This is the third book in our A to Z Mystery Tour through the library. I will be choosing one book (hopefully the first book) from a mystery series on each shelf in my library’s mystery section, in alphabetical order by author, and reviewing it here. I have also added the series title list for each book to the website under Series in Order in the menu.
Susan Wittig Albert 1992 – First in the China Bayles Mysteries
It’s the early 1990’s and China Bayles, disenfranchised lawyer and enthusiastic herbalist, has escaped to the fictional town of Pecan Springs, Texas where she acts as the town’s herbalist, selling herbs and items that smell like herbs. When her good friend dies, apparently by suicide, China is suspicious. More deaths ensue as clandestine relationships and financial arrangements are revealed.
Thyme of Death ticks all the boxes for a cozy mystery: somewhat amateur detective, very grisly murders, and police who act as a foil to the main character’s investigations. The chief of police in this small town, though, is only mildly obstructive; despite his slightly repulsive demeanor and habitual suspicion when dealing with China, the Chief holds a grudging respect for China. That respect is reciprocated, as China frequently tells her friends not to underestimate the Chief’s abilities.
There’s a bit of romance as well (not with the Chief), and toward the end of the book, possibly a hint of greener pastures for China in that department.
The book has two drawbacks:
Most glaringly, dialect is used as shorthand to indicate that a character is somehow unpleasant or unintelligent. When a (presumably uneducated) townsperson uses the word “TV,” it’s depicted as “tee-vee” in dialogue; and when a character uses the word “thang” (in italics) instead of “thing,” the reader knows China does not respect that character. This is an unpleasant and ineffective literary device; I paused at every usage while trying to figure out how “tee-vee” would sound different than “TV.”
The second drawback? I figured out who the killer was early on, and was disappointed to see how long it took China and her cohorts to reach the same conclusion.
This series is still active with 28 titles, the most recent published in 2021. I’m giving it three stars; it’s a series I’ll probably continue, both because I mostly enjoyed the debut novel and because I’m looking forward to watching how technology unfolds as China moves from 1990’s snail mail and home phones (they weren’t calling them land lines then) to the uber-connected wireless world of the 21st century.