My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I've been reading Susan Wittig Albert's China Bayles series for several years, and, of course, since I'm an OCD reader, I read the books in the order that they were published. But in looking at a list of the books in the series recently, I realized that I had somehow managed to skip one. Horrors!
Naturally, I had to circle back and pick it up immediately. That's how I came to be reading Holly Blues, the eighteenth in a series that will soon number twenty-four.
Visiting with China is like being with an old friend, not only because she is well-known to me but also because the setting of the stories is quite familiar.
China was once a high-powered lawyer in Houston, but several years ago, she gave that life up to move to the little Hill Country town of Pecan Springs near Austin. All of this is home territory for one who has lived here for thirty years.
In Pecan Springs, China reinvented herself as an herbalist and opened an herb shop. Her friend, Ruby, opened a New Age shop next door, and over the years, both shops have prospered and the two friends have expanded their operations to other related enterprises. In the process, China has acquired a husband and a stepson and a step-dog and, now, an adoptive daughter, and Ruby has acquired a second daughter and a granddaughter.
The two have been known to dabble in the investigation of crimes, and there does seem to be an inordinate amount of crime to investigate for a sleepy little Texas town.
Holly Blues finds Sally, the ex-wife of China's husband, McQuaid, and mother of her beloved stepson, Brian, in town and in trouble. It is just before Christmas and Sally tells her sad story and appeals to China for help and a place to stay for the holidays. Generous-hearted China agrees without consulting McQuaid.
She soon has reason to regret that decision when she finds that Sally is being stalked by a shady and possibly criminal character. She regrets it even more when the dead bodies start turning up.
But is Sally involved in the murders? Was her stalker the murderer? Are the murders, one in Kansas and one in Texas, even related? McQuaid, the private investigator, is out of town, so China and Ruby decide to investigate on their own.
I do enjoy the regular cast of characters in these books, but one has to admit that the plot had a few holes. Such as the fact that evidently the police had not even visited the home of Sally's sister who had supposedly been killed in a hit and run. Had they done so, they would have found her house in a shambles and clues that the woman had been abducted. But no - they had to wait for Ruby and China to discover that for them!
Moreover, it seemed unlikely that the shady stalker could be in Pecan Springs for several days without being noticed. I mean the town is full of busybodies!
But never mind. I can forgive all that. After all, reading fiction does require a certain suspension of disbelief and a willingness to enter into the spirit of the thing. The spirit of these books is warm and loving, a paean to friendship and small-town values. Reading one is like going home again.
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