by Sandra Murphy
This week we have 2 Susan Wittig Albert books! Death Come Quickly is the latest China Bayles mystery just out this month, and Widow’s Tears, the book just before that, was just released in paperback. Enjoy these reviews and find info at the end of this post on how to win copies of both. Use the Amazon links in this post to purchase either book and a portion goes to help KRL keep bringing you great articles & reviews!
Death Come Quickly By Susan Wittig Albert
Karen Prior is or should I say, was, supervising a student documentary on a cold case murder. The students have done their research and filmed the background shots. They’re ready for interviews and details. Who knows? They might even be able to solve the case!
Karen is bashed over the head and dies a few days later, leaving no clues as to what happened to her. She was at the mall but in the employee lot instead of customer parking. It’s pretty dark back there and since the mall was still open, no one was around to witness the assault/mugging/murder.
China Bayles is back in the forefront of this mystery–remember the last one, Widow’s Tears (see review below), focused on Ruby with China having more of a cameo appearance? Now the roles are reversed as Ruby remains more in the background and advises caution. Smart Cookie, aka Sheila the Chief of Police, is under the weather and homebound until she’s well. She’s also very frustrated about it!
China doesn’t think she’s interfering in an open investigation. She’s not looking into Karen’s death, but Christine’s the cold case. Something must have triggered an idea in Karen’s head, so if China follows Karen’s line of thinking, it could give her clues to her death without putting herself in any danger, right? One would think that, but it’s not the way things happen sometimes, even though a number of the players in the original mystery are now dead.
Christine seemed to go out of her way to make enemies. There was her ex-husband–no love lost there–plus she got a huge house and nice settlement. After hearing rumors of hidden assets, she was ready to go after him again. She collected art and wanted to open a museum on the first floor of her house. The town council objected which led to name-calling and a number of feuds. A six foot tall chain link fence was going to drop neighborhood property values, but Christine was adamant that she needed the protection from thieves after the artwork. Some of the paintings were reputed to be worth millions. She was on the “outs” with her cousin as well and, guess who’s living in the house, running the museum and probably sleeping with Christine’s old boyfriend/business partner? Yep, the cousin! Rather a coincidence, wouldn’t you say?
With all the precautions she took, it was odd that Christine was found dead in the house with no sign of a break-in. She must have let the killer in herself, but who would she trust?
A fifteen year old murder, a current murder, clues to discover, a shop to run, sick friend to tend and life at home, is almost more than China can juggle but she comes through once again.
We’re assured that Pecan Springs and Thyme and Seasons are fictional places. I like to think they’re both real, keeping the exact location secret, in order to keep out the riff-raff. It sure would be a nice place to visit.
There are twenty-three previous books in this series, eight in the Beatrix Potter mysteries, four featuring the Darling Dahlias, two non-fiction books and a dozen written with husband Bill Albert (she uses the name Robin Paige for those books).
Of course, there are recipes. Purslane and Spinach Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette, Shrimp, Pasta and Rose Petals, Rose Petal Salad, Rose and Strawberry Soup, Muhallabiyeh (Middle Eastern dessert), Rose Petal Sandwiches, Rosemary and Thyme bread sticks, Secret Barbeque Sauce (from McQuaid), Ginger Syrup (good for stomach ailments) and Taco Casserole.
If you’re not hungry when you start reading this book, you will be when you finish!
Widow’s Tears By Susan Wittig Albert
There are twenty-four books in the China Bayles mystery series, but this one is different in that it’s all about Ruby, a nice change of pace. As you’ll remember, Ruby owns the Crystal Cave, where you can find tarot cards, Ouija boards, crystals and more. It’s the only New Age shop in the town of Pecan Springs, Texas. China owns the herbal store, Thyme and Seasons. Together, they run a catering business, tea room, teach classes, rent out a cottage as a B&B, and more–it’s a wonder they have time to take a breath!
Ruby is still suffering from the death of Colin, also known as Dan, two years before. She should be moving on, of course, but is stuck emotionally. Maybe a few days off would do the trick. Ruby is psychic but downplays her ability in that area and as she says, just skims the surface of what she could do. When an old friend calls, it sounds like a good time to get away except for the fact that the only other time she’s been to that house was when she first discovered she could see ghosts.
In spite of her hesitation, Ruby makes the visit–it feels inevitable. Sure enough, there’s the ghost, dressed Gibson Girl style, wandering around the yard when Ruby arrives. Stranger things begin to happen–cell phones, flash lights and cars all refuse to work. There is no land line so Ruby and her friend are basically stranded.
To make matters worse, Tropical Storm Amanda is enroute.
Back in Pecan Springs, China’s not having a great day either. A friend at the bank was shot and killed during a robbery. Ruby’s sister, the overbearing Ramona, confides in China that Ruby’s burned out and wants to sell not only the Cave, but her interest in all the other businesses as well–and Ramona wants to buy in. Let’s just say Ramona might have good administrative skills but her people skills are sadly lacking. It forces China to make the trip to see Ruby just to find out her true feelings.
China is more practical than Ruby and not at all sure she believes in ghosts, psychics and manifestations. Meeting Rachel, the resident ghost, forces her to be more open minded to say the least.
The recurring theme in this book is how to move on after a tragedy. Although Ruby is dating Hark– he’s the one from the newspaper, really nice but kind of boring–she can’t get over Colin’s death and all the lies he told. Rachel is stuck too. The house and the family cemetery are keeping her on the property instead of moving on like any normal dead person. The tragedy she went through consumed not only her life but her death as well. The parallel lines are clear. Rachel and Ruby need each other to become unstuck.
The chapters go back and forth between Rachel’s time (1900) and the current day. There’s a lot of history involved but it’s told through Rachel’s viewpoint so the story is personal, not a history lesson. The ending is satisfying without everything being tied up in a nice bow and everybody miraculously cured. It’s nice to find out more about Ruby and her family, her gift and what she’ll do with it going forward. That’s what the book is all about–going forward.
To enter to win a copy of both books by Susan Wittig Albert, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “China,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen April 12, 2014. U.S. residents only.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.