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Cat's Claw (A Pecan Springs Mystery) by Susan Wittig Albert
Cover Artist: Joe Burleson
Review by Gayle Surrette
Berkley Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780425245279
Date: 06 March 2012 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Cat's Claw is another mystery with China Bayles, only this time, Albert has shared the stories point of view between China and Police Chief Sheila Dawson. This change allows the reader to get to know Sheila better and puts us in the middle of the investigation rather than waiting to learn things as people tell them to China. It was a nice change and added to my enjoyment of the story.

More Susan Wittig Albert:
China Bayles:
* Spanish Dagger
* Nightshade
* Wormwood
* Holly Blues
* Morning Gloria
* Cat's Claw
* Widow's Tears
* China Bayles' Book of Days

Beatrix Potter:
* The Tale of Hill Top Farm
* The Tale of Cuckoo Brow Wood
* The Tale of Holly How
* The Tale of Hawthorn House
* The Tale of Applebeck Orchard
* The Tale of Oat Cake Crag
* The Tale of Castle Cottage

Sheila Dawson and Blackie Blackwell were married in the last novel. Blackie is now partnered with China's husband, McQuaid, working as a private investigator. Blackie and McQuaid are searching for a child abducted by his mother (father has custody) and possibly taken across the border to Mexico. If they have to cross the border, it could be very dangerous.

George Timms, a very important person in Pecan Springs, was caught breaking into Larry Kirks computer sales and repair shop. Jack Bartlett did a good job on the case but Deputy Chief Clint Hardin is taking the credit. Timms is supposed to turn himself in the afternoon, accompanied by his lawyer, Charles Lipman.

PSPD gets a call about a body (Larry Kirk) found not far from Sheila's house. She assigns Jack Bartlett. Hardin is going on vacation. Sheila plans to be backup for Bartlett and let him take charge. When she arrives at the scene, Bartlett and his team have already set everything in motion and Sheila stresses that the case is Barlett's. Consulting with him after looking over the scene, they agree that it doesn't look like suicide but they'll have to wait for the coroner's report.

It looks very suspicious that Larry Kirk would die just as Timms is to turn himself in for robbing his store. When Timms doesn't show up to turn himself in, and neither his lawyer or the police can locate him -- the odds definitely lean towards murder. When China tells Sheila that Kirk had asked her advice on what to do about a stalker, things appear to be more complex that a simple break in tied to a suicide.

As in real life, nothing is simple. The more the police uncover the more complicated things get, and the list of persons of interest gets very long indeed. The investigation touches on blackmail, greed, pornography, questionable insurance practices, gun laws, and new police procedures.

Even though Cat's Claw is, in some ways similar to a police procedural, the crimes themselves take place off the page and discussion of the details is kept to a minimum. Albert includes all the main characters we've come to be concerned with over the course of the series. Chapter headings give us information about the plant(s) commonly called Cat's Claw as usual it doesn't at first seem more than interesting information about a plant but the reader soon realizes that the characteristics of the plant are very much related to the overall theme of the book.

The writing pulls you in and keeps you reading as you try to figure out what's going on, since you have the same information as the police. This one is convoluted enough to keep any reader interested to the end -- even if they're not familiar with the previous books in the series. Don't worry if you haven't read any of the previous books, there's just enough backstory to fill you in if you're new and to bring you up to speed if you've read the previous books.

Also, included are the recipes for several of the food described or mentioned in the story. I actually made the Ramona's Corn Chowder with Sausage and it was very simple to make and tasted delicious - a nice variation for my usual corn chowder. Now to try Sheila's Creole Baked Beans. I'll have some great food to try out while waiting for the next mystery in the China Bayles Mystery series.

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