Chronicle Mysteries: Vines That Bind (2019)

Chronicle Mysteries is a series about a true crime podcaster, but in its first three episodes, it hasn’t managed to show off the podcasting side of things very much. Main character Alex McPherson whips out a recorder every now and again and sometimes we see her huddled in a dark recording booth, but so far the series hasn’t done anything creative with the profession. I don’t know what they could do to better integrate the podcasting bit because, well, no one’s paying me for ideas. I do know, however, that I’m a fan of star Alison Sweeney and I’m happy to watch more of this series and less of say Aurora Teagarden.

Alex’s latest case takes her to East Coast wine country, specifically to the town of Macklin and the vineyard of one Saunier family. Owner and patriarch Colton Saunier was found dead in a vat some time ago and when his oldest son, Gil, is murdered, Alex knows his death is more than a coincidence. With the help of Barrington Chronicle’s resident gossip columnist Eileen (Rebecca Staab), a regular visitor to the vineyard and friend of the Sauniers, she tries to get to the bottom of the mystery.

It’s a little hard when you’re not welcome though, and the remaining Sauniers do their best to ice her out. Colton’s other son, Jackson, doesn’t want a stranger poking around the family business, probably because he looks super guilty. Not only was he left out of his dad’s will, he’s also bitter that his family accused his new wife of marrying for money. As Alex digs further, however, she uncovers other suspects and generally shady folks. Andy Woods, Colton’s wayward hired hand, is the police’s main target. He’s not to be confused with Ryan, the grumpy horticulturalist who helps Alex but also has a record and sneaks phone calls to a mystery person. Closer to home is the Kelleher farm, which sits next door to the Sauniers’ property and stinks up a storm. Surely some bodies are buried back there. Then there is Jackson’s own family. His wife Mary boasts some mean sharpshooting skills while his daughter Caitlyn, well, she has some ethical lapses.

Like the previous movies, this one casts its net wide early on. A slow news week in Barrington means that Alex’s partner at the Chronicle, Drew (Benjamin Ayres), also ends up in Macklin for a week. He and press manager, Chuck (Dave Collette), go on a research trip for a town profile, tracing its rapid growth into a prosperous wine destination. Small towns are small towns though, and everything intersects eventually. I wish the lines of enquiry would cross sooner, but again, this movie is content to wait until the last minute for everything to fall into place. As a result, the film’s final minutes are a rush to explain things when it doesn’t have to be so.

Luckily the characters compensate, and I’m on board with the whole Chronicle crew. They are reporters who take their job seriously but aren’t too serious. I really love that Drew is not a protective boyfriend because Alex is by herself already plenty capable. In fact, everyone finds themselves in tricky situations, and this case shows how dependent they are on one another. It would be nice to have a Hallmark series that showcases a team of sleuths rather than one or two, and so far this is the closest we’ve got.

Highlight for spoilers: Beady-eyed lawyer Victor Lustig killed both Colton and Gil to redeem his family and town from the upstart Sauniers. Like his aunt, he blamed the Sauniers for Mackin’s deterioration and wanted the family off their land. He played the long game, manipulating Colton by working as his lawyer and then conspiring with the Kellehers, another founding family, to pollute the Sauniers’ land. After killing Colton and Gil, he figured Jackson would give up and sell the land.

Released: 2019
Dir: David Weaver
Writer: Melissa Salmons
Cast: Alison Sweeney, Benjamin Ayres, Dave Collette, Olivia Steele Falconer, Rebecca Staab, Michael Kopsa, Toby Levins, Karen Holness, Michael Patrick Denis, Malcolm Stewart, Garrett Black
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2019