Genre: cozy mystery
China Bayles stars in “some of the best-plotted mysteries on the market.” Now the ex-lawyer and current herbalist must stop a killer whose evil is burning through Texas…
This spring China is busy selling her wares at Pecan Springs Farmers’ Market and enjoying the additional customers the market’s bringing to her herb shop, Thyme and Seasons.
But as the town bustles back to life in the warmth of the season, China happens upon a burning house trailer and hears a woman screaming for help. The evidence leaves no doubt that it's arson homicide – but who would commit such a ghastly crime?
China’s friend Jessica Nelson, an intern-reporter at the local paper, is assigned to cover the story. Drawn into the case by its similarity to her own tragic loss, she soon finds herself deeply involved - and in danger. And when Jessica disappears, China is determined to find her, before she becomes a headline herself.
I am always looking forward to the next China Bayles book. A lawyer turned herb shop owner and gardener, and sleuth. I love how her personal life keeps changing throughout the series, as do her friends’ lives. I have come to love all the secondary characters as my own friends, and like visiting with them.
China leads a very full and busy life. She is married to McQuaid, a former cop and now part time professor and private investigator. McQuaid has a son, Brian, who lives with them, and is not 16 and really grown up, but I witnessed that from a young age. There is also little Caitlyn, China’s niece, who lost her parents and her aunt, which made China her last relative. After being single for so long, it is not easy to be an instant-parent to a griefstricken little girl, but they all manage. There is also Howard Cosell, a basset hound. Brian is very interested in all kinds of creepy crawly creatures, who often escape from his bedroom.
China owns a herb shop, with extensive theme gardens, and together with her best friend and shop-neighbour Ruby, who has a shop in spiritualistic stuff, they have a catering service, and with a third friend, they run a tea room behind their shops. And now there is the farmers market, where China has a stand with fresh herbs and the tinctures and lotions she makes with them. She also writes a column for the local newspaper, and China and Ruby give lectures and workshops. So how she ever has some private time to her self, I don’t know, but China is a happy person.
McQuaid is out of town on some investigation for the local lawyer, and Brian is of to teach at summercamp, so China and little Caitlyn are home together. They started working in the garden early, to harvest the herbs China will be selling at the farmers market. Caity likes to help, and not just for the allowance she gets from China.
That night, after a get together with friends who also like local produce, Caity stays for a sleepover, and China drives home alone. Almost home, she happens to see a trailer she thought was vacant, on fire. After calling 911 she sets out to investigate if the trailer is empty, or if someone is still inside. And to her horror, someone is calling for help. But before she can smash in the window, the trailer blows up. Leaving China with some burnwounds and without her eyebrows. The firebrigade and the sheriff show up quick, but too late. The woman inside is death, and the trailer is beyond rescue as well.
China feels absolutely horrible that she could not safe that woman, burning alive, what is more horrible than that? But when the police tells her, the woman was shot and tied up, she also could have run into the killer if she was a few minutes earlier, and would have died as well.
Her story is the talk of the town as usual, and China has to keep telling what happened. Her young friend Jessica Nelson, who wants to be a reporter, is very interested in the case. As it happens, ten years ago, her own parents and twin sisters died in a housefire. As she was away with class, she escaped, and survived. Now she has also lost her grandmother, and is living with a roommate in a dingy house on the outskirts of town, with a really creepy neighbour who spies on her. But she wants to find out who the murdered woman was, and why it happened, and why the murdered did this. But when Jessica disappears, the only clue a frantic message on China’s answering machine, she must have come to close to solving the case! At first, both the editor of the newspaper, who also happens to be Ruby’s boyfriend, and the local police are not that interested in trying to find her.
But China feels restless, and is determined to follow in Jessica’s footsteps of that last Monday. What did she discover?
And so China sets out to investigate, using her lawyer skills to interrogate people, and scare them with the law if necessary. All that while also taking care of business as good as she can. Her little niece is having violin lessons, and has more than her share of talent! And so the Caity gets a part of a youth orchestra and things, as she is already good enough to perform. China herself hated her violin lessons in her youth, and it is her own mother who is paying for them. And when a stray cat wanders into their garden, Caitlin wants to keep it. Even Howard is fine with that, as the cat obviously has used several of its lives already and is in dire need of a new home and some food. How is China to say no to a young girl that is just starting living again? Especially when asked if she not rather have a young kitten, the answer is: that cat is just like me aunt China… it needs me.
Back to the mystery plot: that was good, I never did guess the murderer. I had my sights set on the married man who would not let go of Jessica when she found out the truth and broke up with him.
I do wonder if all will be right with Sheriff Blackie and Smart Cookie, if their relationship will hold this time. Unfortunately, the wait for the next book in this series will be another year.
I enjoy reading about the fictive town of Pecan Springs, Texas, a lot. I like the people, and the culture and the descriptions of plantlife and such very much. Susan Wittig Albert has a way with words, so you can see the pictures in your head. And I also like that China kind of talks to the reader in parts of the book, updating you on what happened before when necessary. You don’t get pages long of old information first. It is different. And of course, there is a lot of knowledge about herbs and plants and how to use them, and not. And always the warning to not try it yourself without specialist advice. Something that is good for you, can also be lethal in bigger doses.
© 2012 Reviews by Aurian