Review of Thyme of Death by Susan Wittig Albert (1992) (China Bayles Series)

Bottom line: Okay

Rating: Recommended if: you’re looking for a light mystery, or have a connection to the Texas Hill Country

Blurb:

China Bayles has it all – a prestigious Houston law practice, money, power – but it’s not enough. She’s smart, she’s tough, she’s confident, and she knows she wants something more out of life than the fast track offers. Something like the Thyme and Seasons herb shop in Pecan Springs, Texas. Realizing that her career is turning her into somebody she doesn’t like, China does what many people only dream of doing: She relocates to a small town to begin a new and, she hopes, a gentler, more fulfilling life.

But even in Pecan Springs, evil can occur among ordinary people living everyday lives. China soon learns that while she can move from the city, she can’t escape the world of moral choice. When China’s good friend, Jo Gilbert, apparently commits suicide, China is more than puzzled. Jo had been suffering from a terminal disease, but wasn’t the type to take her own life. And, to a lawyer like China, some revealing letters that Jo leaves behind shout blackmail and murder, not suicide.

But why would anybody want to kill a woman who will die soon anyway? And what about the scent of perfume in Jo’s house? When another mysterious death occurs, China is sure she’s dealing with homicide. Helped by her best friend, New-Ager Ruby Wilcox, and with support from lover Mike McQuaid, a former-cop-turned-professor, China follows a trail of greed and fear to discover some unsettling answers. Thyme of Death marks the memorable debut of one of the most original and appealing new female sleuths to come along in years. Readers will identify with China Bayles as she makes the kind of tough decisions that confront us all.

Review:

I was excited to read this, as it seemed like a neat setup – I love the Texas Hill Country, and the former-lawyer-turned-herb-shop-owner premise seemed intriguing. However, I had to really push myself through the first fifty or so pages before I started to get into it. I found the writing to be clunky and distracting. The characters were ok, and the plot was good, but the not-so-subtle themes and meticulous character descriptions kept pulling me out of the story. Surely there is a happy medium between not being told anything about what a character looks like and having to know, down to the shoes, exactly what every single person is wearing, even random once-off characters we’re never going to see again.

I did start enjoying it more once we got into the investigation parts of the story, and if I happened across the next in the series while at the library I’ll probably pick it up, but I won’t be rushing out to grab it. I felt mildly curious about the lead’s past, but I didn’t feel connected enough to her to need to know more about her. It is worth a read if you’re headed to the Texas Hill Country and are looking for a light, throw away read for an afternoon.

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