This is the second novel I've read by Wittig Albert. I was not impressed at all by the first, a novel in her Beatrix Potter mystery series. This one was make or break for me for this author, and I was much more invested in this story and the characters here. China is intelligent and engaging, not annoying, as many cozy mystery protagonists tend to be. Even though this is the second book in the China Bayles series, I was never lost on characters, location, or story. Albert does a nice job of encapsulating her novels so you don't need to read them in order to understand overarching relationships and stories. There's no recipes or tips to clog up the pages, which is also a welcome respite.
As to this particular story, the first 75 pages clipped along nicely, then stagnated until around page 200, where everything picked up quickly and raced to a satisfying finish. This seems to be a pattern in cozy mysteries- they establish the town, the characters, the niche (candy store, pastry shop, quilting shop, etc) then the murder occurs, then things slow down until one particular clue is discovered, and then the protagonist figures it out, and corners the murder- either getting them to confess, or for a fight- to the death or the protagonist's advantage. This one is no different. And while it was easy to figure out one of the murderers here, the other was more difficult to put a finger on. There were plenty of red herrings and I was honestly surprised by the second murder, and the other person responsible.
I'll definitely continue on with this series. You've got my attention, Albert.
After you mow through all the politically correct preachy-ness, a text book like recitation of herbs and their Latin names, and in depth descriptions of recipes, you find a decent formulaic mystery. It's a good read if you can get past the aforementioned strikes against it.
If you happen to be a progressive, then you'll probably nod your head and agree with it. If you happen to be from Texas, then you'll probably shake your head and sigh repeatedly. While living in Austin gives you some credibility in knowing how Texans live and operate (the author is originally from Illinois), saying you did some research by reading newspapers and visiting an area doesn't truly give you a feel for "small town" Texas. What Mrs. Wittig ended up doing was writing about every preconceived stereotype she's ever had about small town Texas church going types. And while, admittedly there is some truth to those stereotypes (as there is to almost all stereotypes), all it does is make her look as small minded and prejudiced about the people she wrote about.
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