China Bayles #24
By Susan Wittig Albert
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
In the newest China Bayles Mystery in the New York Times bestselling series, China comes to the aid of a nurse who ends up in the hospital…
It’s mid-April in Pecan Springs, and China is renting her guest cottage to Kelly Kaufman, who needs a temporary place to live as she contends with a very acrimonious divorce from her husband Rich. One nasty point of dispute is her part ownership of the Comanche Creek Brewing Company, which she is refusing to sell.
At the same time, as a nurse employed by a local hospice, Kelly has discovered instances of suspicious practices. Even more disturbing, she suspects that a patient was murdered. Kelly’s knowledge could be dangerous, and she wants to get guidance from China on what to do.
But on her way to China’s house, Kelly is forced off the road and critically injured, putting her in a medically induced coma. Now it’s up to China to determine who wanted her out of the picture. Was it her soon-to-be ex? His new lover—who happens to be the sister of China’s friend Ruby? Or someone connected with the corruption at the hospice?
China owes it to her friend to uncover the truth—but she may be putting her own life at risk… (from Goodreads)
China Bayles, a former criminal defense attorney with current credentials, has several qualities that help her help people. One of those, benefitting her herbal shop customers and various garden groups, is a long-term love of herbs and other plant life and trees and an excellent memory for some of the uses or challenges of such.
She finds solutions to various crimes as a result of a habit of lifelong learning, knowing what questions to ask to draw out the friend or acquaintance to give quality information, the ability to persevere even under pressure, and a genuine caring for people – the good guys/ gals. In ‘Blood Orange’, the 24th novel in Susan Wittig Albert’s ‘China Bayles’ series, we see those qualities in action. China’s love of the law is also beneficial, as is her willingness to acquire knowledge she doesn’t already have.
China is pulled into a possible murder through the young woman renting out the cottage on the grounds where her herb shop is. Kelly Kaufman and her husband were planning to divorce due to Rich’s affair with a new investor in the microbrewery they owned, Comanche Creek Brewing Company. Kelly had been a nurse at the local hospice. She wanted to talk with China about a possible murder, as China was well known in Pecan Springs for helping solve many mysteries. Unfortunately, Kelly ran off the road and was in a coma before she was able to talk with China as planned. And unfortunately, China put the pieces together that Ramona, her close friend Ruby’s sister, is the other woman in Kelly and Rich’s marriage.
The nature of the possible murder and related crimes was something that could be ripped from today’s headlines. Whether Kelly’s best friend Lara, and China could understand what she had been collecting evidence regarding was iffy. China’s husband McQuaid and Blackie, husband of the local sheriff (Sheila) were out of the area, working together on a case for their private investigation firm. Not only was China pursuing a case with Lara, but worrying about her beloved husband while he was working out of cell range.
The characterizations are excellent, both for those central to the series and those who are short-term or appear throughout the series as peripheral folks. China is extremely likable and fully developed, and I think that we share more of her emotions in ‘Blood Orange’ because McQuaid is out of contact with her. I can picture her friend and business partner, Ruby, especially with the brilliantly colored clothing she wears and how she demonstrates her psychic abilities. Conversations and actions bring clear definition to most women and men. Caitie is a delightful addition to the series since being adopted by China and McQuaid, and I enjoy her cat, Mr. P, and Khat, the shop cat.
The plot with its various turns and twists kept the story moving quickly and made it completely fascinating. As always, I marvel at the kind of knowledge, and the volume of research, the author infuses each mystery with. I also appreciate how the reader learns more about an issue relevant to today’s society. This mystery is complex and a challenge for the reader to solve. The end was completely satisfying with no open questions. There was one event in which I was a little disappointed in China; a brilliant wife and mother who weighs all of her actions made the decision to look for evidence when doing so put herself into potential danger. In spite of that, this reader is eagerly looking forward to the next China Bayles mystery. I highly recommend ‘Blood Orange’ to fans of the China Bayles series, to the reader to enjoys reading about herbs and plants and their uses, mysteries with current events, and strong female characters.