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Murder Alfresco: A Sunny McCoskey Napa Valley Mystery    by Nadia Gordon order for
Murder Alfresco
by Nadia Gordon
Order:  USA  Can
Chronicle, 2005 (2005)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This is my first encounter with this cozy series and I enjoyed spending time with Sunny and her Napa friends and intimates. Sunny owns and cooks (along with her employee and friend Rivka Chavez) in a popular restaurant named Wildside in St. Helena. This adds a gastronomic dimension to the mystery to delight the palate (there are also plenty of corks popped for the oenophile).

Murder Alfresco is the third in the series. After a hard day cooking up a storm, Sunny joins her current love interest, chef Andre Morales, for a party at his place. Tiring of the social scene early, she slips out, a whim that 'caught fate by surprise.' Since her cell phone needs recharging, Sunny ends up walking. This is how she discovers a murder victim - a young woman named Heidi Romero, tied and hung from a tree at the Vedana Vineyards, in a mode called shibari, a bondage fetish popularized in Japanese anime porn. As Sunny arrives at the vineyard, a white pickup truck is leaving and catches her in its headlights.

Though Sergeant Steve Harvey warns her off the case, Sunny's curiosity pulls her in. She and Rivka follow up Heidi's reputed interest in surfboarding, which leads them to her past instructor and friend, Joel Hyder. He shows them over Heidi's houseboat at Liberty Dock in Sausalito, and tells them of her older lover. They're suspicious of the harbermaster, Dean Blodger, who has a white truck. Sunny's friends take her to an affair at Infineon Raceway, where they meet Vedana's lascivious winemaker, as well as the vineyard owners, Bruce and Kimberly Knolls. Sunny wonders why Kimberly ('a naughty man's naughty dream girl') seems frightened, and digs further.

Of course, Sunny's persistent curiosity gets her too close to the killer. She's saved by tools of her trade, gives the reader the obligatory review of the case over a paella feast with her friends, and says farewell to Heidi in a manner that young woman would have approved. If you enjoy sipping a glass of wine with your mystery, then try this better than the average cozy series. It has likeable characters, witty observations, and a comforting ambience.

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