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Thyme of Death (China Bayles Series #1)

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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.

In her first mystery, China's friend Jo dies of an apparent suicide. China searches behind the quaint façade of Pecan Springs and takes a suspicious ...

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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.

In her first mystery, China's friend Jo dies of an apparent suicide. China searches behind the quaint façade of Pecan Springs and takes a suspicious look at everyone. Though she finds lots of friendly faces, China is sure that behind one of them hides the heart of a killer.

In the 1980s we had V.I. Warshawski and Kinsey Millhone. Now, in the gentler era of the 1990s, it's time for China Bayles, a nonpracticing attorney whose close friend's sudden death put her on the trail of a murderer. And though the setting is Pecan Springs in the peaceful Texas hill country, China soon realizes that violence can happen anywhere.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this promising though conventional debut mystery, Albert (Work of Her Oum) ably invents a central Texas town called Pecan Springs. While the plotting is somewhat mundane, the book's appealing late-summer setting and descriptions of home cooking are nicely evocative. Narrator China Bayels, 42, a former fast-track Houston attorney who now owns a slowlane Pecan Springs herb emporium, erdoys her laid-back lifestyle until the untimely death of her friend Jo Gilbert. Jo, who was battling cancer, is found after she downed a bottle of sleeping pills with vodka, but some in the closeknit community insist that suicide wasn't Jo's style. China and her brassy, New-Agey pal Ruby snoop around and learn that Jo once had an affair with another woman, a prominent childrens'-TV personality. Did the famous lover fear that gossip might ruin her career? Suspicion in Jo's death-and two subsequent slayings-shifts among members of the insular community before the plausible yet slightly disappointing finale. Motives are determined and a guilty party pegged, but there's a sense that all is not resolved; the narrative loses sight of China's romance with an excop and puts the herb business on the back burner. Presumably these aspects of China's life will be detailed as the projected series progresses, but their obvious neglect here leaves readers with mixed feelings about this story's conclusion. (Nov.)
Library Journal
China Bayles, former rat-race lawyer, escapes to small-town Texas to operate an herb shop and enjoy the simple life. Murder interrupts her simple life, however, when a good friend and local protest organizer dies suddenly. Revelatory letters, a crazy-eyed dollmaker, a nationally known TV personality, her ex-cop lover, and a shifty developer complicate matters as China begins her amateurish investigation. Like her pursuit of the murderer, this provides pleasant escape from routine. The first of a series.
Stuart Miller
This novel introduces China Bayles, former high-powered attorney in a prestigious Houston firm. Buying an old stone building in charming Pecan Springs, deep in Texas hill country, she has definitely opted out of the fast lane. She intends to plant a garden, tend her herb shop, and relax in a comfortable living space behind the store. Unfortunately, China's new-found serenity is shattered by the unexpected suicide of her community-activist friend Jo Gilbert, who suffered from breast cancer. At least, the police think it's suicide, given Jo's medical condition. Others vehemently disagree, including the local real-estate developer who bitterly opposed Jo's efforts to block development of a new airport. China's experience in criminal investigations makes her reluctant to believe in Jo's murder, but devotion to her friends also makes her an ally in considering the possibilities. Albert frequently supplies distracting asides (especially on the use of various herbs) instead of moving the action, but China is an appealing character, and Pecan Springs has an intriguing mix of eccentrics. Despite the less than original scenario and somewhat thin plot, this murder-in-a-small-town story keeps your interest.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780425140987
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 3/28/1994
  • Series: China Bayles Series , #1
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 146,440
  • Product dimensions: 4.36 (w) x 7.06 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Wittig Albert
Susan Wittig Albert
One of the book world's most respected authorities on herbs and their uses, Susan Wittig Albert is beloved by fans the world over for her mystery series starring herb-growing sleuth China Bayles -- as well as the Victorian Mysteries series she coauthors with husband Bill, under the pen name Robin Paige.


Susan Wittig Albert grew up on a farm in Illinois and earned her Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley. A former professor of English and a university administrator and vice president, she now lives with her husband, Bill, in the country outside of Austin, Texas. In addition to the China Bayles mysteries, she writes the Victorian Mysteries series, along with her husband, under the pseudonym of Robin Paige.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Books, LTD.

Good To Know

In our exclusive interview with Albert, she revealed some fun facts about herself:

"My first job was selling ladies' undies at Woolworth's for 35 cents an hour in Danville, Illinois."

