Susan Wittig Albert
Berkley, Apr 2010, $24.95
It is Christmas time and the wonderful smells of the Yuletide season spices up Pecan Springs. Although China Bayles runs Thymes and Seasons Herbs and works with her partner Ruby Wilcox catering events with Party Thyme and their Thyme for Tea Shoppe, she looks forward to the holidays. That is until her husband’s former wife Sally Strahorn enters her office. Sally suffers from dissociative identity disorder so is an unfit mother, a liar, and a thief depending on which personality surfaces.
Sally tells China she is broke with no place to go; China knows she should say nothing, but agrees to put her up for now. Sally makes friends with China’s niece, whom she and her currently out of town spouse have adopted. A man calls the shop and then China’s home asking for Sally both times. China confronts Sally, who says he is Jess Myers, her former friend turned stalker. Myers is soon spotted in Pecan Springs as Sally vanishes. China learns that Sally is a person of interest in the hit and run death of her sister Leslie. Preferring to believe that Sally did not murder her sister or another woman killed in the same way, China and Ruby investigate in a case that places them in danger.
A China Bayles amateur sleuth is always special as the key characters change over time. The secondary cast gives the series a sense of continuity while the inquiry feels genuine as the two partners simply ask questions while pretending innocence. Even Sally seems a bit more mature. Although, placing oneself in danger is an amateur sleuth occupational hazard that China has accomplished eighteen or so times, Holly Blue is a terrific whodunit as the case takes personal spins for the heroine.