The first in a mystery series starring amateur detective China Bayles.

Publication year: 1992
Page count: 306
Format: print
Publisher: Berkley

China Bayles owns the Thyme and Seasons Herb Shop in Pecan Springs. About two years ago, she was a highly successful attorney but she got fed up with the high pressure life, quit and bought the shop. She enjoys the peace and her friends. She’s just started to make some money out of the shop.

One of her friends, Jo, is dying of cancer but she’s still a prominent woman in town and vigorously opposing a plan to build an airport near the town. Then, she’s dies. At first it looks like Jo has killed herself but Jo’s daughter and China’s best friend Ruby are insisting that she could do that. China is drawn into investigating her friends life and the various people who gather for her funeral.

I thought this whole books was rather charming. The characters are quirky but not too weird. China herself knows what she wants and doesn’t bow to anyone. Even when her lover wants a more permanent relationship, China doesn’t give into to his pressure. By the way, the relationship between China and her boyfriend is a definite plus. McQuaid is former cop and current teaches at the local university, he’s divorced with a kid. No teenage romance here! Bubba Harris, the town’s chief of police, looks like a hick but he seems to know what he’s doing. Ruby, of course, is one of them most eccentric character. She’s also left a hectic life before quitting it, and her unsatisfying marriage, to run a New Age shop next to China’s herb shop. She’s convinced that Jo couldn’t have killed herself and is determined to find out who murdered her.

Jo’s daughter Meredith is in town on vacation from her hectic life. However, Jo and Meredith have estranged to the point that Meredith is bitter to her mother for pushing her away. Apparently, Jo’s marriage was an unhappy one and Meredith feels that Jo took care of her out of duty instead of love.

One of the themes of the book are the relationships between mothers and daughters. China has a difficult relationship with her alcoholic mother and Meredith was estranged from her mother. China thinks: “But is wasn’t just her alcoholism that made my mother unknowable. It was the nearly overwhelming idea of mother, a woman who was me and yet-not-me, from whom I had somehow, by some complicated and tricky maneuver, to separate myself. I wondered whether any of us ever really knew out mothers, yet whether we could ever be successful in knowing ourselves apart from them.”

Often it’s very hard to see our own parents as just people.

It’s interesting that in the middle of reading this book, I finished another short book which also dealt with mothers and daughters: Karen Wyle’s Wander Home. That book is set in an afterlife where people, family members included, are very supportive of each other. That’s not always the case in real life, though. In both books, women outnumber the male characters and that’s always refreshing.

I’ll probably continue with this series at some point. Some Amazon comments say that the writer’s other series are better and now I’m tempted to try one of them.

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