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 myshelf.com
site for an in depth talk with Susan Wittig Albert by this reviewer
in August, when Susan is our author of the month. Enjoy!
Bayles' Book of Days (NonFiction)
of other titles in this series
of a Death #12
Wormwood #17 [review
Come Quickly #22
The Last Chance Olive Ranch #25 [review
Anne's Lace #26