I learned to garden from my mother, who thought that the most important thing you did every spring was to plant the potatoes. I learned to read from my father, who never planted a potato in his life. Somehow, I managed to create a life and make a living between these two extremes. Happily, I haven't had to go back to selling undies. Not yet, anyway."

"I love living in the country with Bill, two black Labs, and a black cat. I'd rather read a book or write one than do just about anything else in the world, except maybe for gardening and sitting in a bathtub full of hot, hot water and bubbles. Or knitting, spinning, weaving, dyeing -- I'm a fiber-arts fanatic."

"You can find out what I'm doing today (or what I did yesterday) by checking out my web log, at (but there's no web cam, so don't look for me in the bathtub)."

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    1. Also Known As:
      Robin Paige
    1. Date of Birth:
    2. Place of Birth:
      Danville, Illinois
    1. Education:
      Ph.D., University of California at Berkeley

Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 12 of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2012

    Highly Recommended - you will learn a lot!

    Susan Wittig Albert is an excellent writer who holds your interest throughout the book. She is easy to read and offers lots of information. Her research is thorough and adds to the enjoyment of the story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2011

    Very Good

    A very good mystery story in the vain of Rita Mae Brown. Character developement was well done without taking over the story. I never saw the end coming until it came. I enjoyed it and would recommned it to anyone who likes non-police detectiuve mysteries.

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  • Posted November 21, 2009

    A favorite series...

    Bought this for my mom. She likes 'cozy' mysteries. She really enjoyed this book, the characters, the setting. And she looks forward to each new installment.

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  • Posted August 24, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    China - definite want the full place setting

    This book is the first in the China Bayles series. China is an attorney who has given up the high paced legal jungle to pursue the quiet town living of an herbalist. That's what she says, but she gets caught up in the investigation of a murder which the police see as a suicide of one of her best friends.

    The story is well woven around the characters in the small town of Pecan Springs, TX. What amazes me is the way the writer leads the reader down a path leaving subtle clues but misdirecting you in other areas so that when the resolution comes to light, you say to yourself - DAH! I should have seen that, but everything points that other way. Definitely a series I want to continue.

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  • Posted June 15, 2009

    Great read

    I love Susan Wittig Albert's books. She has a wonderful writing style and her characters seem alive and are interesting on their own without the great mystery plot. This book got me started on the China Bayles series and I can't recommend it enough. I thoroughly enjoyed it. An easy read and a good page-turner.

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  • Posted May 3, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Thyme of Death

    I started with the first book of the series and I have continued through to Chile Death. I plan to keep going until I catch up on China Bayles and McQuaid's life. These are well plotted and I rarely guess "who dun it". They are written in such a way as to have you believing that the town and the characters exists, as if they could be living next door. That's what makes them such an easy read and keeps you wanting more.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2008

    A great mystery

    The first book I read in this series was SPANISH DAGGER, which was published in 2007. DAGGER sent me back to this one, the very first from 1992, and I was not disappointed. In fact, THYME OF DEATH proved to be a compelling and sophisticated page-turner. The themes are contemporary and relevant, and China Bayles and the city of Pecan Springs, Texas are very memorable. Among other interesting layers of plot and character development, THYME OF DEATH speaks to the value we place in our friends and the close relationships we form with friends and family over time (relationships, in fact, are the heart of this whole story). It's a book that also encourages us to tell our loved ones how much they mean to us, and not wait until it is too late. Albert's book also addresses contemporary social issues such as sexual identity health and illness celebrity fame, fortune and greed and the environment, but never are these topics treated in a 'preachy' way. Everything works together to keep the pages turning and the reader racing toward the satisfying end. This is the second book I've read in this series in as many weeks, and I plan on reading all of them. I highly recommended this most interesting and well-plotted novel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2003

    First and Arguably the Best In this Wonderful Series

    A Totally Refreshing, New To Me Series! I read a lot of mysteries, and it takes a good series to grab my attention. This one is different and quirky enough that it's a pleasure to read. The setting in small town Texas is great, and if anyone is interested in herb folklore and eccentric people this series should satisfy that craving.Ruby is a delight. Not to mention China herself. The book is an gem. In her debut we see tough China trying to find out who murdered a friend of hers. We are introduced to her ex-cop boyfriend, as well as many other citizens of Pecan Springs.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2003

    Just Like You

    The charm of China Bayles is that she is just like you -- the idealized daydream of you. Each day of her life unfolds like the more unique days of my own. And while I have never been close to a murder, China is the middle-aged woman that my childhood girl sleuth, Nancy Drew, may have become. Intelligent, capable, and uniquely quirky -- China captures the mystery reader's fancy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2008

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