by Susan Wittig Albert
Mystery / Amateur Sleuth
by: Elaine Broom, MyShelf.Com
Sitting down with a China Bayles mystery is like sitting down for a long chat with a very good friend. Susan Wittig Albert's latest book, Mistletoe Man, is no exception. It combines a clever whodunit with a story of the great power of friendship and love.
The Christmas holidays are proving to be a frantic whirl of activity for China Bayles, owner of Pecan Springs' popular herb shop Thyme and Seasons. Not only is business at the shop booming, China and her friend Ruby Wilcox's newest venture, Thyme for Tea, is a success beyond their wildest dreams. And China is trying to figure out when she'll find time to decorate the house she shares with her new husband and their son. A mystery is exactly what China does not need right at this moment! But when the body of her mistletoe supplier, Carl Swenson, is found in a ditch, and Sheriff Blackie Blackwell asks China to get involved, that's just what she gets. Initially, China's investigation centers around the Fletcher sisters. Neighbors Terry and Donna Fletcher are locked in a bitter dispute with Swenson over property lines. Aunt Velda Fletcher is convinced that Klingons are somehow involved with Swenson's death. However, as she talks to more and more people, China realizes that Carl Swenson's life was as surrounded by mystery as his death. She finds that his past was full of secrets and that one of those secrets just could be deadly.
Even while she's trying to find Swenson's killer, China worries about the changes in her friend and partner Ruby. Once warm and giving, Ruby is now pensive and withdrawn. China is just as confused as Ruby's family and other friends by this change. As this poignant story plays out, China is forced to realize how important this relationship is to her, and just how empty her life would seem without Ruby.
In China Bayles, Susan Wittig Albert has created a strong, intelligent and all too human character. Readers follow her as she solves the mysteries in each installment, but also as she navigates the twists and turns of her life. In Mistletoe Man, this is a different China than we've seen before. She has a hard-won awareness of just how fragile life and happiness can be. She no longer wants to be "independent, unconnected, uncommitted." Although all of the books in this series are strong enough to stand alone, readers would not have the same appreciation for the changes in China that they would if they had read the preceding volumes. This is a wonderful book with something for everyone. It has an interesting and complex mystery, lots of herbal lore, and enough insight and humanity to satisfy any reader. I hated to see it end - I'm already looking forward to my next visit with China!
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