This year marks the publication of the 25th China Bayles mystery, THE LAST CHANCE OLIVE
RANCH. Gosh—it seems like yesterday when the first book, THYME OF DEATH, came out. But
that was way back in 1992, the same year that Bill Clinton became president,
Hurricane Andrew bulldozed across South Florida, and Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven cleaned up
at the Oscars. To tell the truth, I never imagined that China and Ruby would be
still be sleuthing, 25 books later. But I’m glad they are, for they’ve given me,
as their partner-in-crime, many wonderful (and challenging) hours of writing fun.
A China Bayles
Nominated for both an Agatha and an Anthony Award, Susan Wittig Albert’s
novels featuring ex-lawyer and herb-shop proprietor China Bayles have won
acclaim for their rich characterization and witty, suspenseful stories of crime
and passion in small-town Texas.
Now, when China’s friend Jo dies of an apparent suicide, China looks behind
the quaint façade of Pecan Springs and takes a suspicious look at everyone. And
though she finds lots of friendly faces, China is sure that one of them hides
the heart of a killer.
Mystery Cozy | Mystery [Berkley Prime Crime, On Sale: March 1, 1994, Paperback
(reprint), ISBN: 9780425140987 / ]
Back in the day, those early China Bayles mysteries broke some new ground. For
one thing, regional mysteries were fairly new to readers, and I was a little
worried that a small town in the Texas Hill Country might not be appealing.
What’s more, China was a shop owner, an herbalist, and a gardener, the first of
her kind in the U.S. (British mystery author John Sherwood had already written
several books in his Celia Grant horticultural series but there were none in
America.) China’s mysteries were also among the first to feature recipes (Diane
Mott Davidson began doing this at about the same time). And China Bayles herself
was the first ex-lawyer (a criminal attorney) coupled with an ex-cop
To my mind, it was China’s background as a lawyer that made her different from
other female amateur sleuths—and still does. She’s had experience with lots of
different bad guys, which gives her an eye for criminals and a pretty strong
sense of who isn’t telling the truth. She knows the law and is trained to spot
the ways people—both bad guys and good—use the legal system to their advantage.
Her relationship with Mike McQuaid has given her an insight into the way cops
and professional investigators think and work, and her friendship with Sheila
Dawson, Pecan Springs’ first female chief of police, provides a strong
connection to local law enforcement. On the other hand, her longtime friendship
with highly-intuitive slightly-wacky Ruby Wilcox gives her a different view of
what’s going on.
And of course, the plants themselves made the series different back then, and
still do. Herbs—used for good or for ill, wisely or ill-advisedly—are powerful
medicine, and each of China’s adventures has taught me a great deal about the
wide, wonderful world of plants. THE LAST CHANCE OLIVE RANCH
is no exception. For while the olive has been a delicious and nutritious
mainstay in diets across the centuries, science is only beginning to understand
all of its medicinal properties. Olive oil (more accurately, the juice of the
olive) has been used to prevent cardiovascular disease, breast cancer,
colorectal cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis. It is reported to be beneficial in
treating constipation, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and blood vessel
problems associated with diabetes. Topically, olive oil is applied to the skin
to ease minor burns and wounds. It has also been used as an important lubricant
and as a fuel for lamps and other—
But we won’t go into that. It might spoil the story for you. So I’ll just invite
you to pour a cup of tea, grab a handful of your favorite cookies (maybe Ruby’s
Hot Lips Cookie Crisps*), and settle in with THE LAST CHANCE OLIVE RANCH.
It has all the elements that make China Bayles a true Texas original: an
amateur sleuth with a green thumb and a serious nose for prime-thyme crime. I
hope you enjoy it!
*Ruby’s Hot Lips Cookie Crisps
Preheat oven to 325°F. Cream butter and sugar. Add the vanilla and eggs and mix
well. Mix the dry ingredients together with the nuts, and stir into the creamed
mixture. Chill. Shape into a log about 2" in diameter, slice, and bake until golden.
In this exciting new mystery from New York Times bestselling author
Susan Wittig Albert, China Bayles fears for her husband’s life as an escaped
convict targets him...
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
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
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...
Mystery Cozy [Berkley Prime Crime, On Sale: April 4, 2017, Hardcover /
e-Book, ISBN: 9780425280034 / eISBN: 9780698190283]
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