Another Review at MyShelf.Com

China Bayles Mystery # 16

by Susan Wittig Albert

      Having followed Susanís fabulous mystery series since the beginning, I found this book a welcome addition to the progression of China Bayles stories! Once again, Ms. Albert has created a story that is clever, thought provoking and original. There are two wonderful "twists" to the tale as well; Susan calls this book the last of the trilogy within the series.í Starting with Bleeding Hearts, and continuing with Spanish Dagger, this book wraps up the subplot of the mystery of the death of Chinaís father, 16 years before. In addition, for the first time, Ms. Albert has given Mike McQuaid (Chinaís husband) a voice of his own, rather than the usual first-person perspective that we expect from Chinaís narratives. The chapters that are written from Mikeís perspective are subtitled "McQuaid," and although you would think that such intrusions in an established series, with established characters, would be irritating and invasive, they provide a welcome and innovative trend.

The herbal part of the book is also a delight - this time the focus is on the notorious and oft-misunderstood nightshade family, which includes tomatoes and eggplant. Susan includes a postscript chapter about the nightshade family, and the "nice and nasty" aspects of the plant species. In addition, there is the usual enchanting and mouth-watering recipe chapter, and a great bibliography. Reading one of the China Bayles mysteries is always an education, as well as a great escape into marvelous writing.

China is a reluctant participant in the solving of this mystery, since it involves delving into uncomfortable and painful history. Learning about her fatherís secret life with his long-term (now deceased) secretary, and his machinations within the wheels of Texas government also brings her face to face with some inescapable facts about her own love-hate relationship with her father.

Mike McQuaid, in his role as a private investigator, is prodding China to help find solutions, as well as uncovering hints and clues she has buried deep inside herself. It has taken China many years to come to terms with her alcoholic mother, and she is not well pleased to have to have her fatherís unpleasant past shoved into her consciousness! Nevertheless, China has always prided herself on her ability to demonstrate her unbiased perspective, and that trait allows her to bring the story to conclusion without forfeiting her beliefs in herself and her strengths.

The usual cast is in place as well, including the vibrant and brilliantly red-haired Ruby; Chinaís best friend and business partner, who is still reeling from the death of her lover in Spanish Dagger. Rubyís daughter and granddaughter take the stage now and again in the book, as well as the assorted townspeople of Pecan Springs, Texas. However, more than any other China Bayles book, this book is about China and Mike, and deciphering the mystery that means so much to them personally and professionally. Howard, the lazy basset, and their charming teenaged son, Brian, now 16, are only codicils to the plot, but it is a plot that gives the reader a grand sense of satisfaction. It is a relief to know there are writers still out there such as Susan, willing to push the envelope a bit, and willing to allow her characters freedom to explore, without interfering too much! This book should have a permanent place on your bookshelf, and the recipes tried and enjoyed. Watch the site for an in depth talk with Susan Wittig Albert by this reviewer in August, when Susan is our author of the month. Enjoy!

China Bayles' Book of Days (NonFiction)

Reviews of other titles in this series

Mistletoe Man #9
Dilly of a Death #12
Dead Mans Bones #13
Bleeding Hearts #14
Spanish Dagger #15
Nightshade #16
Wormwood #17 [review 1] [review 2]
Mourning Gloria #19
Cat's Claw #20
Widow's Tears #21
Death Come Quickly #22
Bittersweet #23
Blood Orange #24
The Last Chance Olive Ranch #25 [review 1] [review 2]
Queen Anne's Lace #26

The Book

Berkley Prime Crime
April 1, 2008
Herbal Mystery
More at

The Reviewer

Laura Strathman Hulka
Reviewed 2008
© 2008