A Plain Vanilla Murder

A Plain Vanilla Murder

by Susan Wittig Albert

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From Susan Wittig Albert, the New York Times best-selling author of Queen Anne's Lace, comes an intriguing new addition to her widely-acclaimed China Bayles Mysteries.

China and Ruby Wilcox are presenting their annual "Not Just Plain Vanilla Workshop," always a huge hit with customers at Thyme & Seasons Herb Shop. But someone involved with the workshop is driven by a deadly motive, and China soon finds herself teaming up with the very pregnant Pecan Springs police chief Sheila Dawson to solve a vanilla-flavored murder.

Sheila, happy to get out from behind the chief's desk, is investigating the death of a botany professor, a prominent researcher specializing in vanilla orchids. China is trying to help a longtime friend: the dead professor's ex-wife and a prime suspect in his murder.

However, there's no shortage of other suspects: a betrayed lover, a disgruntled graduate student, jealous colleagues, and a gang of orchid smugglers. But the lethal roots of this mystery reach back into the dark tropical jungles of Mexico, where the vanilla vine was first cultivated. At stake: a lucrative plant patent, an orchid that is extinct in the wild, and the life of an innocent little girl.

A Plain Vanilla Murder is a flavorful blend of mystery and herb lore, present sins and past secrets, and characters who are as real as your next-door neighbors—stirred together in an absorbing novel that only Susan Wittig Albert could create.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940161266922
Publisher: Persevero Press
Publication date: 06/04/2019
Series: China Bayles Series , #27
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Sales rank: 5,384
File size: 865 KB

About the Author

Susan Wittig Albert is the NYT best-selling author of over 100 books. Her work includes four mystery series: China Bayles, the Darling Dahlias, the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, and the Robin Paige Victorian mysteries. She has published three award-winning historical novels, as well as YA fiction, memoirs, and nonfiction. Susan currently serves as an editor of StoryCircleBookReviews and helps to coordinate SCN's online class program. She and her husband Bill live in the Texas Hill Country, where she writes, gardens, and raises a varying assortment of barnyard creatures.

Date of Birth:


Place of Birth:

