As herbalist China Bayles works to get her herbal shop Thyme and Seasons ready for the upcoming Christmas holiday, she reflects on the changes to her family in the last couple of months. After the murder of her half-brother Miles Danforth, his eleven-year-old daughter comes to live with China and her family which includes Mike McQuaid and his son Brian, now a high school junior.
As if China does not have enough on her plate, Mike’s ex-wife – Brian’s mom – shows up and desperately needs a place to stay. Feeling sorry for Sally after hearing her most recent problems, China allows her to stay at the house against Mike’s wishes.
Ruby, China’s best friend and business partner is having trouble with her elderly mother and must frequently leave the shop, China finds out Sally isn’t telling the truth, as usual, and McQuaid goes out of town for a few days just as she plans to get the house in order for the holidays. When Sally’s troubles bring China and the children into danger, China starts her own investigation into why Sally’s car was stolen, what brought her to Pecan Springs, and who is trying to harm her.
Sally’s parents were murdered years ago, and it appears their murder plays a part in Sally’s current problems. When Sally’s sister is found dead and Sally becomes the chief suspect, China decides to bring in the big guns – Sheila “Smart Cookie” Dawson, the chief of police of Pecan Springs; County Sheriff Blackie Blackwell; and Justine “ Whiz” Wyzinski, one of the best trial lawyer’s around.
In the meantime, as McQuaid follows clues to Sallie’s hometown and ties to her parent’s murder, the discovery of the body of a woman who said she has information regarding the original murder investigation prevents him from getting what he needed. With bodies piling up right and left, who is next on the killer’s agenda?
Holly Blues by Susan Wittig Albert combines a return of the regular characters, after the brief side-journey to a Shaker village in Wormwood, with a new story line involving Sally Strahorn whom we have rarely heard about in the last couple of books.
Holly Blues keeps readers on their toes as they follow the clues. It is a fine who-done-it with the usual red-herrings, and side commentary about herbs and life in an extended family. At times it is great fun as China and Mike work hard to build their new family, and at other times it is a sad commentary of a family unit that broke down decades ago and the fallout that caused to the children left behind.
Not only is this book a must-read for China Bayles fans, but new readers can easily catch up on much of the main story line through pertinent backstory.
The review copy of Holly Blues came from my own library. If you are interested in any of the China Bayles or Susan Wittig Albert books, they are available at Amazon.com.