Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"The Secret of the Vineyard" by Monica Heath

Published:  1968
Setting:  Modern

Terror gurgled in my throat and I clutched madly at the wheels of my chair, sending it crashing among the casks that crouched around me like hunchbacked beasts on their shallow racks.

I managed to right it at last and sent it plunging along the dimly lit passageway that narrowed suddenly, the floor becoming strewn with rubble.  Somewhere I had taken a wrong turn.  Crisscrossed planks loomed before me, and I knew then that I was trapped.

"Cammy."  The faceless form closed in on me.  Unbelievably, it had Nate's voice.

I tried once more to send my chair ahead.  The wheels caught on a rotting stave and it jerked sideways, striking the limestone wall.  A patter of loose stone showered from somewhere above me.

"Cammy!"  Nate's voice called to me out of that frightening faceless being.

I screamed.  Then something unyielding thudded onto my head and the world folded around me...

Cammy is a hopeful twenty-year-old, new to San Francisco and excited at the prospects of a new life when someone in a black Mercedes begins to stalk her.  At first, she assures herself it's just her imagination.  But after a few days it is an undeniable fact that someone is desperate to catch up with her...but why?  Then one night as she peruses the streets of San Francisco, she's cornered by the  car.  Her last memory is of the glossy, shiny vehicle speeding towards her before her world bends into only gray shadows.

When Cammy wakes up, she's in an institution.  Nurses and doctors inform her that she's been comatose for weeks, but is gradually improving, give her broken ankle.  News stories suggest she is a victim of failed suicide, as she was found at the edge of a wooded cliff, barely clinging to life when rescued but was it a coincidence that her new apartment in San Francisco burned to the ground on the very same night?  And what about the crude voice who speaks to her over the phone a warning to never remember?

Everything in Cammy's world is unfamiliar to her, give the soft drone of Nate's voice.  Nate, the employer who has become her legal guardian during the sleeping weeks of her ordeal.  He says that prior to the 'accident' she served as secretary to his vineyard business, and so when she is well enough to leave the hospital, she accompanies him back to a vineyard...and seemingly a life and identity that is lost to amnesia.

Cammy's introduction to Vinecroft, the dreary old, outdated mansion that lay between hills and ravines of grapevines, is a cold and uncomfortable welcome.  Sabrina, cousin to Nate, is brash in her brutal honesty about family affairs.  His brother Jeffrey seems to be a bit of a ladies man and showers Cammy with unwanted male attention.  And his feeble mother Claudia seems bitter and resents her presence from the onset.  To make matters worse, since she is confined to a wheelchair, the household help must accommodate and turn the old musty-smelling library into a sleeping quarter for the weary girl.  She reasons that at least the room has a perfect view of the vined hills...a view that gives her a first-hand glimpse of a love affair forbidden between the hired help and Nate...or is that Nate she seems moving lithely into the hills to meet the young maid, Maria?

As the days go on, Cammy finds bits and pieces of memories from her old life, names of plants and wines...she becomes sure her old life is somehow intertwined with Vinecroft...even if no one seems to recognize her.  Then she learns that Nate's own father disappeared seven years earlier under mysterious circumstances and hasn't been seen since...in mere weeks his will is to be read.  Everyone in the household is sure they are getting a share of Vinecroft, they are also hell-bent on selling it to land developers for a fortune...everyone but Nate, who labors over the precious vines in hopes of reestablishing the Bantry name in wine business.

After Cammy learns of fatal deaths befalling the Bantry women and of ghostly legends, she begins to hear the voices herself...or is she just going insane?  Her midnight escapades into the overgrown hills will find her many a secret...and a fight for her own life as she regains her memory and meets with the epitome of evil in the eyes of someone she'd never have guessed a murderer...

This was an excellent read.  I loved the idea of the amnesiac being thrown into a world she can't remember, and a mystery she must uncover if she is to save her own life.  I thought the twist at the end couldn't be easily foreseen so I was pleasantly surprised.  Great mystery, good amount of suspense, loved the detail of the whole vineyard...nice blossoming of romance towards the end.  Wonderful altogether!

Rating:  4.5 Stars


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