Make the most of culinary herbs and spices.

A Book Review:  Thyme of Death by Susan Wittig Albert

by Sandra Bowens


Who among us doesn't dream of dropping out of the dog-eat-dog world to open an herb shop? Meet the fictional China Bayles who has done just that. Formerly a Houston lawyer, China now owns Thyme and Seasons Herb Company in Pecan Springs, Texas.


China's Monday off begins as the perfect autumn day. Her best friend's suicide puts an end to that, launching an herbal mystery. Although somewhat doubtful, China sets out to learn the truth about the last day of her friend's life. Did Jo really commit suicide or is it an elaborate cover-up to murder?


The cast of characters who assemble for the funeral only create more confusion. After a break-in, attempted murder and finally an apparent murder-suicide, Jo's death begins to look even more suspicious.


Thyme of Death (Berkley 1994), first in a series of China Bayles Mysteries, by Susan Witting Albert, lays excellent groundwork for more fun to come. Mystery lovers will find the end rather easy to predict but the central characters and the setting promise to lead us to a fulfilling series.


Cooks and gardeners alike will enjoy the tiny herb shop surrounded by a garden full of thyme, garlic and lavender. Ms. Albert creates a craft-oriented town full of artisan shops we would all like to visit.


Herbal hints garnish the story. We might glean ideas for which herbs to use in a holiday wreath or new ways to use herbs in cooking. How about this tip? "I cooked the garlic the way I usually do, by putting a couple of cloves into the skillet with the onion I was sautéing. When the onion is done, I use a fork to mash the cloves. Too many people make the mistake of mincing the garlic first, which makes for burned garlic and a bitter-tasting dish." Rather clever!


I look forward to reading more about China Bayles.

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