Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cat's Claw by Susan Wittig Albert: A review

Occasionally, it is good to be able to read a book that is totally undemanding, one that doesn't require the brain to exert itself overmuch but can let it figuratively relax and enjoy the ride. That's what books like those in Susan Wittig Albert's China Bayles herbal mystery series are like for me. Cat's Claw is the twentieth in that series and I confess that I have read and enjoyed them all. They speak to several of my interests - gardening, native Texas plants, herbs and herbal lore - and they are set in the beautiful Texas Hill Country, among my favorite spots in the state. Picking up one of her books is a bit like putting on my favorite robe and slippers and sinking into my favorite chair. It's all about comfort.

That being said, the last few books in this series have grown a bit stale, stodgy and predictable, and the character of China Bayles seems a lot less fresh and interesting to me than she was ten or fifteen volumes ago. Maybe Albert was feeling that way, too, because in this book, she's taken the focus off the Bayles character just a bit and redirected it toward the Pecan Springs police chief Sheila Dawson. Dawson has been a character in the series for a while now and it seems that Albert may be interested in steering the arc of these stories more in her direction. Much of this story is told from her perspective, although China Bayles still gets her two cents' worth in, also.

The main mystery here involves the death of Pecan Springs' computer guru, Larry Kirk, who is found shot to death in his kitchen. He has a gun still in his hand and at first it looks like suicide, but some things just don't add up. For one thing, Larry hated guns and was a staunch anti-gun advocate. For another, he seemed an easy-going type, very unlikely to have taken his own life. When Sheila discovers that the gun was in the wrong hand - right, although Larry was left-handed - that pretty much clinches it. The autopsy report confirms it. Sheila has a murder on her hands.

As the investigation develops, there are suspicions that blackmail may have played a part in the murder. When a customer of Kirk's, a Pecan Springs bigwig named George Timms is discovered to have broken into Kirk's computer shop and then goes missing, Sheila suspects a connection. Then Timms, too, is found dead and a search of his house turns up some very nasty secrets, a possible incentive for blackmail. But how is this related to Larry Kirk's death? Or is it?

As a still relatively new police chief and a female one in the domain of the good old boys at that, Sheila Dawson is under a lot of pressure to solve the mysteries and bring the perpatrator(s?) to justice. Somehow the reader never is in any doubt that she will be able to do just that.

2 comments:

  1. Agree with everything you said. It must be very difficult to write a series of this length and keep *everyone* happy! I quite enjoyed Cats Claw...

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  2. Yes, I think most long-lived series do tend to get stale over time, Snap, but, overall, I think Albert has done a good job of keeping things interesting.

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