Wormwood China Bayles #17
by Susan Wittig Albert
Review by Gayle Surrette
Berkley Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780425226094
Date: 07 April 2009 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
China Bayles, her PI husband, and son are working to make her newly orphaned niece part of the family along with her custodian. China's business partners and friends are also doing their part. Still dealing with the repercussions of her half-brother's death and finding her niece, China wants to cancel her trip to Mount Zion Conference Center and Shaker Village where she's to help her friend Martha with some herbal workshops. Everyone urges China to go, relax, and have fun. It isn't until she meets with Martha that she finds there was an ulterior motive for Martha's invitation – there's something going on at the center and Martha needs China's help to uncover what's going on. But murder steps in and ups the ante on their first day.
It seems with the recent change in management, there's been some irregularities or sabotage, and Mount Zion must make money because the new administrator want to build a huge new complex. The burning of the new barn may have been arson. Martha's friend on the board believes that the accounts are not accurately reporting the foundation's assets. She says she has proof and will explain later, but she's murdered on her way to meet Martha and China for dinner.
The story of China and Martha trying to find the murderer and the truth about the foundation's accounts is interspersed with entries in the daily books of the Shakers who once lived at Mount Zion. These entries give the reader a flavor of the Shaker community and its problems towards the end when the deaths of the community elders was not being compensated by new members arriving to become believers. These entries show that as calm and peaceful as the community may have seemed on the surface, the Shakers also had problems within their communities. All groups of people have problems of authority, jealousy, miscommunication, and misunderstandings. This historical information, along with what China learns about the Shakers, herbs, and the Shaker way of live add to the mystery.
While I can usually figure out the culprit way before our main character, I enjoy this series more for the information on herbs and the information about whatever political, social, or group is central to the mystery. The characters are, as usual, well-developed and integrated into the story so that the whole background and story narrative is of a piece.
Albert includes a reading list for those who wish to learn more about Shakers and their lives and times. There's also some great sounding recipes that I'm hoping to be able to try out this summer when my herb garden supplies fresh ingredients.
While this is a continuing series, there is enough information to allow a new reader to pick up at any point. Then, if you enjoy your taste, you can then dive in and catch up on the all of the previous books.