Danville, Illinois


Ph.D., University of California at Berkeley

Customer Reviews

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A Plain Vanilla Murder: (China Bayles Mystery #27) 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
lghiggins 21 hours ago
It is not like me to jump into a cozy mystery series on the twenty-seventh book. Who engages in that kind of craziness anyway? Amazingly, I didn’t find the lapse in character background knowledge to be a problem. While A Plain Vanilla Murder is not the best cozy I’ve ever read, it was very good. I particularly liked all the information provided on vanilla. I had no idea vanilla is part of an orchid plant or that there is such an active trade in exotic orchid plants. This mystery has lots of threads. A professor is killed, and lots of enemies emerge as possible suspects. Could the motive be professional rivalry, dalliances or orchid laundering? All are sufficient to motivate an attacker, but what really happened? The main character, China Bayles, is a former criminal lawyer. This is one of the few crimes that land on her doorstep that leads her to become involved professionally. Always interested in learning new things about a subject, I enjoyed the many quotes about vanilla that are included in the chapters as well as in the addendum. Susan Wittig Albert is a prolific writer as evidenced by this series that focuses on herbs and spices as well as the three other series she writes in addition to a number of independent books. I look forward to reading more by this author. I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Persevero Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous 30 days ago
This is one of the better China Bayles mysteries, and that is really saying something. I wait impatiently for each new installment in this series. I so enjoy reading them and now the Pecan Springs gang seem like people I know personally. Stephanie Clanahan
neptune75 8 months ago
I have been reading books by this author since the beginning. In this latest mystery our time is split between China and Sheila, the chief of police. We see the story unfold from both of their perspectives throughout what is a very short time span. The author cleverly combines what happens in two diverse places but in which the actions actually intersect. We start with a prologue about an incident happening several years earlier. Of course, we know this will come into play somehow in the story. The murder of the professor at the local college ( or was it suicide?) begins our mystery that will conclude in a surprising way. The author includes, as she does in all this series, information about an herb or plant, in this case: vanilla. I find these extra excerpts to be fascinating and realize that I learn quite a bit from these. The author is great at creating characters that are real and approachable. The story was a fast read for me as I kept reading and didn't want to put it down. My only problem was when switching between the sections written for China in first person past tense, to those written for Sheila in third person, but in present tense. I found that the use of past and present tense really bothered me within the same book.
MugsyMae 9 months ago
I just discovered author Susan Wittig Albert a few months ago when I read a book from one of her other series. I wanted to read more of her writing and was so pleased to find A Plain Vanilla Murder. What a story! A great mystery. Great characters. Lots of information on vanilla - I had no idea! Plus recipes and one of the best stories I've read in a while. Ms. Albert is a masterful storyteller. and I can't wait to read more!
MerriGib 9 months ago
This book has, literally, a lot to offer: an absorbing murder mystery that held my attention, a LOT of quite interesting information about vanilla, and a generous array of tempting recipes. Turns out, “plain vanilla” is anything but. Plain, that is. I had no idea what a valuable crop it is, how expensive and rare it is, how labor-intensive it is to bring vanilla to us to use and enjoy. Those facts are the framework for an intriguing story that is rich in characters, scenic detail, and plot lines. Ms. Albert is one of those enviable writers who has been able to produce multiple popular series and continues to provide us with great reading. I found this book thoroughly enjoyable and also immensely informative. My thanks to author, publisher, and NetGalley for providing an advance copy to read and review.
JacquiH 10 months ago
What a lovely book! Murder and mayhem in a vanilla flavoured Texas. The characters are fun if a little eccentric, the murder pleasingly designed and the descriptions of small town life delicious. Interwoven throughout is vanilla and the passions that it, and all orchids, invoke - hate, lust, greed, jealousy, revenge. Amongst the detecting from a heavily pregnant Chief, Sheila Dawson, and her team we also have folk-lore, remedies and cooking (all with vanilla of course) making a detective story with a difference. China Bayles is our modern day Miss Marple of a sorts and works well investigating/nosing from the side lines whilst also taking the main role of herbalist extraordinaire. There are plenty of red herrings, masked by vanillin, and even more suspects. I like the mix of useful snippets and recipes amongst the story although the odd little changes in grammar took a while to get used to (oh dear, hanging preposition). Bits turned into third person text then back to 'normal' dialogue but it's a very minor criticism. I've now learnt that there are other books featuring the two main characters, Sheila and China, and will be looking out for those. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher, Persevero Press, for an advance copy in exchange for my honest opinion.
RJBell 10 months ago
