“Cemetery Wine” By Sharon L. Dean: Review/Giveaway

by Kathleen Costa

Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of the book and a link to purchase it.

“The sins of the fathers are to be laid upon the children.” —William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
Quote used as introduction to Cemetery Wine

Cemetery Wine earns 5/5 Glasses of Meerlust Merlot…Deadly Entertaining!

Susan Warner and her husband Patrick hosted a going away party for their new friend and lodger Andrew Senter who is set to return to New Orleans. Andrew had been eager to accept a temporary professorship in African-American Literature at Souhegan College, hoping to also research New Hampshire’s connection to the Underground Railroad and Graniteville’s role in “fighting the curse of slavery.” Susan learned he had a more personal interest in coming to New Hampshire having revealed his grandmother had lived here and the tragic circumstances of his mother’s birth. He didn't, however, share with Susan much of the details of his research on either topic. And now, that just might not happen. Susan and her daughter Erika went out for a morning walk, and to avoid some of the bothersome flies, they decided to detour toward the cemetery then into the woods. However, perched on the only sarcophagus, midst two wine glasses—one empty, one half full—is Andrew’s dead body.

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Susan is not a novice to investigating murder, and when circumstantial evidence and suspicions by the local police chief seem to point to a friend, she is compelled to take an active role. She knew once police chief Alice Marsden latched onto a reasonable scenario, she'd stop looking further. So, when an ultimate arrest of suspect number occurs, Susan worries the investigation is over and the real killer will not be found. Means and opportunity seem to be connected to several, including the recent arrestee, but it's motive that seems to be the key that will unlock the mystery. Secrets of all kinds point to a plethora of suspects from embarrassing affairs, questions about parentage, issues with “bad seed” ancestors, and people who might be “passing” for someone they're not. Anything worth murdering for?

Wow, so much to unpack in this “cozy with an edge” from Sharon L. Dean… I highly recommend this book!

Sharon L. Dean penned an absolutely intriguing story weaving a clever murder mystery with a piece of history that often is just a small chapter in textbooks. The New Hampshire connection to the Underground Railroad and Civil War slavery were so unique and engaging with the most interesting idea on “passing” and how it manifests in so many different, often subtle, ways: Jews passing as Christians to avoid the Nazis, illegal immigrants passing as legal to get work, gays passing as straight, and light-skinned blacks passing as white. Although I am partial to the first-person or “I” perspective, Sharon kept me very entertained with a third-person narrative that laid out the mystery, the historical connections, and descriptions along with her banter illustrating personality and tone. Sharon’s community of characters were also key to my engagement and eagerness to read the other two books in the series. They were realistic and well-developed. I really enjoyed Susan Warner…spunky with copper streak in her silver hair, but also smart, decisive, and clever! Excellent!

Although some might think it a trivial insight, I want to mention how much I enjoyed the manner in which the story was organized. With a nice introduction of characters and curious information that suggests motives, the crime occurs quickly. The chapters are a good length and include titles that offer a kind of preview thought. The investigative style is realistic, and law enforcement is treated as an important official part. It's a smallish town where everyone seems to know each other, so informal interrogations and finding clues is acceptable. All in all…Dean’s writing style is very enjoyable!

Be a Big Fan…I am!
Sharon L. Dean herself was a professor of English having taught writing and literature at River University in New Hampshire. Giving up the more academic writing for mysteries, she adds very engaging historical links keeping fans, like me, eager for more. As a retired teacher myself I was curious about many of the historical references, briefly pausing to head over to Google or Wikipedia to learn more, even some of her fictional details seemed real. Her first two books Tour de Trace (2014) and Death of a Keynote Speaker (2015) are so engaging and well-worth reading, and although time marches on, the three books are standalones and easily read in any order. My suggestion? Read them all! A fun note…it's delightful that in book one she added a lavender streak to her silver locks, then in book two she changes to maroon, and in three it was copper…I love it!

Tour de Trace (2014) earns 5/5 Bicycle Tires…Engaging Journey! The first book introduces Dr. Susan Warner, English professor, entering her retirement by accepting an invitation from her daughter to cycle the Natchez Trace, a well-worn path from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee, rich in history. Maria, one of the eleven bikers, is missing, but she left a note, “Had to meet someone. Will catch up at Rocky Springs.” It's not unusual for bikers to break up and go their own way; they know where to meet up. So, the group breaks camp and cycles off. Enjoying the ride, Susan detours to explore the Emerald Mound, a Natchez Indian ceremonial site. There she finds Doug, a wounded veteran of the Iraq war, exhibiting PTSD symptoms and on the hill she finds Maria dead in her pajamas laying in a crucifix manner. It's a national park so the Feds are called in, and by nature of association, everyone is suspect. Several surprising motives, fascinating history, a bit of drama, and an endearing and realistic dynamic between mother and daughter makes this book a real page turner!

Death of a Keynote Speaker (2015) earns 5/5 Fishy Legends…Engrossing! Before the story starts, readers are treated to tidbits about the history of the Isles of Shoals off the coasts of Maine and New Hampshire, Star Island, Celia Thaxter and Appledore Island, and the Smuttynose Murders…fascinating all by itself and worthy of another trip to Wikipedia! Dean weaves it all into the mystery as Susan Warner is in charge of the Abigail Brewster Society conference which includes a day trip to Celia Thaxter’s literary salon on Appledore Island. Some of the conference members were unaware of the Smuttynose Murders, and revisiting the details, everyone chimed in with their spin…or conspiracy theory. A major storm is on its way, and many decide to head back to the mainland. Erika, Susan’s daughter, shows up at the behest of Susan’s husband, and the success of the conference is in question. Then…Murder! I really enjoyed the correspondence or diary entry from Abigail Brewster that started each chapter, and their connections to the story. Dean’s vivid descriptions had me putting on a scarf to protect me from the cold Atlantic weather. Another great read!

"Like" on Facebook - Sharon L. Dean
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To enter to win a copy of Cemetery Wine, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line "cemetery,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen December 22, 2018. If entering via comment please include your email address, if entering via email please include your address so we can ship the book right out to you if you win. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section in Kings River Life and in our mystery category here on KRL News & Reviews. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. And check out our new mystery podcast which features mystery short stories and first chapters read by local actors! The latest episode is set at Christmas time!

Kathleen Costa is a long-time resident of the Central Valley, and although born in Idaho, she considers herself a “California Girl.” Graduating from CSU-Sacramento, she is a 35+ year veteran teacher having taught in grades 1-8 in schools from Sacramento to Los Angeles to Stockton to Lodi. Currently Kathleen is enjoying her retirement revitalizing hobbies along with exploring writing, reading for pleasure, and spending 24/7 with her husband.
Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


  1. Thank you for the contest. trwilliams 69 at msn dot com

  2. Sounds like a very interesting read! Thanks for the chance. JL_Minter@hotmail(dot)com

  3. Sounds like a great read. New author to me. Thanks for the chance.

  4. Civil war times would create a great backdrop for this novel. Sounds intriguing.


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