be guilty of embezzling, or is that also a smokescreen for the true culprit?

Meanwhile, Katie finds herself being romanced by a rugged vineyard foreman, who certainly speaks her language, while also exchanging flirty repartee with the lead investigator, Detective Dean. As if a girl doesn't have enough already on her plate…

Things get dangerous in a hurry for our amateur sleuth. Bodies pile up as death threats arrive and frame-ups lead to unpleasant stays in the clink. If Katie's not careful, if she doesn't get to the bottom of things quickly, the consequences will be fractured friendships, prison sentences, and the end of her budding career—not to mention her life.

I carefully pulled up a label, large pieces of sharp glass attached to it. I held it up to the light, studying the paper square still damp with wine. Bingo. I had my answer.

The sound of a gentle click came from the tunnel to my left. Judging by the proximity of the sound, it was only about three feet away. …I knew the noise well. I had heard it multiple times throughout my life and could remember each instance.

When I was five, visiting my dad at the station. When I was seven and tin cans were lined up on the brick wall in the back garden. When I was twelve and my dad decided I should learn how to protect myself.

One doesn't forget the gentle yet haunting sound of a gun being cocked.

Nadine Nettmann, a certified master sommelier herself, certainly knows her craft. Her expertise in blind tasting, flavor notes, and wine production gives Decanting a Murder the ring of authenticity.

Heroine Katie's backstory—she's the daughter of a police chief and once studied to be a cop herself—lends some credibility to the idea of a sommelier-turned-sleuth. The Napa setting, with its rolling fields of vineyards, classy cafes, and fancy restaurants, makes for a charming cozy mystery atmosphere. The bulk of the supporting characters remain mostly broad strokes, but Detective Dean and Tessa are fleshed out enough to be relatable and enjoyable; no doubt future installments will further develop the cast.

Decanting a Murder is definitely a niche mystery, a book that will appeal most to wine aficionados, gastronomes, and lovers of California. But it's well-paced and sprightly enough to entertain an audience uninitiated in the ways of wine tasting. And at just over two hundred pages, it's a quick, light read perfect for the coming days of warmer, sunnier weather.

Just the thing to devour with a glass of Merlot, in fact.

 

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Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. Come find the angie bee at Tumblr.

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