I selected A Plain Vanilla Murder from NetGalley because I had read some earlier books in the series. With its interesting tidbits on herbs and spices, it was a series that my mother had especially enjoyed, and she shared her paperbacks with me. The main character and her cop friend are enjoyable strong female characters. This new addition to the series did not disappoint. It's been a few years since I've read the other ones, but nothing ever made me feel left out, although I'm sure many books have come between the last one I read and this new one. The POV switches between China and Cookie, the Sheriff. The dual perspectives give us many angles into the investigation, but without repetition. The mystery itself was complicated and the clues were numerous and diverse. This allowed me to try to put the puzzle together along with the sleuths. As is not unusual, I was a bit ahead of the game, but I still enjoyed watching it unfold. I did catch one point where the investigators seemed to be considering some information new that they had already obtained themselves from another source. It is possible that this relied on a slight nuance of detail, but it did seem like they had forgotten that they had already known something. However, this was not significant enough to seriously distract from the enjoyment of the read. Overall I strongly recommend this book and the entire series to lovers of cozy mysteries. A definite four-star read. I hope to get my hands on more of Albert's work in the future.
Anonymous 10 months ago
I love this series but this book was disappointing. It was a very slow read and couldn’t keep my attention. Snoozer!
Shelly9677 11 months ago
The first few pages immediately reeled me in. It is wonderfully written and the scenes come alive. Soon the story became laser-focused on the vanilla plant. The unwavering focus on vanilla for the first 10 percent of the book made it drag a bit for me. I found myself skipping ahead. However, the mystery’s ending made it all worthwhile.
Kat-E 11 months ago
Everything you ever wanted to know about vanilla, orchids and crime solving rolled up into one great adventure. I loved the history sections of vanilla and info on orchids. I know I would kill an orchid probably by just looking at it as the author explained how challenging they are to raise and thrive. The book was hard to put down. Isn't it annoying when you have to work or sleep? I was drawn into this charming hometown with characters that are open minded and refreshing. A very exhausted pregnant police chief who is still very much a pro at what she does despite her need for numerous bathroom breaks works along with China Bayles whose life now center around her thriving business and family. Murder, smugglers and kidnappers keep China on her toes and the reader turning the pages to race to the end. I highly recommend this book and look forward to another visit with China and her engaging friends. Posted to Goodreads and will post on KOBO, Amazon and Barnes and Noble when published.
PamMcC 11 months ago
When you read a China Bayles mystery, you’ll not only enjoy the story and characters but the learning that comes from Ms. Albert’s research. Do you know the connection of vanilla and orchids? The possible suicide of a professor well-known for his arrogance and also for his research with orchids opens a complex case. Police Chief Sheila Dawson wants one last case before she delivers Noah who isn’t due for another month at least. She’s bored, uncomfortable, and doesn’t feel like she’s pulling her own weight (pardon the pun). She gets her wish and more. China holds a workshop about vanilla that is anything but plain and boring. China pulls on her lawyer pants to help Ruby’s daughter’s partner with her pregnancy concerns and later on, the ex-wife of the dead professor. It will be the observant and oldest member of the herb guild that cracks the case and both China and Sheila work together to tie things together in this can’t put it down mystery.
Anonymous 11 months ago
I have been reading about China Bayles ever since the first novel in the series was published. I enjoy the main characters and their relationships with one another. The series has built over time as characters have become involved in marriages, work together, have children, etc. I am always happy to pick up with the folks in Pecan Springs again.Chna's voice is folksy and welcoming; when giving back story she speaks directly to the reader. In A Plain Vanilla Murder, there is, of course, murder and more...no spoilers here though; you will need to read the book. Along the way the reader will learn a great deal about the vanilla trade, orchids and ethical practices. All of the pieces of the mystery come together in a satisfying way. The side stories, for example about Ruby's daughter's partner's pregnancy were also welcome and reminded me that a theme in this book was motherhood, both pending, past and current. I already look forward to the next to come in the series. Keep writing Ms. Albert. So...spend some time in the Hill Country of Texas. You will enjoy your stay. Many thanks to NetGalley and the author for this advance copy of the book. All opinions are my own.
TarynLee 11 months ago
Vanilla is in the air, China along with friend and business partner Ruby are offering a workshop on the spice and all it has to offer. Meanwhile a professor of botany at the local college is found dead of an apparent suicide. The University's head campus officer seems to think there is something weird about the mans death so she brings in local law enforcement to decide. When the medical examiner rules the death a homicide not a suicide the hunt for a murderer begins. The dead man happens to be the ex of one of China's good friends so she feels she must do what she can to help her. China soon learns that the man had more enemies than friends and reasons for wanting him dead span from stealing others research to dating someone half his age. With so many avenues to pursue finding a killer seems impossible. Chief of Police Sheila Dawson is also on the case several pounds heavier and very pregnant. She has been hoping for a case that will take her away from her desk and keep her in the game. Follow along as these two women follow their own avenues of investigation in the hunt for a killer. This is a great series that has truly stood the test of time. I enjoyed getting to know Sheila better and how the author made her a bigger part of the book. China has grown so much as a character throughout the years and I enjoy seeing where she is headed with each new read. I get excited over the wonderful facts that the author includes about whatever spice or herb that the book is about and the recipes are a lovely addition. I look forward to the next book and can't wait to see where the author takes China to next.
