Death Come Quickly
China Bayles #22
By Susan Wittig Albert
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Jeanie
Herbalist and ex-lawyer China Bayles is back. In Death Come Quickly, a friend’s murder may be the key to solving a fifteen-year-old cold case…
When China’s and Ruby’s friend Karen Prior is mugged in a mall parking lot and dies a few days later, China begins to suspect that her friend’s death was not a random assault. Karen was a filmmaker supervising a student documentary about the fifteen-year-old murder of a woman named Christine Morris and the acquittal of the man accused of the crime. Is it possible that the same person who killed Christine Morris targeted Karen?
Delving into the cold case, China learns the motive for the first murder may be related to a valuable collection of Mexican art. Enlisting the help of her San Antonio lawyer friend Justine Wyzinski—aka the Whiz—China is determined to track down the murderer. But is she painting herself into a corner from which there’s no escape? (From Goodreads)
Susan Wittig Albert draws the reader into Death Come Quickly from the very beginning with the brutal attack on Karen Prior, a respected instructor at the nearby university, then the reactions of two women who considered her a good friend. Ruby Wilcox, owner of Crystal Cave and China Bayles, owner of Thyme and Seasons Herb Shop, were grieved and concerned for Karen and her daughter Felicity. The more gruesome details are omitted and Karen later succombs to the attack. Without a suspect, the Pecan Springs (Texas) Police Chief Sheila Blackwell reminds China, a former top-notch attorney, that the murder investigation is not for civilians, no matter how good of friends Sheila and China are. And how close China and Karen were.
A brilliant woman, China has helped solve many crimes, both when she was a criminal defense attorney and since she left the firm and opened her herb business. Her husband, Mike McQuaid, is on the faculty at the same university as Karen and is also a PI in partnership with Sheila’s husband Blackie. As they interact with those in their immediate circle of friends, they reach similar conclusions. One, Karen was not a victim of a mugger but the target of someone specifically wanting to silence her. Two, that silence was probably related to the documentary that two of her hopeful graduate students were preparing about an unsolved murder from several years ago in which the only suspect was acquitted. That victim was the original owner of what was now a unique private art museum, Christine Morris, who had acquired much of the rare and beautiful Mexican art when married to her ex-husband and later set the stage to establish the foundation and private museum upon her death. It was now in the oversight of her cousin Sharyn Tillotson, bequeathed the position she held as foundation president and chair of the museum board, and living on the second floor of Christine’s former home with her valuable collection of Mexican art.
As clues stack up and a motive begins to take shape, China, being who she is, is compelled to solve the crimes, especially since as the two murders may have a common motive that is possibly be related to the valuable and exoticart. The more she learns, the more risks she takes, and the brilliant attorney tries to keep herself off of the path of potential danger.
This is an appreciably intense novel, written with excellence and a fine eye for detail. It is the 22nd published China Bayles mystery, yet one could easily read it without familiarity with previous novels. China Bayles is my favorite character in Death Come Quickly for many reasons, and Sheila probably my second favorite. The primary characters have been well-established in the series and are the top in their field yet are down-home approachable and comfortable. Those who are specific to this novel only are portrayed thoroughly with dialogue and actions. It is a novel in which the reader can immediately feel at home.
I appreciated that Susan Wittig Albert included brief, fascinating descriptions to numerous herbs, one at the start of each chapter – those thought to bring good or bad luck, many appropriate to the chapter. I very much enjoyed how the story flowed and how the reader was apprised of China’s thought processes and those she suspected along the way. There was one small opening, though, that truly surprised me, as it didn’t seem possible that I caught a clue that China didn’t appear to consider until much later. The bad guy and motive was not immediately obvious; the various plot twists and unanticipated curve balls kept the story moving quickly and this reader fully engaged. This absolutely gets my high recommendation as a mystery that will go to the “keeper” shelf and read again – and if one has missed any books in the series, it is a great time to choose one or two to read and add to your collection.