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BLOODROOT
by Susan Wittig Albert
Berkley Prime Crime, October 2001
305 pages
$22.95
ISBN: 0425181901


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Leatha Coldwell Bayles Richards calls and asks her daughter, China, to please return to the family plantation, at Jordan廣 Crossing, near the Bloodroot River, outside of Chicory, Mississippi.China廣 great aunt, Tullie (Petulia), is ill. Tullie helped her brother raise Leatha, since Leatha廣 mother died in childbirth.

China returns to Jordan廣 Crossing and becomes steeped in the family history. The original building on the land was a trading post which burned in 1843 with Jed Coldwell inside. His ghost still haunts the land. A Greek Revival plantation house had been built in the 1850s, but that also burned after the Civil War. Clancy, Jed廣 nephew, who had inherited the house (China廣 great-grandfather) built another house, but in the place where the original trading post stood.

Aunt Tullie is in trouble. She lost her temper and hit Wylie Beauregard, the plantation manager, upside the head with her cane, and he has disappeared. Beauregards have been the managers of Jordan廣 Crossing since the 1860s. The plantation consists of 5 sections of 640 acres each, 5 square miles. Wylie had brought a deed with him which showed that Beauregard Coldwell had given the most valuable section of land, the one on which the current house was built, to Wylie廣 ancestor, who had saved Beau廣 life on the battlefield. The deed has disappeared with Wylie.

China finds a diary written by Pearl, Clancy廣 wife. She starts reading it and realizes that it encompasses only the week leading up to Pearl廣 suicide. More family secrets are involved and they are important ones, since it appears that Aunt Tullie has Huntington廣 disease, which doesn廠 appear until mid-life and most Coldwell廣 died young. China and Leatha begin to wonder if they carry the defective gene as well.

This is by far the strongest entry in the series. The plantation, atmosphere, and family history seem very real, and the secondary plots, of women in the south and genetic disease are important. It廣 hard to tell what China is remembering and what she is seeing in the present. As I was reading it, I was reminded of the strange eerie tone of Coleridge廣 Xanadu. Albert does not come from a plantation owning family in Mississippi, This is a perfect example of an author writing the book she寮 like to read.

Reviewed by Barbara Franchi

China Bayles, ordinarily happily living in Pecan Springs, Texas, and tending her herb shop and tea room, goes to Mississippi, to the Yahoo Delta country, at the behest of her mother, Leatha Richards. She and Leatha have not always gotten along so , but now that Leatha seems to have kicked the alcohol habit, both are trying. Leatha is at the Coldwell plantation, Jordan疄 Crossing, where she grew up. When her mother died, her alcoholic father was incapable of caring for her so she was essentially raised by her Aunt Tullie. When China was a child, she visited the plantation summers and still remembers people and places, some fondly, some not so. Aunt Tullie is not one of her pleasant memories.

But Tullie is desperately ill with Huntington疄 Disease, a hereditary disease which means Leatha and China could have the lethal gene as well. Leatha is caring for her and now the police want to know where Wiley Beauchamp, their plantation manager, has gotten to. The last place he was known to be was Jordan疄 Crossing. Privately Leatha tells China that Tullie had lost her temper when Wiley brought a deed which he claimed ceded some of the prime plantation land to his family and hit him with her cane.

The plantation had never been a happy place. It was built on land stolen from Choctaw Indians. The founder had died in a hideous fire. Other deaths and suicides seemed to suggest that this family was trailed by bad luck and disaster. China had long since renounced any connection to them. But at her mother疄 behest she comes back and does her best to help Tullie out.

The atmosphere in this novel is richly developed. All bound up together are the place, the past, and the people. It feels dark even when it is not. Maybe this atmosphere is best demonstrated by a recurring dream China has had about seeing Tullie, an old witch woman, and the gardener in the dark digging a hole by a bloodroot plant and knowing that in that hole is a body. And this may not have been a dream. Feelings of

apprehension and affliction seem to hover about the house and it is not surprising that people believe they see ghosts.

Main characters are extremely well done. China, her mother, Darlene, daughter of the cook China knew, all are believable and authentic with many-faceted personalities. Tullie is more vague and we see her only at a distance. She is a disease not a person. On the other hand Marie Louise, the 魾itch, is more of a parody than a believable person, and a somewhat insulting parody at that. The novel is firmly rooted in place.

The land is not the lush plantation land of southern Mississippi, but 鮅oo far north for live oaks and Spanish moss instead supporting forests of cypress trees.

The plot itself is rather weak, I felt. There were lots of parallel circumstances, a little too much coincidence for me, and there was no real solution to any mystery. But the book was still enjoyable for the visit to the Yahoo Delta and a look at the past.

Reviewed by Sally Fellows

Reviewed by Barbara Franchi, November 2001

This book has more than one review. Click here to show all.

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