Karen-Hollins 11 months ago
"A Plain Vanilla Murder" the 25th installment in the long running mystery series featuring amateur sleuth China Bayles." by Susan Wittig Albert. I enjoyed visiting Pecan Springs again . I have been a fan of China Bayles Mysteries for over a decade. But must admit I haven't read any in a few years. I do love the way Susan Wittig Albert weaves a story with history and natural history so that you end up learning something as well as escaping for a few hours. I was thrown off by the fact that the story didn't focus much on China’s family, Ruby, per previous books but tended to really focus on the very pregnant Police Chief Shelia and how she manages to jump into the thick of things, despite her late stages of pregnancy. With that said it still was a good story. There are twists and turns and red herrings throughout the story and it moves at a steady pace. I had a hard time putting it down. I requested and received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from Persevero Press and NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my OWN.
Horsebranchjess 11 months ago
A Plain Vanilla Murder is the first book I have read by this author. Even though this book is twenty something in the China Bayles series, I found the story easy to follow and the characters easy to keep up with. The book doesn't really deep dive into China's Thyme & Seasons Herb Shop and her expertise in herbs and spices come into play just a little with the vanilla trade. So vanilla is an orchid and a very expensive one and people die just to obtain it. A local professor is murdered in his greenhouse where he has countless expensive orchids and is working on a vanilla hybrid that will survive a vanilla killing fungus. The list of suspects grows pretty large as the scum professor seems to have wronged everyone from his ex-wife to his reseach partner to his fellow professors and even his current lover. A very pregnant chief of police, Sheila Dawson, leads the investigation and crosses paths with China in this fast paced and oddly informative mystery. The whodunit was not totally unexpected but enjoyable never the less. The book was an interesting page turning that makes me want to revisit each of the China Bayles mysteries to see what I have missed. My voluntary, unbiased review is based upon a review copy form Netgalley.
chefdt 11 months ago
A Plain Vanilla Murder is the twenty-seventh book in The China Bayles Mystery series. I’ve read all the books in this series and am always happy when a new book appears on the shelves. I can always count of Ms. Albert providing me with a well-written, plotted, and told story. Then there are the interesting characters that we have seen develop along the way. I’ve grown to love China, Ruby Wilcox, Sheila Dawson and particularly the adorable adopted niece, Caitie and the staff that keeps China’s herb shop running. Another thing that I particularly enjoy is how each book is named after a spice, herb or plant and then it will become an integral part of the story and there are chapter headings that provide additional information and uses of that particular item. This book centers around the death of Carl Fairlee, a botany professor at Central Texas State University, who was found dead in his greenhouse atop the botany building. It is first thought that it was suicide but when Security Chief Denise Maxwell has her doubts and calls Sheila Dawson, Pecan Springs Police Chief and asks for a second opinion. Once Dawson and her lead detective, Dylan Miller, they have their doubts and take over the investigation. They soon discover that it is in fact murder and find many possible suspects. Naturally his ex-wife, Maggie Walker immediately becomes a prime suspect due to a messy divorce. As more information becomes available they learn that Fairlee might have been dealing in illegally imported orchids. Also, the graduate student that works with Fairlee loses his girlfriend to Fairlee and they were going to patent a hybrid orchid, which Fairlee registered in just his name. Maggie is able to drop to the bottom of the suspect when her daughter is kidnapped from her bed one night. China hopes she can find the daughter before the killer has a chance to strike again. I’m anxiously awaiting the next book in this exciting and informative series.
AMGiacomasso 11 months ago
I love China Bayles mysteries and this was a very good one. I learn a lot about orchids and vanilla, and read an entertaining and engaging mystery. The mystery was solid as usual and it was great to meet again the usual cast of character and to meet new ones. I loved how the plot was developed, fast paced and full of twists and turns, the well written characters and the lovely setting. It wasn't hard to spot the culprit but I had to understand the reasons beyond the murder. I look forward to reading the next installment by Ms Wittig Albert. Highly recommended. Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
MKF 11 months ago
It's always nice to visit again with China, Ruby, Sheila, and the others in Pecan Springs but if you haven't read the series- don't worry, you'll be fine. You'll also learn something about herbs, flowers, and other things that grow in the earth, in this case vanilla. China has an uncanny ability to get involved in investigations and this time out she's helping Sheila, who is quite pregnant, with the murder of a botany professor. As readers of the genre know, there's always more to a victim than meets the eye. There are some cool quirky characters and a good spirit to this series. Thanks to net galley for the ARC. Perfect for Albert's fans and for those looking for a new series.
Teri1957 11 months ago
I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Susan puts a spark of intrigue and adventure into every China Bayle's book. Love the info given at the beginning of each chapter relationship to the subject of the book. Enjoy!
Anonymous 10 months ago