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A Touch of the Grape: A Hemlock Falls Mystery    by Claudia Bishop order for
Touch of the Grape
by Claudia Bishop
Order:  USA  Can
Prime Crime, 1998 (1998)
* *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

Sarah and Margaret Quilliam own the graceful and upscale Inn at Hemlock Falls, in a particularly picturesque area of rural New York. 'Quill' is rapidly drowning in debt; what with a drop in tourist traffic, taxes, and bills, profit appears to be only a fevered dream. She has already been forced to lay off most of the Inn's staff. Remaining are Quill herself, her sister Meg, who is the Inn's brilliant chef, and their feisty maid Doreen Muxworthy-Stoker. Neither of the young women are willing to cut corners in service, although their few guests do not always appreciate the quality of the menu.

The 'Crafty Ladies' are five elderly - and very unlikely - businesswomen who are putting together a mail-order craft business. Also in temporary residence are a rather oily insurance agent who has Quill by the short hairs, and a couple of travellers. Local business is sparse, since the good people of Hemlock Falls seem to prefer Marge's Diner to Meg's cordon bleu offerings. In short, their economic prospect is bleak.

To Quill's struggles with business matters are added romantic complications and her anxiety over an injured stray dog. However, much worse is to come. After a fire, the partially burned corpse of one of the Crafty Ladies is found, strangled. Two more of the ladies are found dead in similar circumstances. Soft-hearted Quill is frantic with concern for the remaining Crafty Ladies. She is also urgently in need of the money that the insurance agent is withholding until the murders are solved, on the grounds that Quill may be attempting to profit from arson. In desperation, she undertakes an investigation with her sister's help.

The resolution is riveting, with unexpected twists that reveal a crime as ugly as the murders at the Inn. The sisters' business situation is resolved satisfactorily as well. Claudia Bishop has created an appealing cast of characters: artistic Quill, her feisty sister Meg, and a solid supporting cast of friends and neighbours. An added bonus is Meg's scrumptious-sounding recipes for sourdough bruschetta and a decadent flan. A Touch of the Grape relies heavily on character and human touches - my favourite type of mystery.

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