Book 18 in the China Bayles series, published April 2010.
Life has been good to China Bayles, so she doesn’t mind welcoming her orphaned nice into the family. But she’s not happy when a Texas wind blows her husband’s ex-wife, mother of China’s stepson, into her herb shop. Sally is known to have a split personality and to be in trouble with the law, but now she claims she has nowhere else to turn. Perhaps it’s the scent of Christmas wreaths hanging in her store, but China invites Sally to stay…
Despite her track record, Sally surprises the family by making an effort with her son and forming an instant bond with China’s troubled niece. But soon an ex of Sally’s reappears. Sally has had plenty of bad-news beaus, but there seems to be an odd connection between this one and the murder of her parents nearly a decade ago. Now, with China’s P.I. husband out of town and two children in her care, it’s up to China to weed out whatever it is Sally’s running from before the truth catches up to them all…
Business is slow in Pecan Springs, and China is a bit worried. McQuaid’s P.I. business is not bringing in much money either, so McQuaid has gone back to teaching parttime. She loves her herb shop, and the businesses she shares with her best friend Ruby and their catering partner Cass. But people just have less to spend in the current economical climate. After the death of the half-brother China never knew she had, and an aunt, she and McQuaid have become the guardians/new parents of her niece Caitlin, who is still dealing with the loss of the rest of her family. It is difficult for China to connect with Caitlin, although she tries hard. She has had years to get used to Brian and his collection of lizards and snakes and other creepy crawlies, and now she has a little girl to take care of.
Christmas is only a week away, and they have made a lot of plans. Then suddenly Sally drops in. A very different looking Sally, nothing like the fashionsavvy China is used to. Sally seems to be really down on her luck this time, and when she confesses she doesn’t have a home, a job or even a car anymore, China takes pity on her, and asks her to stay. Sally does want to spend Christmas with her son this time. Brian is not too happy with having his real mother around. She has disappointed him so often the past years, forgetting his birthdays, Christmasses, promises, he doesn’t trust her anymore. But Caitlin form an instant connection with Sally, they both believe in faeries. And Brian is worried Caitlin will get her heart broken again if she gets to know his mother better. McQuaid is also not so happy. How could China fall for a fake sob story again? Did she forget what happened before? Luckily, he has a job in Omaha the next days, so he won’t be around to witness the fights bound to happen.
The very next day, China gets a phone call in her shop for Sally. Sally doesn’t want to speak with the man, and seems very afraid of him. That same night, late, a stranger calls again. How did he get her unlisted number? China’s doesn’t like to pry into other people’s private affairs, but she has to children to protect. What if the man is a stalker, out to hurt them? So without Sally’s knowledge, she alerts their friend Blacky, who is also the county sheriff.
And bit by bit she unravels Sally’s lies, while Sally tries to send McQuaid to her old hometown. When they were a young married couple, he really liked her parents and sister. But Sally didn’t want to leave the city. Visiting was allright, but living in that small town again? Never. And when their inevitable divorce was happening, her parents were murdered. The murderer has never been caught. Sally forbade McQuaid to interfere, or even come to the funeral. After all, they were no longer his family. And McQuaid had Brian to take care off, as he got full custody of their son. And now Sally claims to have a lead to the killer, and she wants him to find out the truth, to drive in the middle of a blizzard to her old hometown. But the person he was supposed to question is missing, and while he is still talking to the former chief of police, the body is found.
In the meanwhile, the police are looking for Sally, who has disappeared again, as a person of interest in the death of her sister! China just cannot believe Sally was capable of killing her sister, and be just a normal person at her dining table. So she and Ruby set out to discover the truth about what happened to Sally’s sister, and if her stalker could be the murderer. And then Sally could be his next victim if this is all connected…
A great story again, really fast pace, with action on two fronts. I knew from the previous books that Sally is a real screw-up, caring for no one but herself, always falling for the wrong guys. Getting in trouble big time, and having a multiple personality disorder. So that she managed to lie to China and get away with it, surprised me. Of course China is a good person, but being a lawyer sure gave her a thick skin when necessary. She quit being a high profile lawyer years ago to start her herb shop Thyme and Seasons, and is very successful in that. She likes her life, the family she has gotten.
She and Ruby are good at sleuthing, they have helped the police solve a lot of murders. To help protect friends, and sometimes even themselves from the murder accusations.
I really felt sorry for McQuaid and Brian for losing their favourite aunt/sister in law. She often stood in for Sally as a sort of mother for Brian, and they were pretty close. All is well with China and McQuaid, Ruby is still seeing her latest boyfriend, although she thinks him too boring, she wants some excitement in her life. Blacky and Smart Cookie (Sheila) are also back together, which is a huge surprise. Their brake up last time was bad. Ruby has a lot of troubles with her mother, who has Alzheimer and manages to escape out of the Home she is staying a lot. According to China, because she loves being brought back in the back of a police car.
The ending was exciting, but no surprise to me. A good mystery though. And perhaps a warning not to give personal information about your friends to a total stranger … even though he seems charming and harmless.
I have enjoyed reading this book, in just one evening.
Susan Wittig Albert has a different writing style. The book is written in the first person, but sometimes China talks to the reader directly. That is not something I am very fond of. Still, it does not take away much of the story. What I do find annoying at times, is the looking back, the summarizing of who is who, and what major things have happened. Will a person really start with reading the 18th book, and not the first one? Yes, I skip those pages, as I don’t need all those reminders.