In her fine-vintage debut romantic mystery Crush at Thomas Hall (Chalet, August 2010) Beth Sorensen introduced readers to Cassandra Martin who buried an abusive husband Tony, left home to see the world and ended up in northern Virgina running a small winery and deeply in love with the son of Thomas Hall’s owner, Edward Baker. In spite of murder and embezzlement, Cassandra and Edward appeared destined to lead a charmed life at the end of the novel.
The title of Sorensen’s sequel, Divorcing a Dead Man, is the first clue to the fact there may be more than grapes to be crushed at the winery—potentially, hearts and lives, as Cassandra discovers that Tony faked his death and wants to control her life again if he doesn’t kill her first. As a rich, successful CEO, Edward is used to getting his way, and to him that means controlling Cassandra’s life as well.
In my review of Crush at Thomas Hall, I noted that while former college professor Cassandra Martin was an intelligent protagonist when it came to running the winery, she was indecisive about personal matters, especially emotional commitments. She remains indecisive in Divorcing a Dead Man.
But, she has cause: two men want to control her life, one out of hate and love; one man makes threats while the other keeps secrets; she is a devout Catholic who must now contemplate filing for divorce while her wedding is approaching as a potential train wreck; and, since Cassandra’s life is in danger, those closest want to hover even closer when she would prefer to run the winery (or run away) and have some unfettered time to think.
While Divorcing a Dead Man is not quite as tightly written as Crush at Thomas Hall, this contemporary romance successfully develops the character of Cassandra Martin in an environment of danger and betrayal. Meanwhile, Cassandra is not without doubts. While Tony was a mistake, she wonders as she accuses Edward of trying to run their relationship like a corporation, if marrying him will be another mistake.
Sorensen has written a compelling story about relationships and how easy it is for them to come into question and come under fire during times of great stress. From the outset, it’s clear that Cassandra and Edward are deeply in love and want only the best from each other. It’s also clear, whether fate plays a deadly hand or not, that they’re facing a steep learning curve in how to make a relationship work with very little time to do the necessary homework.