Spanish Dagger

May 25, 2008 - Spanish Dagger (Susan Wittig Albert). Herb shop owner China Bayles finds that tiny Pecan Springs, Texas is a hotbed of drug activity!

As the book opens, it appears we'll have a couple of plotlines going here. One involves the murder of Ruby's mysterious ex-boyfriend, Colin. In the previous book, China learned that he's really Dan Reid, a former undercover drug cop from Dallas. But, Ruby knew nothing of his previous life and broke up with him because he wouldn't commit. Now, Ruby is out of town caring for her aging mother and China is drawn into the investigation of Colin's stabbing.

The investigation leads China to a nursery - as in plants - for a chat with the bookkeeper. China finds her alright - with her throat slashed! Now China is involved with two murders. Plus, there's a suspicious-looking meter man making the rounds around town, and China is carting around evidence that could lead to her arrest if she doesn't act fast.

While all this is going on, China's husband, McQuaid, is out of town. He's been hired by China's half-brother, Miles, to look into the circumstances surrounding the death of their father in a car crash 16 years ago. For his part, Miles is trying to track down the car. We are kept abreast of this story line through a phone call or two to China. She's too busy with her own investigation to listen to anything else. And, when she does have time, she doesn't want to deal with it. My guess is that she'll be dealing with it in the next book.

Overall, not a bad effort from Albert. With familiar characters Ruby and McQuaid out of town, China is left to her own devices, though she does call on her friend the police chief for help. The investigation takes China out of her normal surroundings, i.e. her herb shop, but she's still in Pecan Springs and several minor characters from previous books make appearances. So, despite the differences from previous books, the overall effect is one of familiarity.

I think what I like about this series from Albert is how grounded China is in living a normal life. Yeah, she has a knack for getting tied up in murder cases. But, she's also a wife, a mother, a friend and a businesswoman worried about the bottom line. Albert never lets China forget about these things. Consequently, the reader never forgets as we follow China making arrangements for someone to watch her shop or we see her picking her step-son up from school. There's always something to remind us that murder is not the most important thing going on in China's life.