Queen Anne’s Lace by Susan Wittig Albert. (Cozy Mystery Novel, April 2018).
In this, the latest in a long-running series of cozy mysteries centered around former lawyer turned professional herbialist and amateur mystery-solver China Bayles, the author deftly blends generations-spanning family secrets, an unthreatening yet persistent and ultimately helpful ghost, the lore concerning the title plant and (no kidding here) a chicken theft that leads to much more. The result is an entertaining, quirky novel.
China runs Thyme and Seasons, a modern-day herb shop in a small Texas town. Each of the series books is centered in some way on a different plant: Its uses, history, associated dangers, etc. This time, chapters alternate between a third-person account of Pecan Springs, Texas back in the late 1800s and China’s first-person experiences as she (very reluctantly) comes to accept her New Age pal Ruby’s conviction that ghosts are real. There seems to be a spirit inhabiting her place of business who, for unknown reasons, has only now decided to make itself known and get China to investigate the building’s original occupants (including said ghost).
The historical story unfolds in a tangle of loves, secrets and betrayals. 19th Century methods of contraception, a tragic train versus buggy accident, infidelity and guilt, a poisoning (maybe accidental/maybe not) and eventual happiness for two good-hearted/much-distressed characters.
In our era, China tries to figure out what the ghost is getting at (it ties in eventually with another of her friend’s search for answers to her own family mystery). All this happens while her husband is out of town on business, her daughter’s entry in the annual county fair gets rooster-napped along with the super-expensive rare breed lodged next to him and China must also deal with a close friend’s sudden illness.
The rooster theft fulfills the necessity of a modern-day crime in the plot and leads to a surprisingly dangerous bit of action (and much bigger crimes) when she accompanies a parttime deputy friend to recover the purloined poultry.
Things work out well in the end (at least for story’s various good-girls and -guys, and the missing roosters). The author adds an afterword detailing the true facts regarding Queen Anne’s Lace (aka the Wild Carrot) and provides a fistful of recipes involving this useful and edible plant.
A most enjoyable book.