“Susan Wittig Albert is a terrific writer; her descriptions of everything from blooming bluebonnets to the grace and power of a mountain lion caught by China’s headlights are compelling. Message to author: Bring back China and all will be forgiven.”
Kudos to Susan Wittig Albert for stepping out of her technical comfort zone with this book—the 20th in the China Bayles series.
Instead of China as the first-person narrator, most of this book is told in the third person. This allows the author to shed the restrictions of writing so the reader only knows only what China sees, hears or surmises. Unfortunately, the device doesn’t work; China is a great character, but in losing her as the narrator we lose what makes this series so outstanding. The shift from third person back to first interrupts the flow to the detriment of the mystery.
This switch in narrative style is meant to showcase the prowess of the town sheriff Shelia Dawson, but it turns the book into more of a police procedural. Dawson is a fine secondary character (better if the reader wasn’t told how beautiful and smart she is every few pages) but to paraphrase another Texan Lloyd Bentsen, she’s no China Bayles.
There are lots of police procedural mysteries, but only one that features an ex-defense attorney from Houston who escaped from the rat race to pursue her dream of owning an herb shop in Texas hill country. As a small business owner, China’s perceptions of the town and the folks who live there as well as the herb lore quietly woven into the story give this series a texture that is lacking in this read. Reading about plants is unique; it’s much more interesting than a “CSI” TV show example of how to handle evidence.
To make the change in narrator more frustrating, the crime in the book is right in China’s wheelhouse. A high profile local citizen is caught on tape breaking into a computer repair shop. A few days later, Larry Kirk, the computer shop owner, is dead. China knows Kirk, her website is managed by him, so there’s a connection. When he consults her about a stalker, she tells him that he doesn’t need a lawyer; he could get a restraining order on his own. What’s the connection between these incidents?
Susan Wittig Albert is a terrific writer; her descriptions of everything from blooming bluebonnets to the grace and power of a mountain lion caught by China’s headlights are compelling. Message to author: Bring back China and all will be forgiven.