Scenes of the Crime

Reunions can be fraught with simmering deceit, at least for four college friends in Jilly Gagnon's third gripping novel, Scenes of the Crime. Sure, the remote Oregon winery promises relaxation against the backdrop of a breathtaking view. But the weekend, organized by sitcom writer Emily Fischer, isn't a happy gathering of women who haven't seen each other in years. It's to commemorate the 15th anniversary of Vanessa Morales's disappearance. For Emily, Vanessa was the center of their group, which includes Paige, Lydia, and Brittany, Vanessa's cousin who inherited the Cliff's Edge Winery, where Vanessa went missing. Vanessa was "the friend that you felt absurdly lucky to have found," but she also could be vengeful. Instead of reminiscing about Vanessa for closure, the weekend soon points out the deficiencies in their relationships. The women have to admit they were never real friends--just mere acquaintances. After Vanessa disappeared, the women returned to college, going their separate ways. 

Gagnon intensifies the suspense as odd events cast a pall over the weekend--items owned by Vanessa suddenly appear in their various rooms, and late-night noises suggest that someone else is in the winery. Gagnon also puts a fresh spin on well-worn tropes, making the classic creepy basement an old wine cave with hiding places. The weekend energizes Emily, who, tired of the "mental mashed potatoes" of her TV series, begins a script about the disappearance that Gagnon alternates with the narrative. Scenes of the Crime briskly moves to a satisfying finale. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer

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