Susan Wittig Albert grew up on a farm in Illinois and earned her Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley. A former professor of English and a university administrator and vice president, she is the author of the China Bayles Mysteries, the Darling Dahlias Mysteries, and the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter. Some of her recent titles include Widow's Tears, Cat's Claw, The Darling Dahlias and the Confederate Rose, and The Tale of Castle Cottage. She and her husband, Bill, coauthor a series of Victorian-Edwardian mysteries under the name Robin Paige, which includes such titles as Death at Glamis Castle and Death at Whitechapel.
China Bayles, the only ex-lawyer/herbalist/sleuth in Pecan Springs, TexasÄand perhaps anywhere elseÄoffers an appealing measure of hot chili lore to go with the abundance of hot water in which she finds herself in her seventh outing (after Love Lies Bleeding, 1997). Life changes are coming at China fast and furiously. Boyfriend Mike McQuaid is still at the Manor, a rehabilitation center and nursing home, struggling to recover from a paralyzing gunshot wound. Best friend Ruby is pressing her to partner a new business venture, and China is trying her hand at writing for the local newspaper. The action heats up at the annual Cedar Choppers Chili Cookoff when local cooks (including some who have never lifted a pot before) compete to see who can rustle up the best and hottest chili. Cookoff judge Jerry Jeff Cody dies of a severe allergic reaction, but China and McQuaid doubt that it was an accident since Cody, a slick insurance salesman, had given many folks motive for murderÄincluding his divorce-seeking wife, Roxanne; his current flame, Felicia Travis; his angry business partner, Pokey Clendennen; and various jealous husbands. Adding some thefts and possible abuses of patients at the Manor, Albert offers a satisfying plot, not too spicy, just right. (Nov.)
China Bayles (Rueful Death, LJ 10/1/96) contends with the paralysis of her new husband, an extended visit from her "helpful" mother, and a case of murder at the annual chili cookoff. A charmed return to small-town Texas; for series fans.
YA-Just as China Bayles begins to adjust to the idea that Mike, her fiancé, is paralyzed, life becomes more complex. She faces up to her mother's interference, contemplates a business opportunity too good to miss, runs her own herbal-products business, writes a column for the local paper, and helps Mike through the initial steps of judging a local chili cook-off. When all seems to be going well, another of the chili judges drops dead of anaphylactic shock. Mike, a police officer until he was shot and disabled, immediately suspects murder and, with China's help, investigates the situation. China, who is also a nonpracticing lawyer, is then asked to look into allegations of maltreatment of some older residents of the nursing home where Mike lives. In spite of sounding like the "Martha Stewart" of murder mysteries, this book's protagonist proves to be intriguing and the plot compelling. When the two separate investigations become linked, China comes face to face with all of the answers she's been seeking and with the murderer. Set in Texas Hill Country, this gripping novel describes the land and culture of the area with colorful details and a real understanding of the people. These folks take their chili seriously, especially when it's used to kill. For another herbalist who deals in murder, suggest Ellis Peters's "Brother Cadfael" series (Mysterious Pr.).-Pam Johnson, Fairfax County Public Library, VA