Dundee, Oregon, attorney Cal Claxton’s latest maybe-paying client is a neighbor and friend whose wine-growing operation may have proved irresistible to a killer.
Jim Kavanaugh made the call himself after finding the body of his estranged wife, Lori, at the Parrett Mountain overlook where she’d arranged to meet him. But that doesn’t impress detectives Hal Ballard and Sonia Rodriquez of the Yamhill County Sheriff’s Department, who think he’s just trying to brazen out his own murder of the woman who’d taken two husbands before him and may have been on the lookout for No. 4. A wide-open-spaces type who blanches at the prospect of prison, Jim begs his neighborhood lawyer for help, and Cal, who never seems to walk away from a high-stakes, low-income case (Not Dead Enough, 2016, etc.), goes to bat for him. His shrewd observations quickly get Jim out of jail, though not out of the glare of the cops and prosecutor Helen Berkowitz. When undocumented immigrant Luis Delgado is murdered soon after, Cal is convinced the two cases are connected, but he seems to be the only one, even after the disappearance of Isabel Rufino, Luis’ girlfriend. A honey trap set for Sean McKnight, a pastor who owns another farm nearby, makes Cal wonder whether someone aims to unite all the properties best suited to raising pinot noir grapes under the same criminal banner. Fighting fire with fire, he talks Jim’s sales manager, Candice Roberts, into spying on rival vintner Blake Daniels, who’s already eager to get her under the covers.
The appealing hero’s accountant frets that his habit of taking pro bono cases is unsustainable. A more pointed complaint might be that in his hands, the simplest-seeming cases end up involving everyone in Yamhill County and even some folks who are just passing through.