Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Rosemary Remembered: Good fluff mystery

Title: Rosemary Remembered
Author: Susan Wittig Albert 
Pages:  304

Ah, the pleasure of a "fluff" book. For most people, a fluff book would probably mean a romance. But, for me, it is a predictable, stock character book, and most recently, a mystery series. In my local newspaper, once a week, people on the street are asked what they are currently reading. Last spring, someone mentioned a private eye series that was named after herbs. I was intrigued and looked it up. The China Bayles Mysteries are set in Texas. China was a hard-nosed lawyer in the big city who burned out and chucked it all to own and operate an herbal shop in a small-town, which seems to have a lot of odd characters and an unusual amount of murders. Through the course of the series, she makes friends, finds a husband and becomes more settled and happy in her life.

I requested the first five books from PaperBack Swap and Rosemary Remembered is the fourth in the series. It begins with a summary of her current life - leaving the big city, becoming a shopkeeper for herbs, falling for an ex-cop now professor, moving in with him and his teenage son, and the various murders she has already solved. She struggles with giving up her independence and single life, while being the non-stepmom for a teenager, especially since her own childhood was less than desirable. It is mid-summer in Texas, which means it is hot and miserable. China is hosting an herbal conference and goes to pick up a truck from an acquaintance to move some tables for the workshops. However, there is a dead body in the truck, shot through the head. So begins the investigation. To complicate things, an former convict, with a vendetta against the ex-cop is on the lose and looking to settle a score.

The ex-cop is hired by the dead woman’s lover's boyfriend to find the boyfriend. Left alone with the teenage son, China attempts to tread the fine line between friend and mother, while following the understandably overpretective instructions of his father. Obviously, being a mystery, China is drawn into following various leads and finds that the dead woman had a very hidden life. She was a tax accountant, but also had a lot of enemies, from an ex-husband who was accused of domestic abuse, to the angry family of a former client who committed suicide, supposedly because of her influence.

For a lawyer/investigator (though not officially), China blabs a lot to all her friends, who unwittingly help her solve the mystery. Her New Age friend, Ruby, invites a channeler, who gives Yoda-like advise that leads and predicts some of the outcome. The campus cop director Smart Cookie, moves in to help protect China and the son from the ex-convict (and eventual fugitive) plus investigate the murder. All the while, China is relaying information between the local cops, the boyfriend's brother, and the ex-cop, who is in Mexico, looking for the boyfriend.


Like most mysteries, the story in wrapped up neatly in the last 20 pages. The dead woman found out that the brother was embezzling from the jointly owned company of the brother and boyfriend. When it was clear the dead woman and boyfriend would blow the whistle, the brother shot the woman, then the boyfriend and hid him in the freezer, then the garden.

At the same time, the son disappeared - though he was actually taken to a sci-fi convention by his crazy mother. China, through both natural and super-natural means, finds the son and the crazy mother, who had been suing for custody, is carted off. During this process, China realizes that she actually loves the son and wouldn't mind being his step-mother, though she still feels that she doesn't have the skills needed. However, to cement the bond between her and the son, the convict shows up to threaten them and China peppersprays him, to the great admiration of the son. So - all's well that end's well.

Since I'm sitting in a hospital waiting room, this was the perfect read. Not to taxing and easy to pick up and put down. The characters are familar - even if you haven't read the previous books. China is both admirable and a bit whiny, but in the tradition of V. I. Warshawski - independent, yet finding herself drawn into intimate relationships. Some of the references and dialogue are a bit dated and the story a bit formulaic, but for a beach read or waiting room read that's exactly what I want!

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