The Champagne Conspiracy by Ellen Crosby is the 7th book in the Wine Country Mysteries series.
From the first stunning description of a breath-taking, vintage flapper dress, I was hooked. This is the seventh book in the Wine Country Mysteries series. The author, Ellen Crosby, has a fascinating background, having been a reporter for The Washington Post, a Moscow correspondent for ABC News Radio, and an economist at the U.S. Senate. Given her vast experience, it’s no surprise her writing is so polished and elaborate.
This is an impeccable tale, rich with characters, setting, and plot. Even though it is set in modern times, it revolves around modern ties to the Roaring Twenties and the extravagant and exciting lifestyles of many well-to-do individuals—including former president Warren Harding. The story begins with the dress mentioned above and the magic it carries.
There’s more than one mystery to follow, and with different story arcs and a cast of many, it keeps you on your toes. Another thing I really liked about this story was that the main character has a disability. This is personal for me, and I appreciated how this subject was approached. Crosby utilized main character Lucie’s strengths in order to showcase that a disability doesn’t mean your life has to stop or that you are weak. Being a woman in the wine industry is apparently a challenge in its own, but add in her disability, and Lucie must work extra hard to prove herself. A strong female main character with a very real flaw is refreshing.
I reached for my cane, which was propped behind a wine barrel, and caught the flicker of surprise in Gino’s eyes. But he said nothing, just followed Quinn and me to a staircase that led to a mezzanine where our offices and the winery laboratory were located. At the bottom of the stairs, my bad foot buckled and I grabbed the railing. Instantly, I felt Gino’s hand under my elbow, the chivalrous gesture of a gentleman helping a lady.
I froze. “Thank you, but I can manage. You don’t need to do that.”
“Sorry.” He withdrew his hand. “What happened?”
Most people don’t ask. An old person using a cane is someone who needs a little extra help and you don’t give it a second thought. Someone young like me is a different story – maybe a debilitating disease or a birth defect, possibly an accident. Either they don’t want to talk about your disability because it makes them uncomfortable or they figure you don’t want to talk about it because you live with it.
Along with a well-executed storyline, the Blue Ridge Mountain setting was gorgeous. It’s a record-breaking cold winter, and with the surrounding snow blanketing the mountains, it provides an extra challenge for solving the mysteries. Being from this area, I know first hand how beautiful and mysterious the mountains are.
Often at the end of the day, if the weather was nice, Quinn and I would take a bottle of wine over to the low stone wall at the far end of the courtyard, where we could watch the sun slowly turn the vines bronze-colored before disappearing behind the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The main plot comes when Gino—a long lost relative of Lucie’s employee Quinn—comes knocking on Lucie’s winery door with shocking news. His California wine country ways are vastly different than Lucie and Quinn’s Virginia wine-making habits, and with Gino being the heir to a successful and world renown wine kingdom, his threats must be taken seriously.
“I am through here.” Gino stood and pulled on his coat with sharp, angry motions. “The two of you will treat this conversation with the sanctity of the confessional. Do you understand? Because if you ever – I mean ever – repeat a word of what was said in this room, I will personally make you sorry you did.”
Blackmail is revealed, and soon Lucie and Quinn are deep into a mystery that expands to include many more people that will expose old secrets and bring danger to them all.
The book features a varied and diverse cast. One of my favorite characters, Thelma, owns the town's General Store—a place where everyone goes to hear the latest gossip and news concerning their neighbors and the town. She was colorful and quirky, and I would have loved to have her in the story more.
Multiple murders, mystery, long buried family secrets, the wild lifestyles of the flapper dress-laden twenties, along with affairs and torrid presidential flings, all make up this rich tale. In the end, all of the plots tie together in a smooth and satisfying conclusion. I enjoyed this story so much that I plan on picking up the others in the series, and I recommend you do the same.
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Amber Keller is a writer who delves into dark, speculative fiction, particularly horror and suspense/thrillers. You can find her work on her Amazon Author Page and she also features many short stories on Diary of a Writer. A member of the Horror Writers Association, she contributes to many websites and eMagazines and you can follow her on Twitter @akeller9.