A body in a vat of zinfandel cuts short Taylor O’Brian’s latest Off the Beaten Path tour.
Taylor (A Case of Syrah, Syrah, 2017) wants desperately to compete with Bridget Miller, whose Quirky Tours jaunts through Sonoma Valley fill two shocking-pink buses daily. But it’s all she can do to muster six passengers willing to venture out in her rainbow-hued Volkswagen van for tours of local vineyards that are off the map. Tim Slade’s Rock Paths Winery, she reckons, should appeal to connoisseurs who appreciate old vine zinfandel. And it does—until Slade shows them his latest batch, which includes realtor Jeffery Hoag bobbing in the stainless steel vat along with the grapes. Sexy Sheriff Hennessey trains his baby blues on Slade, making Taylor determined to find out who really killed Hoag. But there are so many suspects to choose from: Tim’s girlfriend, Mandy Richards; Mandy’s guru, the compelling Dr. Brinkman; a gaggle of Brinkman’s starry-eyed disciples; Tim’s hired man, Mateo—not to mention the hordes of tourists who pass through on Taylor’s and Bridget’s tours. As the bad guys get more desperate, the body count rises. And the initial crime spawns a host of subsidiary felonies, pitting Taylor against villains whose motives are murkier than a 10-year-old sauvignon blanc.
Calling out a cast of thousands makes it harder than ever for Parra’s heroine to keep her eye on the ball, much less compete with a classy act like Quirky Tours. A simpler plotline and more focus on the main players might help thirsty readers savor future offerings.