Vacationing with China Bayles

I’m back from vacation and, yes, I had a good time (I was in Florida, enjoying the sunshine, but that’s another blog). As I was packing I decided that I needed something to read in between visits to Disney World and the hot tub. I wanted something intriguing, not too light, but nothing to really keep me awake at night. I settled on the first of the China Bayles mysteries by Susan Wittig Albert. I’ve read a couple from the middle of the series (taking the advice of my reading mentor, JoAnn Viceral, the Head Rat, who thinks it’s a good idea to test the waters and then decide if you want to invest time in the whole series), but I’d never read the first one. I have a particular fondness for the title, Thyme of Death, because it’s the first fiction title I succeeded in finding using a keyword search (I know, I know–too much information, but the librarians in the crowd will understand).  I happened to find it on the library sale shelf (you should check it out), bought it, and I was set.

China Bayles is an ex-lawyer who got out of the rat race when she found herself turning into one of the rats.  She sold her yuppy condo in Houston and moved to the small town of Pecan Springs, Texas where she invested her savings in an old stone building which housed her business, the Thyme and Seasons Herb Company; the Crystal Cave, her friend Ruby’s New Age shop, and her own home.  In this first installment, her friend Jo is in need of cheering up.  She is losing her fight with cancer and China has bought her a birthday gift to make her laugh.  Unfortunately, Jo never receives it–her daughter Meredith finds her dead along with a note and a bottle of pills, an apparent suicide.  Ruby flat-out refuses to believe that Jo would have killed herself and Meredith agrees after thinking about some of the discrepancies surrounding her death (she had no pain pills in the house, she never drank much, Meredith smelled perfume in the house when she came in, indicating that someone had been there before her).

China talks things over with her boyfriend, McQuaid, ex-cop and PhD candidate, and his money is on the investigative skills of Bubba, the local chief of police.  China is not so sure–she’s used to having an adversarial relationship with the police and Bubba is no exception.  As China investigates, trying to keep Ruby from being sued for slander for defaming one of the city fathers who is her favorite suspect, she uncovers some startling and, in some cases, grisly information about the pasts of various of the folks who have gathered for Jo’s funeral.  The ending came as a surprise–I didn’t see it coming and I’ve read enough mysteries that I’m a pretty good guesser.

I had forgotten how much I liked the characters and enjoyed seeing them grow.  I think I’ll continue reading to find out how China and McQuaid do and what happens with Ruby.  All in all, this is a nice series with enough in the mystery department to keep me interested, new facts about herbs and their uses to keep me coming back for more information, and characters to keep me enteratained.