Four Dogs Missing, Rhys Gard

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

You wouldn't think reading crime fiction would leave you with a taste for wine, but here we are. 

Set in the idyllic surrounds of the Mudgee (New South Wales) wine region, Oliver Wingfield has set himself up as a winemaker with a fine reputation for his wines, even if everyone talks about his reclusive nature and unorthodox techniques. He's a man with a complicated past, which is dragged kicking and screaming into the light after his estranged twin brother Theo suddenly arrives after a fifteen year period of no contact whatsoever, and is promptly murdered. Physically identical twins, they could not be more different personalities, or have lead such opposing lives. Theo, it seems, has been in decidedly dodgy territory since Oliver last saw him, but his death in Oliver's house, is not clear cut. Was the intended victim Theo, or is this a case of mistaken identity? Either way Oliver finds himself drawn into a series of murders, poison, stolen art and dangerous threats - to him and the people closest to him. 

Readers of this debut novel will need to pay attention - for a reclusive individual Oliver has a largish supporting cast to keep track of, all of whom are well fleshed out, interesting / complicated in their own right. From his present - there's vineyard manager Gabe, as well as girlfriend and winebar owner Penny, and assorted supporters and winemaking mentors, near and far. There's also a few grumpy neighbours and slightly sniffy locals, who don't approve of Oliver testing the boundaries of winemaking norms. From his and Theo's past, there's a gallery manager, and friend of their now deceased mother, and there's something about her death, and their father that is slowly revealed as Oliver's carefully guarded past becomes clearer and the present gets messier and more people in his orbit start to die. All of which happens at a good pace, with lots of those red herrings being sprinkled in the reader's path as you go.

There's a lot going on in FOUR DOGS MISSING. A good cast of possible villains and victims, some past stuffing up the present, with decisions and actions coming back to haunt, and taunt, and some people who don't deserve the aggravation, or pain, or ending up dead as a result. The idea that the initial victim is the identical twin of the main seeker of truth is an interesting twist, especially as the life of the estranged Theo starts to reveal itself, right down to the correspondence between Theo and a woman who turns out to be a big help to Oliver when he needs it.

Despite the busy nature of the plot, the reader is played fair with, and even though the truth is there in the background all along, it's an interesting ride to sit with a brother as he searches for the truth about his twin, their family and how to handle a past hurtling straight at you.

To play fair with the reader of this review, FOUR DOGS MISSING is the name of the winery - and there's a reasonably innocuous reason for that. There are two dogs that, whilst unharmed, also seemed to disappear from the narrative which stretched this reader's nerves just a tad (the world sucks - I need to know what's right with it at the moment!), but that's a bit of personal nitpicking, in what is, overall a nicely balanced debut, with a most unlikely central protagonist. A piano playing, wine making reclusive, with a girlfriend he finds out he cares about more than he realised, a place in a small community he didn't see coming, and lots of people who have his back. 


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Art theft, revenge and murder play out against the vineyards of the Mudgee wine region in this ‘edge of your seat’ thriller. 

‘Theo. Come to Oliver’s winery. Search for Four Dogs Missing. You’ll find me there. We need to talk.’  

 While estranged twins Oliver and Theo Wingfield are identical in appearance, they couldn’t be more different. Theo, an extrovert verging on arrogant, was always a drifter, a nomad, operating on the fringes of the law. Oliver, intense, creative and introspective, was destined to become a winemaker. Each vintage, every bottle from Oliver’s Mudgee-based label, Four Dogs Missing, sells out.  

 And now, after fifteen years without contact, Theo unexpectedly turns up at his brother’s vineyard, bearing an invitation that his twin knows nothing about. The quiet and fulfilling life that the winemaker has built for himself is about to change overnight: Theo’s arrival is the catalyst for a series of murders involving those closest to Oliver. Finding himself the main suspect, Oliver soon discovers that not everyone in Mudgee supports a reclusive and unorthodox vigneron who’s shied away from the community that helped him succeed.  

 Oliver is inexorably drawn into a sinister world where poisoned liquor and stolen art leave a deadly trail. Abandoning his grapevines, he sets out to solve the crimes – and confront his damaged past – before someone else he loves is found dead … beside a bottle of his own wine.

Review Four Dogs Missing, Rhys Gard
Karen Chisholm
Tuesday, July 4, 2023

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