The Short Version:
When local businessman Jerry Jeff dies in the midst of judging the local Chili Cook-off, local herb shop owner China Bayles tries to find out if it was a tragic accident or murder.
Why I Read It:
Whenever I sign up for a reading challenge I first scan the list of next books for the many series I’m reading. This one was perfect for the plant category of the What’s in a Name 3 challenge and a perfect opportunity to return to a series I enjoy but haven’t read in a while.
China Bayles is a former high powered Houston attorney who left the whirlwind of that career to open an herb shop in a small town in the hill country of Texas. Her boyfriend and perhaps fiancé Mike McQuaid is a former cop so they have more legal and investigative expertise than many amateur sleuths you might find in a cozy mystery series.
This time around, the local Chili Cook-off is rudely interrupted when one of the judges dies in the middle of the judging. Jerry Jeff Cody was a partner in the local insurance firm and well known throughout the area. Was his death a tragic accident or devious murder? China and McQuaid end up working together this time around to find out the truth.
At the same time there is drama at the local nursing home when employees are suspected of theft and possible patient abuse. China is asked to help out a young nurse’s aide who many feel was wrongly fired. It turns out that the facility administrator may have a suspicious past.
Pecan Springs is not exactly a sleepy little hill country town with all the intrigue happening. At the same time China is trying to figure out what really happened at both the Chili Cook-off and at the nursing home, she’s also dealing with running her business, considering an additional joint business venture with a friend and oh, maybe or maybe not getting married to McQuaid.
This was one of my favorites of this series so far. There are many things I like so much about this series. China is a likeable character. As I said earlier her legal background gives her a leg up on most amateur sleuths who are in the business mostly because they’re nosy. Her relationship with McQuaid continues to grow and develop as the series continues. It’s not always smooth sailing and the normal ups and downs of their relationship are complicated by both of them alternately seeking and resisting commitment. China also has realistic interactions with McQuaid’s young son and her own mother.
There are quite a few recurring characters in the series, but the most prominent of the secondary characters is China’s best friend Ruby. She runs a new age shop and has plenty of quirky ideas, but she cares deeply for her friend and can be downright dependable when most needed.
I enjoy the way the author intersperses facts and lore about the title plant or herb in every book. This time around it the Chile (the pepper) not to be confused with Chili (the spicy stew). There are lots of little tidbits, legends and facts about both Chiles and Chili throughout the book.
As for the mystery (or in this case mysteries), they’re interesting, well played out, somewhat predictable, but with enough surprises and twists to keep it interesting.
If you’re looking for a fun and interesting cozy mysteries, start with the first one in this series, Thyme of Death.
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