Sweet Vines and Bitter Fruit
Leaving wintry London behind, Ben and Francesca fly off to the warmth of South Australia and their friends, Derek and Kate, for their first family vacation with two-year-old Sarah. Within days Ben becomes involved in a police investigation of multiple murders, much to Francesca’s objections, before she too is drawn in, mugged, and Ben believes he is a murderer. More
Sweet Vines & Bitter Fruit is a 32,000-word cozy mystery, the second novella in a trilogy featuring Ben and Francesca Hamilton, who now with two-year old Sarah, become involved in the investigation of a series of murders while visiting their best friends, Kate and Derek, in Pleasant Valley, South Australia. On the flight from London, Ben, a professor of anthropology, reads a novel about two valley families who have been feuding for the past one-hundred and fifty years. Within days of his arrival two members from one of the feuding families are murdered, in a house adjacent to where Kate and Derek live. Ben stumbles upon what he believes would be useful information and decides to take it to the police, much against Francesca’s determined insistence that he not become involved, all the while reminding him that they are on holiday. Ben does his best to assure her their vacation will not turn into another exciting adventure, like that of their honeymoon in West Africa, but his innate desire as a researcher to uncover that which is hidden and from the past plunges him deeper into the investigation.
About half-way through their three-week holiday, another member of the same feuding family is killed within yards of where Ben is standing. This, along with his inquisitive nature, draws him further into the mystery and strains his relationship with Francesca. Between Ben’s persistence and the clever tactics of the investigating police inspector, Francesca is eventually convinced to lend a hand so as to obtain information from an Aboriginal worker while picking grapes with her in a vineyard. Meanwhile, Ben and Francesca’s combined efforts attract unwanted attention that results in a severe assault upon Daku, an old Aboriginal man who Ben has befriended in the vineyards. On the following day, Francesca, while pushing Sarah in her stroller, is mugged in an alleyway by two inept, U.S. Treasury agents, covertly conducting an investigation into tax evasion.
Further vacation activities leads Ben to new information that he passes onto the police and which helps them identify the murderers; Vernon Schneider, corporate counsel for Mirabelle Wines, the largest winery in the Barossa Valley and his young assistant, Ember Flame.
Ben is infuriated by the assault on his wife and the brutal attack on his Aboriginal friend, leading yet to another death – the vineyard foreman of Mirabelle Wines. He confesses to the police inspector that he had a fight with the foreman and left him unconscious on the ground, only to learn that an autopsy revealed the man to have died from natural causes, not by Ben’s hand. He is released, as an accessory to murder, by the Crown Prosecution and allowed to return to England. Francesca and Ben are discreetly commended by the South Australian Police for their assistance, and as they prepare to leave, Kate and Derek suggest that the next time they visit they go to a sheep ranch deep in the outback, where there will be no excitement or adventure.
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