An ex-photojournalist and owner of the Joyeux Winery on the central California coast finds herself at the scene of another murder—but this time her cousin turns out to be the prime suspect.
O’Neil’s (Ripe for Murder, 2016, etc.) third Cypress Cove Mystery is a delightful addition to the series. Amateur criminal investigator Penny Lively just can’t stay out of trouble—and danger. Bodies seem to turn up whenever she’s around, much to the consternation of the local sheriff, who warns her to stay out of his cases. But what is Penny to do when veterinarian Brian Grasser is found stabbed in the back on the floor of the clinic he shares with Penny’s cousin Annie Moore and Annie is holding the knife? Fortunately, there are plenty of other suspects for Penny to pursue, although that number drops when one of them is also killed. There’s the aging hippie Dot, who was working in the back office at the time of the vet’s murder; tech Nicole, whom Brian caught stealing pills from the dispensary; Dr. Eric Sloan, the about-to-be-millionaire researcher; and Jason, head of Amerigen, the pharmaceutical company investing in Eric’s new rabies vaccine. Even Brian’s wife, Claire, has something to hide. Penny is an engaging narrator—a pushy and pleasantly sarcastic observer who zooms in on details. The only time she is tongue-tied is when her handsome winery manager, Connor, is around. O’Neil’s prose is breezy and fluent. Dialogue is natural, filled with banter, and not cluttered with constant he said, she said fillers. She is also linguistically comfortable with the tale’s California backdrop, delivering evocative imagery: “The fog was creeping in from the sea, an almost nightly occurrence this close to the ocean. It danced along the ground and curled around the car. There’s a silence that accompanies this ritual.” Plus, there are bonus tidbits about the winery business: “Years ago, wineries were for one thing: making wine. Now, hosting functions was one of the more reliable ways wineries made money.” Appropriate to the story’s veterinary theme, Joyeux hosts the “Fabulously Ugly Dog Contest."
An enjoyable and well-paced mystery with a surprise kicker.