Damned Murder? by Burt Surmon

Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve

The vineyards and townships of South Australia’s Clare Valley are the delightful backdrop to this light-hearted romp with a dash of a possible murder mystery. It offers vicarious pleasures of gourmet meals, tantalising wine tastings, even pottery making and glass blowing.

The characters are all ageing, nudging their sixties, but are determined to live life to the full. The men have a passion for expensive vehicles, the latest Jaguars, Land Rovers and Toyotas. Brody Rivers, a local land owner, assures his listeners that you ‘can buy a decent plane for less than a new car, now’!

They all consume liberal quantities of fine wine, particularly prize-winning Rieslings, produce superb delicacies to accompany them, and accompany this indulgence with art exhibitions at the vineyard.

The narrative circles around Vale Creek Estate, run by Monty and Lea Hills. Staying as guests for the weekend at their B&B are a couple, Dr. Diana Downes and Milton Manning. Milton unfortunately is found dead near the dam on the property. An investigation follows.

Several suspects are revealed, all have either a grudge or a reason to do away with the deceased. All apparently have motives. Milton, it appears, is universally disliked. Whether there is sufficient motive and the opportunity is alluded to, and, in the meantime, the police establish the facts.

At times, the language used is quaint – ‘avian conversations’ wake one in the mornings, but generally Damned Murder? is an entertaining read. The tone is more like an enticing invitation to visit ‘that part of the world’ and the temptations of the fare on offer there is the highlight of this unusual little book.  There are constant listings of menus. Breakfast was poached eggs on grilled ciabatta with blanched asparagus spears, topped with diced pickled eggs and parsley.  At their Seafood Festival, there is the best seared scallops and abalone combination with the much-praised Cowell oysters.

Small lectures are inserted where experts impart information. Diana shares the properties of the drugs that enhance sexual performance for both men and women.  A local, concerned for the environment, gives details of the peculiarities of the antechinus, a marsupial mouse which is fast becoming endangered.

The atmosphere is that of a hedonistic paradise, and the death is handled without threat or menace, barely impacting on the busy lives focused on wine, food, and all that amuses those who have excess time and money at their disposal.

The reference to the various cars and their prowess has decided masculine appeal, and the alcohol, ranging from the famous Clare Valley white wines to beers (at The Mad Bastard pub) and Guinness, give an unexpected pleasure throughout.

Damned Murder? is not a thriller seriously pursuing the solution of a crime; the investigation of a sudden death is almost a diverting side-track!

Damned Murder?

[2021]

by Burt Surmon

Wakefield Press

ISBN 978 1743 0584 8 0

$24.99; 174pp

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