China Bayles was invited by her friend Martha Edmond to visit Kentucky’s Mount Zion Shaker Village where Martha was planning on presenting a couple of workshops on Shaker herbs. Martha was an herbalist with deep roots in the Shaker movement who also happened to be on the Board of Directors of the Village. China’s hesitation was because of all the turmoil her family had recently gone through with the murder of her half-brother and the addition of his daughter to China’s family. The deciding factors in leaving town for a couple of weeks were the desire to learn more about the Shakers and China’s recognition that she needed a break.
During the trip Martha updates China on the recent problems at Mount Zion Shaker Village, and acknowledges that she asked her on the trip because of a growing number of serious problems surrounding the desire of the President of the Board to turn the museum into an upscale spa. Another reason Martha wanted China to accompany her was to help with the workshop presentations and look into why a relative of Martha’s abruptly left the Shakers in 1912, a community and people whom she loved and refused to ever speak about again.
When the financial director of the Village was found dead in the Mount Zion pool, China and Martha stepped up their investigation into the reports of vandalism, the arson that killed several horses on the property, the suicide of the gift shop manager who had been dipping into the inventory, and the suspected embezzlement of funds by the director of the Village.
While China hunts for clues, the reader has the opportunity to learn the history of the early Shakers to that region including the inhabitants of the original Kentucky Shaker societies that began in the early 1800s. Each person in the early Village was expected to keep their own personal journal and as the investigation for the real life mystery was taking place, China and Martha were also seeking to solve the mystery regarding Aunt Charity through journal entries.
Wormwood is the seventeenth book in the China Bayles series written by prolific author Susan Wittig Albert. Fans of the popular series probably were surprised at the change in direction from the typical story they were familiar with, but Ms. Albert created a fascinating twist in the series that should keep readers on their toes.
The back and forth telling of the two story lines is handled with surprising ease and the reader should never feel confused about whose story they are presently reading. The lengthy history could have been distracting and overdone, but the author keeps the story moving forward.
While regular readers of the China Bayles series may be able to figure out the present-day Shaker mystery, the 1912 version should be a complete surprise. Running tandem mysteries was a clever way to keep this series fresh. The quick update regarding China’s personal family life at the very end deftly leads us into the welcomed next installment in this long running herbal mystery series.
This review was written using my own personal copy of Wormwood by Susan Wittig Albert. If you are interested in purchasing Wormwood/ or any other of Ms. Albert's books, they are available at Amazon.com.