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by Susan Wittig Albert
Berkley Prime Crime, June 2002
272 pages
ISBN: 0425159418

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Formerly a high-powered Houston lawyer, China Bayles gave up a thriving practice and moved to Pecan Springs, TX, in an effort to find some meaning in life. She opened an herb shop, Thyme and Seasons, which has just recently experienced an explosion in sales. Recently, she moved in with her lover, Mike McQuaid, and his 12-year-old son. All should be well, but it doesn't feel that way to China. She's burned out personally and professionally, uncertain of what direction her life should take and if she' s in the relationship and business that are the best for her. Consequently, she's anxious to take advantage of a friend's invitation to go on a two-week retreat to a remote university, where Maggie had been a nun.

Alas, the dreams of solitude and meditation soon fall by the wayside. Maggie, China and Ruby, another friend serving as chauffeur, have barely pulled into town before China is pulled into several investigations. There' s the matter of several small arsons that have occurred at the monastery. Then there's the poison pen letters accusing several of the sisters of various sins and demanding penance. The monastery land had been bequeathed to the diocese by a local woman whose family is contesting the will. There' s also a political battle between two factions in the sisterhood, and at least one suspicious death among the elderly nuns. Somebody seems to be trying to scare China off by shooting at her. And last but not least, a former boyfriend named Tom Rowan is the local banker. Much to China's chagrin, she finds that she is still strongly attracted to him.

Amazingly, Albert retains control of all of these plot elements, although I did find myself confused by some of the cast of characters, particularly a group of nuns whose first names all began with the letter "R". China makes some wrong assumptions in her investigation, and there's more fire and death. The ending was particularly well done, when we see that revealing the truth is not always the best course to take. Albert does a nice job of depicting the nuns' lifestyle and also of laying out some of their modern day dilemmas.

Reviewed by Maddy Van Hertbruggen, April 2001

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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