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by Susan Wittig Albert
Berkley, January 2004
336 pages
ISBN: 0425193993

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Welcome back to Pecan Springs, the Texas hill country town where China Bayles operates her herb store and her best friend Ruby has her New Age story in the same building. China is married to McQuaid after all the trials and tribulations they have undergone. Bored with teaching, he has decided to open a private investigation agency. His first customer is Phoebe Morgan, widely known around town as the Pickle Queen because she owns a pickle company.

The town is preparing for the annual Pickle Festival. Phoebe who is in charge is missing and has not been seen for several days. And the young artist living at her house, Todd Kellerman, is missing as well.

To complicate life even more for China, Ruby's daughter Amy is pregnant. Ruby wants her to abort and she refuses so she goes to China for haven until they can work things out. She refuses to divulge who the father is.

As in every China Bayles book the reader learns an immense amount of intriguing information about an herb, in this case dill. The data is either incorporated into the story so that we do not feel we are being lectured to or is at the beginning of each chapter as a separate section. There is folk lore as well as modern information and an explanation of how pickles are made using dill. There are even recipes, mostly at the end of the book, for those interested in experimenting with dill in cooking.

The characters are enjoyable and empathetic. There is less of Ruby in this book and I kind of missed her wacky personality. China is growing and changing as she works at marriage and mothering a teenage boy who is fascinated by bugs. We have gotten to know her rather well and I always feel like I am meeting an old friend when I read one of these books. McQuaid is solid and dependable and able to fill in the investigative holes.

The plot is well done. There are plenty of red-herrings for the detectives to trace down. One thing I like about China; she does not really set out to investigate. She fully intends to leave it to the sheriff, but she keeps hearing information or people confide in her and she has to make sure the sheriff gets that information. Naturally she speculates about it and, completely unintentionally, uncovers the identity of the murderer. I thought she was going to do something really stupid and walk into the arms of the killer but she was smarter than I feared.

The setting is magnificent. Hill country is starkly and uniquely beautiful and Albert conveys that beauty to the reader. This story occurs during one of the periods of heavy rain -- gully washers -- when creeks overflow and roads are often closed. The rain, constant and heavy, adds to the atmosphere of the story. Albert captures for us so much -- tastes, smells, the feel of the rain as it soaks the land, the sights of the hills and mesquite-covered land. She writes well and she carries her readers with her all the way.

I always enjoy these books. This was a good one, not as wrenching and emotional as some, but a very pleasant and enjoyable read in which I was also able to learn some new information.

Reviewed by Sally A. Fellows, February 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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