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Posts Tagged ‘family secrets’

HARVEST OF SECRETS by Ellen Crosby: Book Review

Everything is frantic at the Montgomery Estates Vineyard in Atoka, Virginia, but that is to be expected at harvest time.  What is not expected is the vineyard’s farm manager, Antonio Ramirez, coming to owner Lucie Montgomery with the news that a human skull has been found just outside the family cemetery.

As the saying goes, bad things come in threes.  The unidentified skull is the first; Hurricane Lolita, a category five storm with its possibly devastating impact on the season’s grapes that are waiting to be picked is the second; the arrival of Jean-Claude de Merignac, the wealthy French aristocrat who has come to Virginia to become the winemaker at a nearby vineyard, is the third.  Jean-Claude has a reputation as a playboy with a string a broken hearts behind him, and he is also the man that teenage Lucie had a crush on two decades earlier when she summered in France.

Desperate to harvest the grapes before the storm arrives, Lucie’s only chance is to ask Jean-Claude if he will lend her one of his workers for a day.  Asking the Frenchman for anything isn’t something that Quinn Santori, the Montgomery Estate winemaker and Lucie’s fiancé, is comfortable with, but he realizes he doesn’t have much choice if he wants to get the grapes picked in time.  But that doesn’t mean he’s happy about it.

The medical examiner who examines the skull determines that it’s from the nineteenth century, and Lucie decides she has to know if there’s any possibility that the remains are of a Montgomery family member, so she agrees to a DNA test to find out.  Lucie wonders if the skull proves to be an ancestor, why wasn’t she buried properly in the cemetery rather than outside it?  What could be so dreadful that it would preclude a proper burial?  The answers turn out to be more than two hundred years old.

Harvest of Secrets is the ninth mystery in the Wine Country series, so there is a lot of backstory involved.  But even a first-time reader of the series will enjoy the novel and be able to understand Lucie’s personal history and that of her family.

Ellen Crosby’s own life has the makings of a novel–she was an economist on the staff of the Senate, a journalist, the Moscow correspondent for ABC News, a world traveler, and an ex-pat who lived in Switzerland and Russia.  She obviously has used all these experiences to write a series with a wonderful sense of place, as well as one featuring a strong, independent woman in what many would consider the man’s world of winemaking.

You can read more about Ellen Crosby at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

DEFENDING JACOB by William Landay: Book Review

The Barber family could not be a more typical suburban family. The father is an attorney, the mother a former teacher, the son a fourteen-year-old middle school student.  They live near Boston, have friends, and a generally happy life.  And then the son is accused of murder.

William Landay, himself an attorney in Boston, tells a nail-biting story. Andy Barber is second-in-command in the Boston district attorney’s office and soon will probably be the head honcho.  Of course he and his wife are terribly upset when Ben, a classmate of their son Jacob, is knifed to death in a park on his way to school; after all, Jacob has known Ben since elementary school.  Andy takes over the case, dismissing the district attorney’s slight concerns over a possible conflict of interest.  Andy’s argument is that he, as the father of a fellow student at Ben’s school, has a greater interest in finding the murderer than any other assistant district attorney on the staff, an argument the district attorney reluctantly agrees to.

But then, several days later, Jacob is arrested and charged with the killing.

Of course Andy and his wife are outraged and disbelieving.  It’s true Jacob has had some problems, but they seem like typical adolescent ones–a kind of insolence, lack of respect, withdrawing into silence.  But isn’t that like all teenagers, they ask themselves?  However, the case against Jacob gets stronger with messages on Facebook and twitter.  Then Andy learns that Ben had been bullying Jacob over a period of time and that Jacob had told friends he’d take care of Ben.  But did he mean murder?

Andy has always considered himself an extremely fortunate man.  Married to the woman he fell in love with at first sight when they were both in college, living a comfortable life far different from the one he lived as a child, he seems to be sitting on top of the world.  However, Andy has a secret, one that he has never shared with anyone, even his wife. He comes from a violent family, and his father, whom he hasn’t seen in over forty years, is in prison for murder.

Andy is the book’s narrator.  He is a man who sees himself as strong, as a survivor, but inside him there is a well of fear.  Is it possible that there exists in his family a “murder gene,” something that has bypassed him but can be found in his son?

This is a story about more than a murder–it’s about a family being torn apart, being shunned by the community in which they have lived for years, of having former friends cross the street to avoid speaking to them.  Andy is put on paid leave from his job and Jacob is suspended from school.  And then comes the trial.

William Landay has written a powerful novel about the damage caused by keeping secrets, by ignoring signs of trouble, by pretending all is right when it isn’t. We are privy to Andy’s thoughts and actions, but not, I think, to his deepest feelings.  I wonder if even Andy allows himself to know his own secret thoughts and emotions; his control is so strong that I believe he thinks that if once he lets go he will cease to be the man he has made himself to be.  Behind the man’s strength is actually the vulnerability of the boy.

You can read read more about William Landay at his web site.