Bleeding Hearts
by Susan Wittig Albert

Berkley, 2006. ISBN 0425207994.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 06/23/2006

Fiction: Mystery

Reading another China Bayles mystery is like having a cup of China's lemon-lavender tea with the author and China in Thyme for Tea, the tearoom owned and run by China and her seemingly goofy business partner, Ruby, and listening to another of China's intriguing stories. I've read them all, but one does not have to read from book one, Thyme of Death, to make sense of the herbal mystery series. Susan gives the reader just enough information about China's past in each book to either pique one's interest into reading others or to just read on through. Each book of the series revolves around a particular herb, which is part of the title.

My problem with Susan's books is that once I pick them up, I am useless until I turn the last page. Her China Bayles mysteries portray China and Ruby's maturation processes along with mystery, murder, occasional mayhem, the growth of their Pecan Springs, Texas, enterprises, lotsa herb information, and recipes for a great variety of food. What else would one desire for an afternoon or evening [and into the night]? Perhaps a cup of herbal tea and just a bit of chocolate.

Bleeding Hearts continues Susan's tradition of feeding us an amazing amount of esoteric information about the herbs, this time, Bleeding Hearts. However, the sexual misconduct of an athletic coach forms the basis for this realistic story line. The high school principal approaches China with a request to quietly look into an allegation of misconduct of the highly popular coach of Pecan Springs' winning football team. The background of this tale, more serious than many of the China Bayles series, ultimately concerns China's stepson, his good [girl] friend, the apparent suicide of a young woman attending a local college, and the pressures and secrets of the local high society.

The story line is complex and a surprising delicious read. Not only is the recipe for lemon-lavender tea included, but several others, including a healthy dog biscuit recipe [for the overweight Basset Hound of China's household, Howard Cosell]. Alas, I must wait until next April for the next in the series. Or I could pick up one of Susan's Beatrix Potter mysteries or her Victorian series written with her husband under the name of Robin Paige.

Susan Wittig Albert is a friend as well as an outstanding writer. I may be biased; however, I've read some pretty bad books by other friends.

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