The Last Chance Olive Ranch
China Bayles Mystery #25
By Susan Wittig Albert
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Daniele
Max Mantel, the killer McQuaid put away years ago, has busted out of the Huntsville prison and appears to be headed for Pecan Springs. McQuaid knows there’s only one way to stop the vengeful convict–set a trap with himself as bait.
China wants to stay by her husband’s side and keep him from harm. But McQuaid insists that she get out of town and go to the Last Chance Olive Ranch, where she’s agreed to teach a workshop on herbs.
When China and her best friend arrive at the ranch, she learns the owner, Maddie Haskell, has her own troubles. She inherited the ranch and olive oil business from the late matriarch, Eliza Butler, but Eliza’s nephew is contesting the will.
While China throws herself into helping Maddie, McQuaid’s plan backfires when Mantel executes a countermove he never saw coming. Now McQuaid’s life is not the only one at stake–and this time may really be his last chance… (Goodreads)
It is hard to believe that The Last Chance Olive Ranch is the twenty-fifth book in the long running China Bayles mystery series, and it remains one of the best cozy series out there. Time spent reading author Susan Wittig Albert’s work is never time wasted.
This time out herbalist/former lawyer China and her ex-police officer husband McQuaid each have their own independent plots. The book successfully alternates between the two stories. The rotating point of view helps keep the suspense going throughout. Interestingly, there is no murder to solve in either story line, yet there is enough uncertainty and anticipation to keep readers interested.
China is all set to go to the Last Chance Olive Ranch with her partner and friend Ruby to teach a weekend class. When McQuaid receives an early morning phone call telling him that a man he helped put on death row has escaped and is systematically killing everyone associated with his downfall, China is prepared to drop everything to stay by his side, but McQuaid insists she leave town in an effort to keep her safe. At the ranch, China is pleasantly surprised to encounter an old flame and his friends, along with the ranch’s new owner Maddie Haskell who is engrossed in an inheritance battle. Things eventually become dangerous for China when there is an attempt to cover up crucial information that could change everything. Meanwhile, McQuaid is facing a battle literally for his life and offers himself as bait. Things take an all too personal turn before the final fight. My only criticism is that both plots feel rushed at the end.
China and the other recurring characters in this series are well developed and deeply nuanced, as one would expect this far into the series. Their everyday lives are realistic and relatable. I like China, especially since she has mellowed a bit with age. McQuaid is equally intriguing, and I particularly like that we get an inside view of how he deals with his past and its repercussions. McQuaid’s ex-wife is an unusual character and over-the-top, as I think she is meant to be, and even after reading what she goes through, I still do not feel sorry for her or like her much. Central to this book is Maddie. Likable enough, she has to be one of the most naïve people out there. I have a hard time believing that she really could not tell when she was being blatantly lied to. I guess this was done to further the plot, but she had me shaking my head more than once.
Long time fans and those new to the world of China Bayles should be pleased with The Last Chance Olive Ranch. I recommend this book to cozy fans who enjoy a heavy dose of suspense.
*OBS would like to thank the publisher for supplying a free copy of this title in exchange for an honest review as part of their ongoing blog tour*