Welcome to the nbmagazine.co.uk stop on the blog tour for She Lies in the Vines by Benjamin Stevenson!

Here’s a little info about the book:

Four years ago Eliza Dacey was brutally murdered.
Within hours, her killer was caught.
Wasn’t he?

So reads the opening titles of Jack Quick’s new true-crime documentary.

A skilled producer, Jack knows that the bigger the conspiracy, the higher the ratings. Curtis Wade, convicted of Eliza’s murder on circumstantial evidence and victim of a biased police force, is the perfect subject. Millions of viewers agree.

Just before the finale, Jack uncovers a minor detail that may prove Curtis guilty after all. Convinced it will ruin his show, Jack disposes of the evidence and delivers the finale unedited: proposing that Curtis is innocent.

But when Curtis is released, and a new victim is found bearing horrifying similarities to the original murder, Jack realises that he may have helped a guilty man get out of jail. And, as the only one who knows the real evidence of the case, he is the only one who can send him back…

And about author Benjamin Stevenson:

Benjamin Stevenson is an award-winning stand-up comedian and author. He has sold out shows from the Melbourne International Comedy Festival all the way to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Off-stage, Benjamin has worked for publishing houses and literary agencies in Australia and the USA. He currently works with some of the world’s best-loved authors at Curtis Brown Australia.

And here’s Erin’s review of She Lies in the Vines:

Seemingly inspired by the explosion in public interest in media investigations of true crimes such as Serial, Making a Murderer and The Jinx, Jack Quick launched a podcast dedicated to picking apart the case against Curtis Wade, who had been convicted some years previously of the murder of Eliza Dacey. Eliza, a British backpacker who was travelling around Australia, had been working as a fruit picker at the largest winery in Birravale, a rural small town entirely dependent on the wine industry, when she disappeared. Of course, at the time no one actually knew that she had disappeared, as backpackers were notorious for taking off without warning. It was only when her body was discovered eight months later on property belonging to Curtis Wade that anyone realised something terrible had happened.

Now, true crime shows, whether podcasts, television programmes or documentary films, can be divided into two categories: those that strive to maintain impartiality and to focus solely on the evidence (and hence that generally don’t arrive at any definitive conclusion) and those that set out to prove a definite hypothesis, generally the guilt or innocence of the suspect(s), by presenting only certain evidence and narrating the course of the investigation with noticeable bias (thereby both starting with and arriving at a definitive conclusion [albeit possibly an implicit one]). Jack Quick’s podcast fell into the latter category. Saying that, the evidence against Wade was circumstantial and the Birravale police force did appear to be both inept and biased, which is no doubt why his podcast captured the imagination of the Australian public.

In fact, it was so successful that an appeal was launched against Wade’s conviction, while Quick was commissioned to make a television series detailing his work on the case, a sort of expanded version of the podcast that necessitated the capturing of original footage of the location where Eliza’s body was found. Quick was almost fully convinced of Wade’s innocence and he was certainly fully convinced that he wanted the series to be a smash hit, but as both the broadcast of the final episode and the outcome of Wade’s trial due near, he was faced with the problem that things might not be as clear cut as he had originally expected:

“If there was one key to true crime – and he took the word true with a grain of salt; it was television, after all – it was to solve the fucking case in the finale.”

Unfortunately for Quick, his work on the television series resulted in him spotting a possibly vital piece of evidence that he hadn’t known about when making the podcast and triggering the process that could free Curtis Wade. While the moral implications of perhaps helping to free a killer don’t initially seem to trouble Quick too much, he is decidedly troubled by the possibility that the new evidence will undermine his work and the conclusion of his series. Desperate to protect his journalistic career, rather than reporting the new evidence to the appropriate authorities, Quick decides to get rid of it. After all, something that had been overlooked for so long couldn’t possibly be important in the grand scheme of things, right?

Even more unfortunately for Quick, Wade’s appeal is successful and he is released from prison, in no small part due to Quick’s investigation providing ammunition for the defence team to use to destroy the prosecution’s case. It should be the highlight of his career, but when Wade’s release is quickly followed by a second murder that bears all the hallmarks of Eliza’s killing, Quick is forced to truly confront the fact that his decision to dispose of evidence might have allowed a killer to go free…

With She Lies in the Vines, Benjamin Stevenson has succeeded in highlighting both the power and the danger of true crime investigations and trial by media. Jack Quick probably wouldn’t ever have considered his actions to be truly awful, more like necessity being the mother of invention, but he still took the decision to dispose of potentially vital evidence very easily. It shows just how straightforward it can be for the makers of true crime shows to manipulate the facts (although it seems unlikely that many would go to the same lengths as Quick) in order to meet their own agenda and create compelling entertainment. Quick’s podcast had generated such a furore among the public that the authorities seemingly had little choice but to allow Wade an appeal. Stevenson shows that publicity of this kind really has no place in the world of criminal justice.

Of course, Quick gets his comeuppance very early on in She Lies in the Vines when Wade is released and the second murder occurs, causing him to deal with the fact that he might have helped a killer rather than just the theory of doing so. This actually allows his character to be somewhat redeemed, as he throws himself into both reinvestigating Eliza Dacey’s killing and investigating the second murder. He wants to discover the truth about Curtis Wade’s guilt or innocence one way or the other, although he continues to hope that the conclusions of his series will be vindicated and that his actions will remain a secret. Over the course of his investigation, Quick is revealed to be a more troubled personality than he initially appears, with a secret from his past and a serious health condition having a bearing on both his thoughts and his actions. While his decision to dispose of the evidence is continually presented as being a deeply flawed one, he does become more sympathetic over time.

Quick isn’t the only complex character to be found on the pages of She Lies in the Vines. Curtis Wade is also something of an enigma. He had been feuding with a rival wine producer and he engaged in an act of revenge that caused trouble for the entire population of Birravale, but was that really enough to make him the prime suspect in a murder from the outset of the investigation? Did the police ever really look into any other suspects? Still, there’s no getting away from the fact that Eliza’s body was found on Wade’s property and, even when talking to Jack Quick, he can’t seem to avoid acting in a suspicious and threatening fashion. He’s quite clearly an arse, but is he also a killer? The same question could be asked in relation to many of the residents of Birravale and even the town itself seems somehow ominous, as if it has secrets to hide. It’s no surprise then that Quick’s investigation proves to be a difficult one.

She Lies in the Vines is probably packed with nearly as many twists and turns as an actual grapevine. Quick is forced to jump from suspect to suspect and theory to theory as he works through the confusing and often conflicting evidence in an effort to get to the truth. He does have some help along the way, but he’s never really sure who he can trust. More than once, it appears that he has finally grasped the truth, only for the tables to be turned and his theories to be disproved. Stevenson has done a great job of weaving numerous strands of plot and plotters together so that Quick can unravel the crosses and double-crosses associated with the murders and the other dodgy dealings bubbling away beneath the surface of Birravale. He has also managed to tie matters up nicely by the end of the book, although the results of Quick’s investigation are unlikely to leave readers feeling truly easy about things. She Lies in the Vines is a tense and action-packed thriller that poses a number of important moral questions and fosters a distinct atmosphere of worry and mistrust regarding the concepts of truth and justice.

Erin Britton 4*

She Lies in the Vines by Benjamin Stevenson
Hodder & Stoughton B07JH1NZDB ebook July 2019