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.
The real mystery in this latest adventure of China Bayles, a former lawyer who now owns an herb shop in Pecan Springs, Tex., is her apparent change of personality. Previously game and independent (Rueful Death, etc.), China turns unexpectedly wimpish when she discovers that her live-in lover, Mike McQuaid, has found someone else. Returning from a retreat, China is determined to do two things: accept Mike's next proposal of marriage and start a tearoom. Her intentions flounder, however, when she discovers that Mike has another lover and when her friend Ruby volunteers her to scope out the local gossip about a former Texas Ranger who has committed suicide. China dithers about confronting Mike and waffles about getting involved with the death, even as she and Ruby learn that the woman seen talking to the Ranger right before his death was a reporter who says she's researching crooked Rangers and drug trafficking. China digs into the Ranger's death, finally crossing paths with the elusive Mike, who has a secret connection to the case. Mike's involvement lands him in great danger, leading China to team up with his lover to find and expose the mastermind behind the deaths and cover-ups. Despite Albert's unquestionable narrative skills, fans of the redoubtable China will be disappointed by her change of character in her latest episode. (Nov.)