Review: Dying on the Vine by Marla Cooper

Dying on the Vine by Marla Cooper is the 2nd book in the Kelsey McKenna Destination Wedding Mysteries series.

Take a visual tour of Dying on the Vine with GIFnotes!

Murder and matrimony are the order of the day for Northern California wedding planner Kelsey McKenna. After Terror in Taffeta, Kelsey might be excused for hoping for a return to semi-calmness, but that’s not in the cards. Her friend Brody—aka a fabulous wedding photographer—pulls the friend card when he teases her in front of would-be clients.

“She’s just mad because I hog the blankets,” Brody said, a twinkle in his eye.

I blushed a little, despite myself. I was always surprised when people thought Brody and I were dating. I mean, sure, he was good-looking, but it was so obvious that I wasn’t his type. In fact, I was off by a whole Y chromosome. No reason to let that stand in the way of a beautiful friendship, though.

The destination wedding business is extremely competitive. Kelsey’s enthusiastic assistant Laurel holds down the fort in San Francisco, photographer Brody has her back, and Kelsey herself is a nimble, creative impresario of unforgettable nuptials.

“I looked at your website last night after we got home,” Haley began. “You’re a destination wedding planner, right? Does Napa still count as a destination?”

“Believe me,” I said, “it counts. Actually, the wine country is one of the most popular places for a destination wedding in the United States, so it’s kind of a no-brainer for me. I’m just lucky to be geographically advantaged that way.”

What Haley neglects to mention at the outset is that her wealthy father has fired the premiere wedding planner of Northern California, “the self-proclaimed Queen of Wine Country Weddings” Babs Norton. Kelsey hastens to ask Babs in person if the two of them are copacetic. Unfortunately, no answer is forthcoming from Babs—unlucky Kelsey arrives at Babs’s office only to find her dead. Not an auspicious start to her newest assignment, certainly, but the show must go on.

Tout le monde in the wedding industry pay their final respects to Babs. In keeping with the glamour—possibly glossy surface only—of their chosen profession, even the corpse is attractively presented. 

Babs looked impeccable, as usual. She was wearing a vintage Chanel suit along with her signature leopard-print glasses that showcased her expertly applied makeup. No way that was done by the mortuary. Someone must have hired one of the professional makeup artists she worked with. Probably Thierry Beland. He was a pro with a mascara wand.

Who could have killed Babs? Do all eyes point to Kelsey, particularly since she inherited a prime piece of wedding real estate after the bride’s father fired Babs? Babs’s acerbic assistant Stefan has Kelsey pegged for the crime.

“I’m sorry if I caused a disruption, Margot.” Stefan paused for dramatic effect as the room grew silent. “But I was just telling everyone how this woman”—and with that he lifted his hand and pointed directly at me—“killed Babs Norton.”

What’s a destination wedding planner to do when an inaccurate accusation like that is flung in her face? Kelsey has a plan, as she tells her pal Brody:

“No, that we should investigate!”

“I don’t know, Kelsey. You of all people should know that getting involved in a murder investigation is a big decision.”

“So is getting married, and people do that all the time.” I stared at Brody, my mind whirring with the possibilities. “I mean, we do have some experience in this area.”

They’re off! The Three Musketeers—Kelsey, Brody, and Laurel—juggling suspects and following leads while checking out great wedding destinations and deciding on the merits of ganache versus Royal icing for the nuptial cake. Kelsey’s assistant Laurel is armed with fierce computer skills and a soft heart for the whole notion of love, weddings, and happily-ever-afters. When a vintner gives Kelsey a case of wine—“an obvious bribe, but a good one”—she and Laurel lock their doors and break out the happy-hour vibe. Laurel wants all the inside deets about Lucas, the generous wine-maker.

“I can’t believe he’s still single,” Laurel said.

“You looked him up?”

“Of course. The Internet is our friend.” Laurel smiled mischievously. “Wanna do a coin toss? Heads, you date him; tails, I date him?”

“No way. Neither one of us gets to date him.”

“Oh, come on,” she teased. “Why are you so against love?”

“I’m not against love! But believe me, you don’t want to go out with anyone who’s in the industry.”

Let’s leave their discussion there—clearly, an enjoyable respite from the daily grind of getting paying clients (and solving murders). While Kelsey and her crew sleuth out the murderer, readers will enjoy all of the fun of a destination wedding with none of the angst or costs. Sign me up for Marla Cooper’s next destination wedding mystery!

Read an excerpt from Dying on the Vine while sipping a “Vine Country” cocktail inspired by the book!


To learn more or order a copy, visit:

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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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