A fairly satisfying mystery, but by no means a thriller, following an electronic and real paper chase amongst a series of multi-hued herrings awash with wine and pills.
Summoned home to the news that a fire has destroyed the barn on the family vineyard, Ava is told that her twin sister, Zelda, was sleeping in the loft there and the police and forensic investigators are sifting through the wreckage to establish whether the remains contain her body.
Twins, yes; but Ava the neat and orderly A, through the alphabet to Zany Zelda. Ava must follow the trail laid by her crazy sister, picking up threads of clues embedded in historic and current relationships, including those of their divorced parents who are temporarily forced back together for the tragic loss of Zelda. Added to the chaos is their mother’s disease which needs constant attention, supervision and drugs, washed down with several glasses of wine.
Phone messages from Zelda days after the fire convince Ava that her sister is leading them all a merry dance, but she dare not divulge her conclusions to the police or her family for fear of raising both hopes and suspicions, because there is a body in the blackened embers, and the doors were chained and locked. Murder is the obvious answer, but where Zelda is concerned, nothing is obvious.
The nose will quickly define an intriguing blend of characters; quirky, maybe, but real and earthy. Unfortunately not always particularly likeable. Mum, whose money made it possible to keep the vineyard going, despite a continued succession of less than successful years, remains there, her alcoholic cushion both exacerbating her disease and making life bearable for herself if for nobody else. Their dad heads for California for new pastures, and vineyards. And women. Ava flees to Paris and Zelda is left trying to hold the fort.
The writing is like a really good dry red, there is a smooth flow and it is mostly easy to swallow, but with a dictionary nearby. And the next glass promised keeps the palate asking for more. It is not easy to put this bottle away until the last drop. And the denouement cannot be construed as dregs.
Surely, with promise like this, the author can look forward to another year of even better vintage.
Thanks to the Penguin Random House marketing team for this review copy.
A Corvus Imprint of Atlantic Books, London.