|Artist: Maria Fanning|
This week, I’d like to remind readers that the fifth book in the BJ Vinson Mystery Series will be The Lovely Pines. I have not been advised by DSP Publications as to an actual release date, probably sometime in mid-2018. (Good Lord! That’s right around the corner, isn’t it?)
As usual, the setting of the novel is New Mexico. Most of the action centers around Albuquerque and a small, fictional town called Valle Plácido located just east of Placitas on the slopes of Sandia Peak. However, a few chapters take us to Las Cruces and Carlsbad in the southern and southeastern part of the state. BJ, our intrepid private eye—uh, make that confidential investigator—looks into a break-in at a winery in Plácido called the Lovely Pines and quickly discovers it is something more than mere mischief. It could be that the intruder was being stalked. But why does this all take place around a remote winery? Then dead bodies begin to show up, and BJ finds his own life threatened.
And in between, we’re exposed to some intimate moments between BJ and his hunky soul mate, Paul Barton.
As a history buff, I am sometimes criticized for getting lost in the past of a place to the cost of action. I’ll risk that disparagement again by showing you a trip up the old highway between Albuquerque and Bernalillo and thence to the winery in the scene below. The passage comes at the beginning of Chapter 2 of the book. The Ariel Gonda mentioned is BJ’s client, the owner of the Lovely Pines Vineyard and Winery.
THE LOVELY PINES
In a bucolic mood, I took the old Highway 85 to Bernalillo about fifteen miles north of Albuquerque. Bernalillo was an interesting town, at least to history buffs like me. The area had been more or less continuously inhabited for probably close to 1,000 years, first as an indigenous Anasazi town and later by the Spaniards when they arrived in the late sixteenth century to claim it as a trading center and military outpost. In one of those odd coincidences, Albuquerque became the governmental center of Bernalillo County, while Bernalillo was the seat of Sandoval County. Go figure. The present day town fathers liked to say their community was the gateway to the Jemez Mountain Range to the west and the Sandias to the east.
At the north end of town, I hung a right on Highway 550 and crossed over I-25, climbing steadily toward the mountains on what was now a gravel state road. Before long, I passed through another former Anasazi settlement renamed Placitas, which meant Little Town. With its large adobe homes tucked into folds in the foothills or hanging on the slopes, Placitas managed to bring some of the famed Santa Fe style south.
Shortly after leaving the town limits, I entered an even smaller settlement about whose history I had no knowledge—Valle Plácido. All I knew of the place was that people had grown grapes and made wine here for centuries. New Mexico was one of the earliest wine-making centers in North America.
As instructed by Ariel Gonda, I turned north on a well-graded gravel driveway and saw the winery about 200 yards ahead of me. My first impression was of a French chateau plopped down in the middle of New Mexico. As I grew nearer, the image was reinforced. I passed over a cattle guard between an impressive black wrought iron gate anchored to solid four-foot stone walls stretching off in both directions. I assumed it enclosed the entire place, or at least the ten acres of the winery. The wall would probably have stopped a tank but provided little protection from stealthy intruders afoot. The vineyard lay to the east.
Up close the stately house did not seem so forbidding, less of a mysterious manor harboring psychopaths and star-crossed lovers. House, of course, was a misnomer. It was truly a chateau, even though small by European standards. I judged it to be three floors of around 1,500 square feet each. The gray stone of those tall walls wasn’t native rock. A cloudy green patina stained the copper mansard roof. Brown brick framed doors, windows, and the roofline beneath the gables.
As I swung around to park beside a few other vehicles, some with out-of-state license plates, I caught sight of another solid-looking stone building about a hundred yards behind the chateau. Probably the winery.
A sign with black lettering mounted on a field of white to the right of the main entryway confirmed this as The Lovely Pines Vineyard and Winery. The placard mirrored a larger billboard I’d seen out on the highway. The effect of the whole layout was stiff and formal. A bit off-putting for my tastes.
That changed as soon as I walked into the front hallway. High ceilings gave the place an airy feeling, and windows that seemed rather small from the outside admitted bright light to play off eggshell and pale gold walls tastefully hung with good art. I couldn’t be certain from this distance, but some seemed to be old masters. Reproductions, probably. The chocolatier’s kiosk was modern without being jarring. The word Schoggi was prominently displayed, leading me to believe this was Swiss German for chocolate. An attractive woman of about fifty lifted her head from a notepad and smiled as I entered. I clicked the REC button on the small digital voice recorder on my belt as she spoke.
“Welcome to the Lovely Pines. Please feel free to make yourself at home. Our wine tasting won’t begin for another half hour or so. The entire first floor is given over to our public rooms—the Bistro, a salon for lounging, our gift shop, and, of course, our tasting room.”
I thanked her for the sales pitch and let her know that Mr. Gonda was expecting me.
Sorry, but--like me--BJ is fascinated by all those historical figures hovering in the background as we pass through towns that were originally aboriginal settlements, superseded by Hispanic and Anglo cultures, each in turn. Nonetheless, he eventually able to focus on the task at hand. Hope you’ll get the book and read it upon release.
The following information provides my contact information and DSP Publications links:
Don Travis Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Facebook: Don Travis
Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-city-of-rocks-don-travis/1126419974
As always, thank for being a reader.
New blogs are posted at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.